Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of January 17, 2011

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Directed, Automatic Will

Habit, Enthralled, Indulging

(Modes of Will: Part 2 of 11)

For perspective on this mode of will, please refer to the tables in Modes of Will

When our will operates through any given energy, it takes on both the advantages and the limitations of that energy. With the automatic energy, our will works in a programmed fashion, which is the nature of that level of energy. If the programming derives from our mental, emotional, and physical conditioning, our years of experiencing and learning how the world is and how to act and respond in it, we call that mode of will habit or skill.

Habits are behavioral patterns that we repeat periodically, requiring little or no intention. Our will acquiesces to the pattern and enters it just enough to let the pattern play itself out. This can be useful or not. The habit of brushing our teeth keeps them healthy, while the habit of smoking can destroy our body. Certain habits are neutral, such some habits of thought and some physical mannerisms. The advantage of having our will act through a habit is that it takes less awareness, attention, or involvement on our part than do modes of higher level functioning. Nevertheless, by our inner work we can be fully alert and aware even while acting from habit. Our many useful habits make our life go smoothly and leave us inwardly free for other pursuits. The main disadvantage of habits consists of their propensity to expand too much across our life, which feeds our tendency to live almost exclusively by habit and the minimal awareness it requires. To a surprising extent, we fall through our day, habit by habit, half-aware and lacking presence.

Skills are behavioral patterns that serve a useful purpose and are usually acquired through intentional effort. Some skills, like the language skills of speaking or reading, lie so deeply ingrained in us that we take them for granted. Our keyboarding, driving, and many other skills may also be taken for granted. We learn skills by the use of energies higher than the automatic, such as the sensitive. But gradually they pass from something we are practicing, which needs a higher energy, to something we are skilled at, and so into the automatic patterns of our body, mind, and heart. In any given instance, some choice or reaction, conscious or not, activates the skill. From that point on, little or no attention is needed as the skill rolls on automatically, with our will encased in the pattern. As with habits, by our inner work we can be present even while engaged in performing some skill.

Of course, there are higher level skills, such as those possessed by the surgeon, pianist, or chef. And their function certainly requires a higher energy than the automatic. But these higher skills build on and use lower level skills that do operate on the automatic. The pianistís fingers know where to find the keys, leaving the pianist able to focus on other aspects of the music, such as opening to the spirit of the composition.

In all these automatic, programmed ways, our will acts according to existing patterns. Whenever a habit or skill manifests, our will is in it. The action takes place automatically. Our will actively directs our body, mind, or heart toward some particular pattern, object, or outcome.

When something goes against us, for example when someone acts rudely toward us, we react. Our emotions and their associated thoughts and physiological responses ramp up, fully engaged, perhaps fully enraged. One of our buttons has been pressed by the event, or even just by the thought of some unwanted event. We passively receive that stimulus and we passively acquiesce to the resulting reaction, letting it take us over. Here the stimulus directs the action, which comes automatically and carries away our passive self. Our will allows itself to be trapped in the reaction. This mode of will is thus directed, automatic, and receptive.

Another example of such will occurs when we are enthralled. We may be taken by the sight of someone we find sexually attractive. We may be taken by a television program or movie or other entertainment. Again, the stimulus directs while we passively receive it and automatically lose ourselves in the event. We are enthralled, identified. Our will abdicates in favor of the stimulus that takes us. We sit in front of the TV and we are absent, lost, spaced out. This is an empty and unsatisfying way of living, except for brief periods of needed relaxation. As with reactions, the stimulus directs our will, which receives it and falls into an automatic process.

Too much of a good thing is an indulgence. When we indulge ourselves, we willingly allow the automatic urges of our body, mind, or heart to overstep their restraints and take us over. We are both passive in assenting to the indulgence and active in embracing it. So this mode of will can be described as synergic, as a marriage between the active and the passive that gives birth to this third mode, synergy. We indulge in watching too much TV, in becoming angrier than the situation calls for, in drinking more than one alcoholic drink, in eating more than we need, in arguing too much, in feeling sorry for ourselves, in dominating a conversation, and in so many other ways. By definition, indulgences waste our inner energy and hobble our will. Some types of overindulgence can cause us to lower our opinion of ourselves, which leads into a vicious circle that feeds our self-centered ego. Our will acts to let us drop into the dissipation of it and wallow there as the indulgence goes on automatically, directed at its object.

For this week, notice how you act, how your will acts with the automatic energy. Notice how automatic processes happen on their own and how your will assents or embraces these self-generating patterns of living, often directed by some stimulus that is not you.


     

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