Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of January 31, 2011

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Directed, Conscious Will

Attention, Seeing, Deciding

(Modes of Will: Part 4 of 11)

The conscious energy transcends our ordinary way of living. With the automatic, our default level, we react to our life according to our conditioning and learned patterns. Life lives us. With the sensitive energy, which arises in moments of relative alertness, we live in contact with our senses, our body, and our mind, so we actually interact with our life. We have a life. The conscious energy, with a quite different and higher nature than the sensitive, usually remains submerged as the background of awareness, hidden behind our senses. True inner work, however, tends to clarify consciousness, bringing it toward the foreground.

How to recognize consciousness? Here are a few examples of its many manifestations. In the mind: a spacious, cognizant stillness and clarity of thought. In the emotions: an engaged equanimity that opens us to joy and wonder. In the body: a supple, natural fluidity and precision of movement, like an athlete in the zone or a musician beyond technique.

Here though, our primary interest is how the conscious energy responds to will. Working with the conscious energy, our will gains a markedly greater freedom and power than with the automatic or sensitive energies. We now consider the directed modes of conscious will: actively directed, receptively directed, and directed synergy.

Actively directed conscious will plays many important roles in our life and in our spiritual inner work. First, attention. Whenever we direct our perceptions by paying attention, our will engages the conscious energy. That energy has power over the lower energies, including the sensitive energy that mediates contact with our senses. So our will, as attention, directs the conscious energy to channel our senses toward our chosen object. We develop and use this power of attention in school and in many other circumstances. But notice that this is active attention, not the passive watching-TV type of attention. In the former, we actively direct our attention. In the latter, we passively allow our attention to be taken. Much of our life depends on active attention.

Most meditation, prayer, and spiritual exercises also depend on and develop attention. We may pay attention to our breath, to our thoughts, to a phrase we inwardly repeat, to our emotions, to our body, to sounds, to all of our senses at once, to certain inner energies. The practice of attention lies at the core of spiritual work. It not only enables us to carry out the inward actions of the path, but also refines and builds our will, which becomes more effective in all its modes.

The study and practice of attention teaches us about will. By noticing our attention itself, and looking to see where it comes from, we learn the subtlety of will, the taste of will. By being our attention, we learn to be our will, and thus to be our self, our I.

Other forms of actively directed, conscious will also play significant roles in the spiritual path. We practice inhabiting our body, actively putting ourselves in our body, being in our body. In the exercise of agency, we practice doing what we are doing, being engaged in what we do, participating as and being the one who lives our life. In energy breathing, we reach out with our will into the air surrounding us and draw the energy there back into us, into our inner body.

Receptively directed will, using the conscious energy, allows us to see the truth, to see into things with simple and direct clarity. We see our thoughts as thoughts and our emotions as emotions; we know them for what they are. Likewise, we know ourselves. We know our mixed motivations, our associative thinking, our reactive and conflicting emotions, and our lack of consideration for others or for our own true welfare. And we know our strengths, our integrity, and our aspirations. We see people as people, not as cardboard cutouts or animate objects, but as people like we are. All these forms of true seeing depend on will, on our willingness to see what is, on our will being receptively directed toward what we see.

When our body, mind, and heart together recognize and accept a particular course of action that we have bound ourselves to take, that is commitment: conscious will receptive to a decision we have already made. This is being responsible, honoring our commitments and keeping our word, even to ourselves. Despite our reluctance, inconvenience of the moment, or any contrary preference, we accept and follow the course to which we are committed. Such commitments may be to other people, to our job, to our body, to our future, to the environment, to spiritual practice, or to some other personal discipline. We reaffirm our acceptance of it and stay the course. This is conscious, receptive, directed will as commitment.

When our will engages the conscious energy, our decisions become effective. In this synergic mode of will, we receptively see the relevant possibilities, limitations, and obstacles, and we actively select and affirm a course of action that is within our power. We do this from our center, from the core of our self. The difference between deciding and choosing derives from the difference between the conscious and sensitive energies. The conscious energy supports a much greater power of the will than do the sensitive energies. Unless they have irreversibly altered our situation, choices may be easily forgotten or reversed. Decisions stick. Why? Because the conscious energy enables us to act from the whole of ourselves. This is not just a passing thought that says “I will…” All our parts cooperate. Our body, mind, and heart agree and subsume themselves under the unified umbrella of our will, our decider, our I. Then we can and actually do what we have decided to do, whether a minor decision, a major one, or special ones, like promises or vows.

For this week, notice and practice consciously directed will. Practice attention. Notice when you are seeing into the heart of things. Notice when you are committed to a course of action. Make your decisions effective and notice them. In all of this, seek to acquire the taste of consciously directed will.

See also: Conscious Presence


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