Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of January 10, 2011

(Revised March 13, 2011)

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Modes of Will


Will plays the central role in everything we do. This holds true in all aspects of life, including the spiritual path. Will always occupies the core of every action. But despite this all-pervasiveness, we have little or no awareness of will, of our own will. This is no accident, but a consequence of the inherent nature of will. Will is the one who is aware, the one who notices and sees, the one who chooses and decides. So for us to be aware of will, our will would need to be aware of itself, like holding up an inner mirror.

But the problem goes even deeper than that, for will is not material in any sense. And will is not an energy, but rather the user of energies. Our I is our will. And for our I to be aware of itself is tantamount to our physical organ of sight, our eye, seeing itself without a mirror. When we attempt to fashion an inner mirror to see our will, we find that mirror to be empty, because will is not matter and not energy, but rather an immaterial force, our force, that is able to direct our energies.

Every step on the spiritual path depends on will. And though we cannot be directly aware of it, like we can be aware of our thoughts, we can learn to be our will, which is who we truly are. Furthermore, our path depends on developing our will in various ways, including certain modes of will in spiritual action which are new to us. So in the coming weeks we will study our will in action.

No discussion of will would be complete without at least mentioning the 800-pound gorilla in the room: ego. Ego is an aberration of will, a damming up of the great flow of will from the Divine, through us, into our world. Ego, or more accurately the illusion of ego, attempts to cut will off from its Divine Source and considers will to be from and about me. This is self-centeredness. See the article, Illusion of Ego, for further discussion of its nature.

We usually think of will as forceful and active. We believe a person of great will is tenacious like a bulldog and unstoppable like a bulldozer. But determination is only one of the many types of will. For example, to love a person, to surrender to the Divine, to be present, and to fall asleep at night are all acts of will, but not the forceful, bullish type. Development of will on the spiritual path means both learning new modes of will and raising the level or quality of our will.

Will has as many modes as we have different actions and attitudes. It is endless. But we can bring order to our study and practice of will by categorizing its modes. The particular set of categories we shall use is just one possible breakdown, but an effective one at that. In this pursuit, we bear in mind that will is not easily confined to simple and clean categories: interaction and spill-over occurs between the categories. Nevertheless, this systematic approach to will yields many benefits.

The first challenge is to notice within ourselves how will acts, in its many guises. Categories help and we shall use three dimensions to form those categories. The first breakdown is between directed and non-directed modes of will. Directed in this sense refers to those modes that tie to a particular object or stimulus, whereas non-directed modes are more general.

The second dimension considers the active, receptive, and synergic modes of will. Active modes take action or exhibit an outgoing movement, as toward a goal or object. Receptive modes receive, show openness to what is coming in, or may be passive. Synergic modes combine qualities of both the active and receptive into a third mode. For example, in some inner exercises or meditations, one might practice being actively receptive or receptively active. Such synergic modes of will not only harmonize and balance the active and receptive, but also tap an independent third element that incorporates the other two in a new synthesis.

These first two dimensions differ. For example, we might think that receptive and non-directed have the same meaning. But one can be receptive in a particular direction, a directed receptivity, such as in listening. Or we can be receptive in a non-directed way, just noticing whatever comes to our senses.

The third dimension of will brings in the notion of levels or quality. For that we consider the level of energy engaged by the will. Will can only operate through energies, which means that will works at different levels depending on the quality of energy available to it . From the entire scale of energies, we will examine the five of most immediate concern to us. From lowest to highest they are: automatic, sensitive, conscious, creative, and love.

Altogether these dimensions yield thirty modes of will, as shown in the following two tables. Such combined qualities of will appear, for example, in Taoist teaching, which discusses states that are outwardly firm and inwardly yielding, and vice versa.

Directed Modes of Will
  Automatic Sensitive Conscious Creative Love
Active Habit Sensing Attention Inventing Compassion
Receptive Enthralled Listening Seeing Communing Acceptance
Synergic Indulging Choosing Deciding Flowing Connectedness


Non-Directed Modes of Will
  Automatic Sensitive Conscious Creative Love
Active Tension Vigilance Intention Spontaneity Passion
Receptive Passive Noticing Being Conscience Grace
Synergic Daydreaming Mindfulness Presence Opening Union

Growing familiarity with the different modes of will enables us to shift between modes as necessary. Take the example of sitting down for meditation or contemplative prayer. We need to transition effectively from whatever our state is prior to the sitting. Then within the sitting, we may adopt a succession of different modes of inward action, depending on the particular practice engaged. At the end of the sitting, we need to transition into the mode of conscious presence to maintain our inner work as we go about our day.

Over the coming ten weeks we will investigate these modes in action in our own life, taking three at a time. From the outset we note that each mode in the tables represents a whole host of modes. So we will also be looking at variations within each mode of will.

The purpose of this inner work series is to train ourselves to recognize will in its many manifestations, to enable our will to act appropriately to any situation, to become more ourselves through being our will, and to learn to raise the level or quality of our will. Our spiritual life depends on it.

Although we may categorize will into its different modes, we need to realize there are not different or separate wills. Will is One. Will does not have levels and cannot be broken into separate pieces. Levels appear because will must act through energies and thus through various levels of energies. What appears to be conflicting wills in ourselves is actually a conflict of patterns of conditioning and a lack of unity or coordination among our parts. And our will is constrained to act through our fractured personality. Our inner work aims, in part, to bring us toward unity of being and thus to reveal the unity of our will. Furthermore, although we people appear to be separate individuals, both in body and in will, in our individuality, ultimately the same Will flows through us all and is the unity of all life.

The simplest way to think of will is as that which chooses. The simplest way to study will in action is in its manifestation as attention; attention is essentially will, working through a particular energy. For this week, consider will in yourself and begin noticing your own will in action.

See the full Modes of Will series:

    1. Introduction
    2. Directed, Automatic: Habit, Enthralled, Indulging
    3. Directed, Sensitive: Sensing, Listening, Choosing
    4. Directed, Conscious: Attention, Seeing, Deciding
    5. Directed, Creative: Inventing, Communing, Flowing
    6. Directed, Unitive: Love: Compassion, Acceptance, Connectedness
    7. Non-Directed, Automatic: Tension, Passive, Daydreaming
    8. Non-Directed, Sensitive: Vigilance, Noticing, Mindfulness
    9. Non-Directed, Conscious: Intention, Being, Presence
    10. Non-Directed, Creative: Spontaneity, Conscience, Opening
    11. Non-Directed, Unitive: Passion, Grace, Union


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