Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of October 17, 2011

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Keeping Our Word

(Developing Will: Aspect 2 of 10)

When we say we’ll do something, be it a commitment to another person or a promise to ourselves, the issue sometimes arises of whether we will follow through or not. When we do not, when we break our word, that unfulfilled commitment clouds our conscience and weighs us down in subtle but important ways. Breaking our promises to others damages trust and weakens our relationships, further isolating us on the island of self-centered egoism. Breaking a promise, whether to ourselves or to others, damages our trust and confidence in ourselves and weakens our will. We cannot escape by refusing to give our word or not making promises, because in many cases that would mean shirking our responsibilities, which has an effect on us and our relationships as deeply problematic as breaking our word.

The old saying that you are only as good as your word has several layers of meaning. The usual view concerns how others see you, the extent to which they trust you, and how they rate your credibility and integrity. But of equal importance, particularly for our spiritual development, is the effect that keeping or breaking our word has on us inwardly.

Integrity not only means incorruptibility, it also means wholeness. Why should those two meanings coexist? When we break our word, we are not whole, our will splinters, one part saying yes to the commitment and another part saying no. To be whole, we need to gather our will into one coherent unity, one that persists through time, so that others can trust us and we can trust ourselves. That gathering process includes keeping our word, every time, forgoing the temptation to let it slide.

If, as will happen, circumstances prevent us from keeping our word, then we do what we can to make amends, to make it right. We do not just turn our back, because the unfulfilled commitment that we leave behind trails us, shadows us, and interferes with us by scrambling our wholeness. The insidious baggage of broken promises haunts us. Even in the depths of meditation or prayer, it blocks our access to the spirit. To come before our Maker, even to aspire to open to the Sacred, we absolutely need wholeness and a clear conscience, for conscience is the channel of will through which that connection flows. Here we have the wonder of the Christian doctrine of forgiveness of sins and the Jewish practice of sincere repentance. These help clear the weeds from our conscience, opening our channel to the Sacred. The more certain we are to keep our word, the more transparent we are to the Sacred.

So it comes down to a question for each us: how important to us is our integrity? Not as some abstract concept of the noble life, but as a defining quality of who we are. If our word has no weight, if we lack integrity, what are we? Can we respect ourselves if we do not keep our word? Self-respect shapes us. Without it we flail. With it, we can respect others. With integrity, we can feel and be worthy of respect.

For this week, notice what you do after you make a promise or agree to do something.


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