Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of November 17, 2014

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Not Personality

(The Levels of No-Self: Part 1)

The first liberation on the way of no-self is freedom in front of our personality. By personality we mean the whole collection of patterns of thought and emotion that dominates our inner world. To be clear, the liberation we seek is not about stopping our thoughts and emotions. They may stop temporarily in certain states, but our particular set of patterns of thought and emotion will be with us as long as we live. Yes, they do change, but they do not stop.

Liberation with regard to our personality means non-identification. We believe our thoughts and emotions define us. We even believe that they are us. That inner voice in our head seems to speak for us, seems to be me. All those emotions that arise from time to time seem to be me, a direct expression of how I feel.

But it is almost entirely automatic patterns. We know that computer programs can be very complex, so much so that they are beginning to approach being able to pass for human, as with Siri and the like. Our mental-emotional programs are even more complex, so complex that they do pass for human, which they are not. What is truly human about us lies deeper than our thoughts and emotions. But the variety and complexity of our mental-emotional programs fool us into believing that they are us, that they define what it means to be human, what it means to be me. In a word, we identify with our thoughts and emotions.

Sometimes it is clear that our thoughts and emotions result from some event in our immediate environment. Then it seems as if we are responding to what happened. At other times the thoughts and emotions seem to arise spontaneously, so that it seems as though we are thinking in a vacuum. But in almost all cases where thinking is not intentional, thoughts are the result of an associative pattern. An event causes a thought reaction. One thought leads to another, and so on, endlessly. And we identify with it.

How does this work? The central culprit is the thought I. Every one of these competing, contradictory thoughts and emotions passing through us claims to be I, simply by producing the thought-sound I. Whenever there is a thought in us that says I will do this or I want that or I hate this, we believe it. We believe it is I that is speaking that inner voice.

But that I is so fragmented that it cannot be our one true self, as it pretends to be. It is so automatic that it cannot be speaking for us. Rather it speaks at us while claiming to be us, claiming to be the one true agent of our life, the decider, the doer, the experiencer. Yet it is just a thought, the thought I. And from all these passing, multifarious Is, we construct our personality, believing it to be a unified whole, a something that is us. That inner voice continually saying I represents for us our personality. But it is not a whole. It is just a large collection of disparate parts masquerading as a whole. It is not who we are.

Intentional thoughts can be different. They may be speaking for us. They may be an expression of our true I, something we are choosing to think. But even our intentional thoughts are not who we are, just as our intentional physical actions are not who we are. They are just what we choose to do, or think, in that moment. The problem with thoughts is that we believe they are all intentional, that we are somehow choosing to think every thought that passes through our mind. It is not so. The overwhelming majority of our thoughts are not intentional; they are automatic. They arise from associative interactions among our memories, tendencies, reactions, and inner habits. They are most definitely not us. We are not thinking them, they are thinking themselves. In effect, they are thinking us.

So this liberation in front of personality begins with seeing the automatic nature of our thoughts, including the thought I. We begin to see the illusion of I. Meditation certainly helps in this. We see thoughts intruding where they are not called to be. This seems simple and obvious, and it is. But its ramifications are profound, namely that we are not our thoughts, not our inner patterns of thought. And further, we are not our emotions either. What we are is a different matter entirely. But we start with what we are not. We are not our thoughts, emotions, or physical impulses. We are not the thought I. We are not this agglomeration of inner patterns and impulses that we have until now taken be ourselves.

Seeing through the pretense of our personality, of the automatic thoughts saying I, is the first level of realization of no-self. It gives us a remarkable and exhilarating freedom in front of our personality, our automatic thoughts and reactive emotions. We see our thoughts and emotions pretending to be us, and we understand thoroughly, viscerally, that they are not who we are. We no longer have to do battle with difficult thoughts or emotions. We no longer feel constrained to act on our thoughts or emotions, or to reject the inappropriate thoughts and emotions. They are all just thoughts or emotions. We let them come and we let them go of their own accord. We are free. We are free to choose which thoughts and emotions to follow up on and which to ignore.

Until we are free in front of personality, it takes control and our true I stays buried. The tail wags the dog. Yet we need our personality. We need all those patterns of thought and emotion that enable us to navigate the complexities of life. With respect to our emotions, freedom does not mean living a dispassionate life. It means having our passions belong to us, rather than us belonging to our passions. In this newfound freedom, our personality takes its rightful place, that of serving our true self, our I, which we will turn toward in the next part of this inner work series.

For this week, notice your thoughts and emotions. Notice that you are watching them, which shows that you are not them.


     

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