Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of March 30, 2009

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The Way of Conscience

Part 1: Discerning

Our truest guidance in the conduct of our life comes from our own conscience and we profit spiritually by becoming more able to notice and act on its promptings. Most people rightly consider conscience to be an innate moral sense, a sense that we need to develop further. But the same inner source, the same conscience that gives us our moral sense also applies more broadly, offering us our own personal guidance beyond questions of morality.

Life often presents us with choices, to which we react mostly by habit rather than by being in contact with our inner intuitive responses. We all face the question of how to live our life, what to do with the precious time we have. The function of conscience is not only to discern right from wrong, but also to be the voice of creative guidance within us, the voice that sees our opportunities, that knows how to respond in difficulties, that understands the subtleties of our many relationships, that distinguishes the important from the less important, the lasting values from the ephemeral.

In spiritual matters, what others may write, opine, teach or suggest to us can certainly be of great use, but only insofar as those writings, opinions, teachings or suggestions resonate with our own judgment and correspond to our particular nature and stage. Although we can be shown the way toward it by others, new understanding comes from within, not from without.

So conscience matters, not only in guiding our outer life, but in the conduct of our inner life as well. The deep reason for opening to and developing our own conscience insight, our own I, lies in the reality that our I, in turn, has the possibility of opening to the Divine will. We could even say that conscience is ultimately the voice of God within us. Prior to that stage, conscience shapes our I. And then I become my conscience.

The big question is how. First, how can we develop our ability to notice the promptings of our own conscience? Certainly all of our inner work of presence, prayer, and meditation contributes to that capacity. But it is not only a matter of quieting our mind to hear the still, small voice of conscience. It may not even come as a voice or in words. It is more likely to be a feeling or a direct perception of the rightness or wrongness of a proposed future action, or of a past action.

One problem with learning to perceive conscience is that it can speak to us at any time. So as an exercise we can narrow the time-window by asking ourselves a question, to which our conscience, hopefully, will respond. For example, when faced with a choice that has overtones of right and wrong, ask yourself, ask your own deeper nature, whether the proposed action is right, wrong, or neutral. Is it appropriate or not? Is it bad karma? Is it wise? And then listen for the response from within you, not in words but as a feeling, as a knowing, as confidence in the action or lack thereof. Asking the question of yourself presumes that you have not prejudged the answer. If the situation is clear enough that you already have confidence in your judgment about it, then you need not ask yourself.

For this and the next two weeks, we will explore the way of conscience. This week, please practice opening to perceive the promptings of your conscience.

See also:

The Way of Conscience 2: Acting in Accord

The Way of Conscience 3: Merging


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