Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of May 19, 2014

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Being Who I Am

(Deepening Our Inner Life: Part 7)

Knowing yourself matters, but being yourself matters much more. And for both there are ever-deepening levels of meaning.

The usual interpretation of self-knowledge is objectively knowing our strengths, weaknesses, and personality traits in their manifestations through our body, heart, and mind. There can be no true end-point to the acquisition of such self-knowledge for two main reasons. First, our personality has too many possible modes of acting and reacting to exhaustively know them. We can always surprise or surpass ourselves. Second, we change continually. So what we thought we knew about ourselves yesterday may no longer be true today.

Nevertheless, clearly seeing ourselves as we are, without flinching or self-recriminations, provides great benefits, not least of which is, paradoxically, a type of confidence. If we already know the best and the worst about ourselves and accept the truth of that knowledge, then we can confidently move forward within our limitations or push ourselves to exceed our limits. The more we know ourselves the less we have to fear about what others might see in us. We know where we stand. This affords us the freedom to do what we need to do.

Knowing our personality, capabilities, habits, preferences, and limitations is like knowing our history, because they are the result of our genetic traits and life experience. But our history, our story, and our personality do not fully define who we are. There is much more to us than that.

We begin our work of being who we are, which is the true meaning of presence, by being in our body, being in contact with our body. We practice sensing, which not only entails awareness of our body, as taught for example in mindfulness meditation practice, but also entails enhancing our contact with our body by building up the sensitive energy. To be who we are with respect to our body, means inhabiting our body. I am here in the whole of my body. With determined practice of sensing, our awareness expands to include awareness of our thoughts as thoughts and our emotions as emotions. This body of sensation serves as a platform for our awareness. We inhabit our body, our mind, and our heart. We reclaim this endowment of ours from the zone of auto-piloted non-presence.

The next step has us noticing that beneath all that sensory awareness of body, thought, and emotion, there is a layer of quiet, cognitive stillness, the pure consciousness underlying our awareness of specifics. Our consciousness is the screen on which all the content of experience plays. But in itself consciousness is peace, a substantive continuum of cognitive energy that does not stop at the boundary of our body. So we practice being in our consciousness. This does takes some practice, because the blank screen of consciousness is not so easy to recognize. When you go to a movie, how much are you aware of the screen itself versus the images portrayed on the screen? This is exactly the difficulty we face in acquiring the taste of consciousness. But the more we have that the more equanimity and peace we enjoy in flow of our life.

Basing our presence in body sensation offers some stability, enabling us to abide in consciousness a little longer than would otherwise be possible. What happens is that from being in the pure seeing of consciousness, we get caught by some passing thought or emotion or sensory impression, which takes us away on the stream of impressions and breaks our contact with consciousness. If, however, we intentionally maintain our contact with body sensation, then we are not so easily swept away, and we can open to the peace of consciousness; we can for a time, be consciousness.

Yet the truth of who we are goes deeper even than consciousness. Each of us can say I am my will. For example, I am my attention. Through attention we can select bits from the stream of experience and focus our awareness, our consciousness on them. Thus attention and more generally will are deeper than consciousness. So to come into who we truly are, we practice being our attention, being the source of our attention, being the one who directs our attention. This is an unmediated experience. I am here, directing my attention. I am the one who sees what my eyes bring into my awareness. I am the one who chooses what I choose, who does what I do. I am the one who experiences what I experience. I am the one who lives my life.

To shed a little more light on this, take the example of thinking. Usually, I am not thinking my thoughts: they are thinking themselves. Thoughts run of their own accord, automatically, in reaction and in patterns. But sometimes, I intentionally think about some subject, ponder something, make a plan, work on a problem. Intention is the key aspect, for it signals the presence of will. When I think intentionally, I am the one who is thinking. Only then is it true that I think. Otherwise my thoughts think, my mind thinks, but it is not I that am thinking, for at such moments I do not exist.

For this week, practice bringing yourself into existence, creating yourself moment-to-moment, by being who you are.

See Also: Being Yourself


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