Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of June 13, 2011

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(Obstacles on the Way: Part 2 of 9)

Just as sense desire is built into our genes, so is aversion. We find certain odors repulsive, indicative of food gone bad, air unsuitable for breathing, or noxious materials. Food that tastes bad may well be bad. We tend to find disorder ugly and symmetry beautiful. Cacophonous and harsh sounds seem to attack our ears. All that and much more are normal and natural ways that aversion enters our experience.

But we let it go too far, overindulging our aversions just as we overindulge our sense desires. The more things we donít like and the more we limit our experience based on that not-liking, the more impoverished is our life. Some believe just the opposite: that happiness comes from doing what we like to do and not doing what we dislike. But a much deeper and lasting satisfaction comes from having the freedom actually to do what we dislike and not do what we like. We assume that we have that freedom, that we freely choose to do what we like and not do what we dislike. But that behavior is predictable, wholly conditioned by our largely fixed store of likes and dislikes. Predictable, conditioned behavior is slavish, not at all free. We are free to do anything we like, but only what we like. If we find ourselves in a situation that forces us to do what we donít want to do, we grumble, get bored, do it half-heartedly, daydream or otherwise try to escape. We kill those moments and with them part of our life, because we are only half-alive in them.

Everyone, without exception, finds it necessary at times to do what they donít want to do or to forgo something they want. Life is full of such compromises. Maturity means, in part, being able to deal with that reality and keep going. Spiritual maturity means, in part, actually accepting to do what we donít want to do or forgo what we want, when necessary, accepting so completely that the situation does not drain our energies. This freedom does not mean getting rid of our likes and dislikes, which is not possible and would in any case flatten and impoverish our life, but rather to be able to do whatís needed, when itís need, without regard for our likes and dislikes.

To gain such freedom, we must exercise our will. From time to time, we choose something we do not want to do and do it anyway. Or we choose something we want and give it up. We do that for a definite but limited time period that we select in advance, say for a day, or a week, or a month. Notice that we are not applying this to all our likes and dislikes. For the most part, within the bounds of responsibility and prudence, we continue to enjoy doing what we like to do and avoid doing what we do not want to do. At the same time, however, we build up our ability to do otherwise, to not go with our conditioning, when necessary or when we so choose. That crucial ability is our freedom and it emanates from the strength of our will. That freedom in front of likes and dislikes raises the level of our life, of our experience. Living under the domination of likes and dislikes keeps us mired in a dependent, thin, half-aware mode of experience, where initiative comes from outside us, where we are not ourselves.

Another type of aversion appears in our self-destructive judgments. For example, we reject aspects of our self and our body. That rejection slams us into an inner civil war that does us great harm. Self-rejection undermines the loving self-acceptance that we need to move toward self-integration and wholeness, to stop wasting energy on inner conflict. We mistakenly define ourselves by embracing those of our aspects and qualities that we like and rejecting those we do not like. Freedom and wholeness mean embracing, accepting every bit of ourselves, while realizing that none of it is who I am. That realization is not a matter of rejecting anything, even our aversion, but rather of opening to the sacred. Of course, self-acceptance is fully compatible with efforts of self-improvement, as long as we avoid an inner war of self-rejection.

Other forms of aversion involve our attitudes toward people. In its more extreme manifestations, aversion to people comes as anger, ill-will, spite, desire for revenge, keeping accounts, and schadenfreude. Milder versions include insensitivity to and lack of interest in people, avoidance, shyness, fear of what they will think of us, and fear of exposure or embarrassment. All forms of aversion to people isolate us, again impoverishing our life. Listening, really listening to others is a good antidote to aversion.

Freedom in front of aversion transforms it into strength, into acute perception, into a sense of justice and fairness. When we feel an aversion, be it visceral or mild, for something or someone or some situation, it may be a direct and true assessment, or just a reflection of our conditioned prejudices and antipathies, or a combination of the two. Freedom enables us to see into this, to disambiguate truth from reaction. Without freedom, we are simply subject to the aversion regardless of its value.

For this week, pay attention to your aversions and practice toward freedom from being dominated by them.


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