Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of December 12, 2011

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Purifying Will

(Developing Will: Aspect 10 of 10)

Movement along the spiritual path, and especially into its deeper reaches, requires purity of will. Intuitively we know that purity means freedom from egoism, feeling that we are neither more nor less important than others, neither more nor less special, that we are unique as all are unique and ordinary in that uniqueness. The less we feel and think and act from self-centeredness, and the less we believe in our own separateness, the greater the purity of our will. The motivations of the pure-hearted come from a concern with doing the right thing, the responsible, kind, and creative thing, rather than the self-serving action. Because the many-headed hydra of egoism insinuates itself in subtle ways throughout our inner world, we employ both direct and indirect means of purifying ourselves. It is a slow process, but persistence pays.

The indirect methods include discipline, kindness, and conscience. The tricky aspect is that our ego attempts to suborn all our motivations and actions. Ego says: “I will do X as a discipline because disciplined people are better than other people.” Ego takes a similar tack with kindness: “See how wonderful I am because I’m so kind.” Nevertheless, we need not concern ourselves with combating our egoism or even with seeing it, because ego is very slippery and it uses our full intelligence. Direct combat in that arena typically results in strengthening our ego, because it always switches to the winning side, or rather because it occupies both sides from the very start. So instead of direct combat, we just be ourselves, refrain from worrying about ego, and yet pursue the methods that will free us of it.

The beauty of these indirect methods of discipline, kindness, and conscience is that our ego tires of them and rebels, despite its occasional foray into being the “disciplined one” or the “kind one.” Discipline and kindness go against the inherent nature of egoism, which puts itself and its desires first. Discipline toward ourselves and kindness toward others weaken our ego, as does following the promptings of conscience.

By discipline we mean bringing order into our life, but without the taint of self-rejection and self-criticism, which often belong to egoism. “I should be better than that” is a common refrain of self-centeredness. Instead, we accept ourselves as we are, while imposing some self-discipline. The specifics of what disciplines to take on is a very individual choice for each of us to make. Generally, they might involve taming our physical appetites and indulgences, engaging in some regular and useful activity, creating order, carrying out our responsibilities well and fully, and so on. We choose disciplines that are neither so hard that we will fail to follow through, nor so easy as to be meaningless. True confidence comes from trusting ourselves to be able to do what we choose to do. Persistent discipline instills that trust, while developing and purifying our will.

Kindness matters. We aim to treat others with kindness and its close ally respect, always and without exception. At a minimal level, kindness means non-harming and following the Golden Rule of doing to others as you would have them do to you, and not doing to others what you would not want them do to you. Beyond that minimum, we pursue positive acts of kindness, for example, civility, courtesy, and generosity. Because ego usually puts itself above all others, the practice of kindness forms an effective part of our purification. The usually here refers to those forms of egoism that turn against the self and consider themselves lower than all others. In such cases, self-acceptance is a necessary kindness toward oneself, while also practicing kindness toward others.

Conscience gives us our intuitive sense of right and wrong and is often at odds with our self-centered, egoistic impulses. To the bit of truth that conscience sets before us, ego responds by ignoring it, by sweeping it under the rug of inattention. The result is to weaken our contact with conscience, leaving us at the mercy of our ego. In the way of conscience, we pay careful attention to its promptings and act in accord, doing the right, kind, and responsible thing. The way of conscience is our path to wisdom.

Although ego can and does strike at any time, certain practices tend to raise us directly, though temporarily, out of its reach, namely presence and prayer. In presence, in a state of being conscious and here, ego finds no purchase, no hold. We just are. There is nothing for ego to do in that situation except perhaps drive our thoughts and emotions. But if we are present, our associatively activated thoughts and emotions, the usual domain of ego, do not touch us, do not control us, are not able to convince us that they speak for us, that they are us. We just are. And self-centeredness evaporates in those moments.

This evaporation of ego exposes it as an illusion. There is no actual, separate, substantive me to defend, to center on, to nurture, groom, and build up. Ego is just an aberration of will, blocking the channel of will that flows from the Sacred through us. We believe in our ego and as it turns out that belief is all there is to ego. As there is no actual ego, that belief, though strong and utterly convincing, is completely false. Dispelling the illusion of ego, opens the way to our true I, which, as a unique emanation of the One sacred will, does not put us above or below others in importance. Our I is our conscience, is free, and seeks to serve and connect.

Prayer then is an action of I. Ego has no role to play here and is left behind when we enter prayer. Contemplative prayer, wherein we seek to open ourselves to our connection with the Sacred, with what is greater than us, is anathema to ego, further exposing and weakening our ego. Self-centered thoughts and feelings that arise in our time of prayer are seen as they are, simply the automatic activity of our heart and mind without any intention behind them. We let them come and go as they will, while we reach deeper, well beyond the illusion those automatic thoughts and feelings carry.

For this week, renew your work to purify your will by discipline, kindness, conscience, presence and prayer, as the appropriate opportunities arise.


     

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