Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of July 11, 2011

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Greed

(Obstacles on the Way: Part 6 of 9)

How much is enough? Where is the appropriate line between needs and wants? What do we need? When does external work pass from contributing to society and earning our living to taking more than we should? These questions matter to us both personally and collectively, yet they fall into a gray area of personal judgment. The development of that judgment goes with the development of our contact with conscience, and so plays a central role in our spiritual path. How we live is an expression of who we are.

If we take indiscriminately, take just to take, take just to have, accumulate for the sake of accumulation, that affects our planet, which may already be beyond its carrying capacity, and it affects us spiritually. If greed, the desire to take and have more than we need, causes us to be wasteful, then we are irresponsible toward the Earth. If greed causes us to mistreat or manipulate people, then we are irresponsible toward society. If greed causes us to spend so much of our time and energy pursuing wealth, power, and status that we do not have enough left to pursue our spiritual practice, then we are irresponsible toward our own eternal well-being and toward the spirit. More fundamentally, greed is an expression of self-centered egoism and thus strengthens the barrier between us and the spiritual depths.

Now none of this is meant to advocate an intentionally ascetic lifestyle of poverty, for in many ways that also may be irresponsible. Nor does it mean that we should not go beyond needs to enjoy some of the luxuries afforded us by this amazing, globalized techno-economy. Yet, there is a line where what we do passes to overindulgence, to avarice and greed. Our own conscience can tell us where that line is, if we listen.

One major way to recognize that greed may be at work in us is by noticing our thoughts and emotions when they perseverate around wanting something. Again though, we discriminate between wanting something we need and wanting something we want. The subtleties involved help us develop our discrimination, which helps put us in contact with our I, our unified, individual will.

Greed leads to more greed, not to satisfaction. The hole in our center that greed tries to fill cannot be filled from the outside. So greed can never be satisfied: it always wants more and more and more. Greed clings to externals to fill the emptiness within us, an emptiness that can only be filled from within, not by anything external.

To counteract greed, we open and give. The prime way to let go of greed is to open to the richness of this moment. The greater our presence, the more vivid is our immediate experience. Vivid experience is inherently more satisfying than being half-aware. The impulse of greed is a misplaced response to our emptiness, our lack, our dissatisfaction. Indeed, dissatisfaction and greed mutually reinforce each other. Through our spiritual practice that dissatisfaction with ourselves and our life, instead of devolving into greed, can fuel our need, our desire to practice. Presence raises us out of the unsatisfying mode of experience. So presence makes greed superfluous and our greed evaporates. In presence we are just here, contented and complete. Acting on greed, taking, satisfies temporarily at best. Spiritual inner work and meaningful external work, both of which give, satisfy in a lasting and more fundamental way. As does generosity, which is a direct antidote to greed.

For this week, notice the extent to which greed operates in you, and the extent to which you act out of greed. Work to be more present and let go of any greed.


     

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