Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of September 20, 2010

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Illusory Freedom

(Stages of Freedom: Part 1 of 9)

“… the truth will set you free” John 8:32

To have any chance of inner freedom, we first need to see and understand that we are not free. We will not make any effort to develop a quality that we think we already possess. Indeed, our usual mode of living offers us a pseudo-freedom. But that false freedom is not our own freedom. It is the freedom of our incessant thoughts, commentary, and judgments, the freedom of our reactive emotions, the freedom of actions driven by our mostly self-indulgent urges and drives, the freedom of living in the most superficial layers of our being. All these aspects of our psyche pretend to speak and act for the whole of us, for who we really are. We are so accustomed to this situation that it lulls us and fools us into believing that all that is who we are. And if all that is who we are and all that is free, then we must be free. Right?

Scratch the surface, though, with even a little introspective observation and we see that we live in an inner fog made up of all those associative thoughts and emotional reactions, of our self-centered urges, drives, and identifications. This mental/emotional fog distracts us, is never quiet, leaves us no peace, and obscures our own reality. Perhaps the greatest benefit of meditation is that it creates space for our mind and heart to settle down and lets us enter the peace and consciousness that bring us closer to our Self, closer to true freedom.

As it is, everything takes me. Every conversation, every activity takes me out of myself, leaves me fractured and devoid of being. Put the cake in front of me and it disappears down my throat, with hardly a taste. Have I eaten the cake or has the cake eaten me? Someone insults me. Anger immediately wells up, coursing through me, generating vindictive thoughts. Is it a true representation to say that I am angry or is the anger angry, having invaded me and taken control? Someone slights me. Self-doubt and insecurity suddenly infect my mind and heart. Someone praises me. The confirmation of my great worth arouses an inner preening.

In the typical aftermath, my mind and heart perseverate on such events. In these and in so many other ways, I am a slave to what happens around me and in me. A stimulus comes into my senses and the response is automatic, predictable, and lacking in freedom. It is not I who respond, but rather the conditioned, pre-programmed, pre-determined working of my personality, this hodgepodge of memories, tendencies, habits and addictions that passes for who I am. Looked at in this way, it becomes clear that it is my personality that is free, not me. In fact, I am subject to my personality’s repertoire of responses.

Freedom would mean reversing this situation, so that my personality would serve my true wishes, choices emanating from my center, from me. But that’s how it appears to be already. My personality says “I” all the time, claiming to be me, and I even believe it. But it is not true. The thought “I” is not who I am. No matter how many times a day my thoughts say “I’ll do this” or “I will do that,” the thought of I only represents the machinery of my personality, not my inwardly free center, my unified will.

Actually seeing this lack of inner freedom in ourselves can come as a painful shock. It goes against our entire belief system of who and what we are. And having seen it clearly in one instance, we start to see it in many others. We may begin to feel, correctly, that we lack freedom in nearly all we do. Worse, we may feel, incorrectly, that there is no way out, that our situation is utterly hopeless. But there is hope, magnificent hope. That hope lies in spiritual practice, in inner work, and is attested to by our many great predecessors on the path. It does, however, mean work, wisely conducted, persistent, devoted, and compassionate inner work: first to see and then to set aside our inner slavery and enter the silent presence in us where our true freedom awaits.

Our mind and heart follow their own conditioned processes. The first step to freedom is to see this, to see these pre-programmed patterns of action and reaction, of thought and emotion. The collection of these automated patterns is what passes for us, what we unquestioningly assume we are. My personality may be unique to me, but its freedom is not my freedom. Seeing our situation clearly and accepting the truth of it can set us on the path to freedom. This does not happen all at once, but gradually, bit by bit over a period of years as we come to see and understand our actions, inner and outer.

For this week, notice your own illusion of freedom.


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