Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of June 23, 2008

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Our Fragmented Will

(Part 1 of 9 in the Inner Work Series: Stages of Inner Unity: I )

Our personality, who we think we are, is merely a haphazard collection of attitudes and propensities shaped by experience. This personality drives our thoughts and controls our actions. Because repeating patterns of thought, attitude, and action create a veneer of continuity, we believe we are one person — me. But we are not one. This roiling mass of our mind allows external and internal events to boost the temporary status of some attitude over all the others. And for that moment, we are that attitude. Someone’s rude behavior punches our anger button. Later we commit the same rudeness ourselves. We resolve to lose weight and then eat ice cream. We make promises to ourselves and others, and fail to carry through on them. We try to listen to someone, but our mind keeps thinking unrelated thoughts and our attention wanders. Today we desperately want one thing, tomorrow another.

Consciousness further exacerbates the illusion of continuity. We always have this same background of conscious awareness, from birth to death. And if we look more deeply into ourselves we may believe that we are our consciousness, our awareness. Indeed, many modern-day spiritual teachers tell us we are consciousness. But this is not true. Consciousness, like our body, is something we use. We see, cognize, and know with the aid of consciousness. The one who sees, cognizes, and knows is the one who does what we do: our will. And will is deeper than consciousness.

But our will is fragmented because our center is vacant and at the mercy of transient occupants. Our multi-headed personality forever marches into our vacant center, effectively fracturing our will into many pieces. The stage of our being has only one center, but everything in us claims that stage, claims to be me. As the changing cast of impulses occupies our center, we believe we are whichever attitude happens to be on stage at any given moment. My personality is not the many facets of one me, but rather an amorphous, unconnected set of impulses and attitudes seeking their opportunity to masquerade as me. Each pretends, in its moment at the center, to be the will of whole of me. One such temporarily dominant attitude, as me, decides something now. Later, another attitude, as me, disregards that earlier decision.

Thus, will, action, choice, and decision happen as a bottom-up, unpredictable process. We have no sense of being the agent of our actions. What rightfully belongs in our center, the will of the whole, our I, rarely enters, rarely engages, thus abdicating the field to the legion of personality. Even those people who seem to be strong-willed are usually just following strong impulses within their personality and not their own I.

This is the situation of no I. We never know who we’ll be in the next moment. And this characterizes how we are as “normal” people, not some psychiatrically abnormal condition.

Yet despite this rather bleak picture, there is hope. There are ways toward inner unity, ways of defragmenting ourselves, ways we shall explore in the coming weeks.

But first we need a clear and sober assessment of our true situation. For this week, consider the foregoing description of fragmented will. Could it be true? About you?


     

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