Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of April 2, 2012

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Conscience

(The Path of Purpose: Part 6 of 9)

We all know the sacred feeling of remorse of conscience: when we’ve done the wrong thing or neglected to do the right thing, we feel an uncomfortable pang in our core. That feeling is sacred because of its source and because if we pay attention to it and resolve not to arouse it again, ever, it can purify us of our self-centered egoism. That resolve to follow our conscience turns remorse from a feeling we experience after a misdeed to a future-oriented intuition of a potential misdeed. Conscience obeyed can thus guide our choices to avoid remorse. Notice that this is not about burying remorse. On the contrary if we have it, we need to feel it and reflect on what we’ve done or not done to arouse it.

No, what we’re after is to open to our intuitions of conscience about the choices in front of us, not just those behind us. If we take on a personal moral imperative to obey our conscience, it can override those of our egoistic impulses that would have us act against conscience. Thus conscience can weaken the hold that our ego has on us. Freedom from ego does not mean not having one; ego is a self-referential, self-oriented pattern in our will that persists, perhaps until we die. But it is a pattern or set of patterns with nothing substantial at its core. That insubstantiality allows us the possibility of giving up the burden of ego. Freedom from ego means freedom in front of ego, it means seeing our self-centeredness as self-centeredness whenever it arises and not allowing it to control our choices and attitudes. Obeying our conscience will often go against our ego, prompting its protests, and unmasking it for what it is, so that we can see it and step out of our bondage to it.

The notion of freedom from ego raises the question of who is it that is free. To begin with, our conscience is free. And as it turns out, conscience is part of our I, our higher Self. So it comes down to following my conscience so that I can be free, or ignoring it and living the small life of an ego. When we work to live by conscience and we experience some nasty thought or impulse that, if acted on, would go against our conscience, we notice that thought or impulse more clearly, we see it. And we know that this nastiness is not who I am, this is not what I would do. That knowing, that seeing in the light of conscience, shows us that the thoughts and impulses that form the patterns of our egoism are not who we are. Each time this happens, we gain a little more freedom from our small self, we come more into our I. Our thoughts and emotional reactions are not us; they are just thoughts and just emotions.

We can distinguish between the emotion of guilt and the sacred feeling of remorse, between Freudian superego and conscience. Guilt and superego are learned responses, imposed or impressed on us from outside. For example, when someone wants you to do something and you refuse, you might feel guilty. If you have not promised to do whatever it is, if you do not have some commitment to do it, and if there is no genuine need behind the request, then your refusal does not arouse conscience. But the difficulty of refusing someone might make you feel guilty. It is a fairly low level emotional reaction and does not cut to our core as does remorse.

Conscience is objective. Take, for example, the Golden Rule of doing unto others what you would have them do unto you, and not doing unto others what you would not have them do unto you. This is objective morality based in the reality of oneness and love. Conscience and remorse guide us along objectively moral paths.

Our connection with conscience can benefit us beyond serving as our moral compass. It can also help us discriminate between alternatives to see the better choices, even when the choices do not involve moral issues of right and wrong. In such cases, instead of calling it conscience, we call it wisdom. They both come from a connection with and openness to our deepest nature. In the same way that we learn to pay attention to the still, small voice of conscience, we learn to be aware of our intuitive wisdom.

We can be a person of conscience, someone who is trusted to do the right thing. For this week, listen for your conscience. Adopt the purpose of honoring your Self by doing the right thing.

For more about the conscience, please see: Conscience

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