Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of November 1, 2010

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(Stages of Freedom: Part 7 of 9)

As the illusion of ego evaporates, so do the walls of our inner life. As our egocentric attitude goes, so does the distinction between self and other. We open to our inherent unity with all life. One ancient way we might experience this is in nature. The trees, the sky, the ocean, the mountain, the landscape, wherever we happen to find ourselves in the natural world, our consciousness fills with our surroundings. The beauty, the reality, and the comfort, welcome us back into our natural home. We drop our defenses. We are just here, along with everything else, in the seamless whole. Our awareness merges with nature’s own awareness into one big cognizant continuum. We are of a piece with Nature, no longer setting our self apart. Fear, grasping, and exploitation fall away. For many, the practice of non-separateness comes most effortlessly in Nature. We slip into the simple ease of the one being of Nature, a being that includes and embraces us.

With people, the practice of non-separateness arouses our resistance. We seem so separate. And that separateness has layers: material, emotional, mental, being, and will. The material aspects of separateness have to do with the fact that you are in your body and I am in mine. Differences in race, sex, and social class divide us at this superficial level. At the emotional layer of separateness, you have your desires and I have mine. Anger, hatred, jealousy, envy, greed, and the like confirm and deepen our separateness from each other. At the mental layer of separateness, our world view, attitudes, and agendas are built on the illusion of separateness, both individual and collective. Differences in nationality, politics, and religion divide us at this mental level. Then we have the separateness of being arising from the fact that you are there and I am here. What happens to you does not happen to me, and vice versa. Finally, we encounter the separateness of will: you are not me and I am not you. You do not choose what I do, and I do not choose what you do.

These layers of separateness also apply within ourselves. At first, we are identified with our body, our emotions, our attitudes. Then we notice them and consider all of that to be separate from who we are. We might think of our body or our personality as something to do battle against. At a later stage, we reunite everything into a new wholeness. As we overcome the layers of separateness within us, we can also overcome our separateness from other people.

Some people are blessed with a naturally compassionate disposition which recognizes our non-separateness. Those of us who are not so blessed need a way beyond separateness. First, we can recognize that though separateness holds true at all but the highest levels, so does non-separateness. At the level of our body, certainly we have clear separateness: your body, my body. But we also have non-separateness in the forms of similarity and interdependence. Our bodies all function almost identically. We share the air and we all must eat. And we need each other to maintain our life. One makes ploughs, another raises wheat, and a third bakes bread.

At the level of our emotions and thoughts, we have separateness in the sense that your emotions and thoughts are private to you, as are mine to me. But we also have non-separateness in the similarities between your emotions and mine, between your thoughts and mine. We all share the same basic human motivations and modes of reacting. We know joy and we know anger in each other, because we know them in ourselves. This fellow-feeling is a source of compassion.

At the level of our being, or more particularly our consciousness, we have the separateness of our experiencing: you experience your life and I experience mine. But something deeper also operates at this level, namely sameness. Our basic consciousness is one and the same in all of us. There is one, indivisible, all-embracing energy of consciousness. Our body-mind-heart enables us to experience consciousness individually. We may share an experience, for example, as part of a crowd attending some entertainment. That common experience brings a kind of unity among the crowd, albeit a limited unity based on shared sensory perceptions, but nevertheless a unity that hints at the truer unity.

If we look carefully into our consciousness, going beneath its sensory contents, to see with pure consciousness, then we come into our shared being. When another person looks or experiences, they do so with the very same fundamental consciousness that is in you. Listening helps open us to this reality. This is not merely a similarity of awareness, but rather one and the same awareness: the silent, pre-sensory consciousness that we all share. We all swim in the one ocean of consciousness.

At the level of our will, we have the separateness of our intentions, choices, decisions, and understanding. Obviously, your choices are different than mine and we may well be in conflict. But in some situations, such as being a member of a team or organization, we share intentions with others. Again, that shared intention brings a kind of unity among the team or organization, albeit a limited unity based on shared choices and intentions, but nevertheless a unity that also hints at the truer unity.

If we look deeper, beyond our particular choices and decisions, to that in us which chooses and decides, we get closer to our unity in will. The same fundamental will flows through all of us. Its Source is One. And although will appears divided at our level, it is inherently indivisible and sacred. This is the deepest mystery of all on the spiritual path, but also the most important. One approach to this mystery is to follow our attention back toward where it comes from, back toward its Source. The closer we come to that Source, the less separate we are.

For this week, look at how you habitually consider yourself separate from others and practice seeing beyond our separateness toward unity.


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