Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of March 9, 2015

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Our Word

(The Way of Integrity: Part 4)

What we say matters, often as a direct expression of our integrity or lack thereof. We do not hear malicious gossip or harmful tales from people of integrity. We do not hear lies from people of integrity, though depending on the situation, they may refrain from stating hurtful truths. And above all, we do not hear empty promises from people of integrity. If they give us their word that they will do something, we can count on them to follow through and do it. To speak with integrity is certainly part of spiritual practice.

These same issues also apply inwardly, in our thoughts. Most of our thoughts are automatic, with no conscious intention behind them. They are just reactions to external events, emotions, or to other thoughts. Automatic thoughts in themselves do not impact our integrity, although if we believe them or act on them, they can have a dramatic impact. Intentional thoughts do matter, because they are our actions, albeit inward actions. Do we inwardly nurture malicious gossip or harmful tales? Do we tell ourselves lies, pretending they are true? Do we make empty promises to ourselves, promises that we fail to keep?

For our integrity to be whole, what we do inwardly must correspond to what we do outwardly and spring from ethical, kind, and forthright attitudes. We may believe we can hide our views and inward actions from others, but we cannot hide from ourselves. If we consciously and intentionally harbor attitudes of greed or hatred or shirking, then integrity can have no foundation in us. Inner integrity is the basis of outer integrity.

When we give our word that we will do something, that promise and our actions surrounding it define us. If we are to be ourselves, then we must keep our word. Otherwise, we are not anything; in a real sense, we do not even exist. If given automatically and without conscious intention, the promise has no one standing behind it. But a promise not only defines us, it can create us. When we say I promise ..., it means something only if we are there saying it with intention. By consciously making the promise and fulfilling it, we assert our individuality, our reality, our I. An empty promise means an empty self. A real promise means a real Self. This is the spiritual reality underlying the giving of ones word.

What to do? If we never give our word, we will never break a promise. Yet this also fails to assert our I and it shirks what we need to do. So instead we are careful about what we say we will do. We only give our word with our full intention and ability to keep it. We take our word as seriously as we take our very existence. When we make a promise, we first make sure that we are actually there, present and choosing to make that promise. And then we make sure to fulfill it.

One requirement for speaking with integrity is to speak with awareness and purpose. Do we allow words to fall out of our mouth without paying much attention to what we are saying? That can lead to foot-in-mouth syndrome. At the very least, automatic talking can use up energy that could be put toward our inner work, toward our being. The second part of this is whether we talk just to take up conversational space or do we mean what we say, do we intend to say what we say? Intentions that spring from integrity usually give positive results in speech. A lack of intention, gives unpredictable and scattered speech. So in bringing our word into our spiritual path, we practice speaking with attention as well as intention deriving from integrity.

Though we may speak with attention and intention, it is no part of integrity to dominate a conversation with talk about our self and no interest in the other person or people we are talking at. That is not really a conversation. It has no give and take. Integrity understands that others matter as much as we do. Yes, we can fake an interest in the other person, and that may be a positive step in the direction away from our self-centeredness, but it still falls short of genuinely sharing our time and valuation with others.

None of the forgoing means that spiritual practice requires us to be serious in everything we say. On the contrary, our intention in speaking may be simply to enjoy the camaraderie of our friends, maybe even to say something funny. But it does mean that we aim always to be aware of what we are saying and the context surrounding it.

For this week, please look at the degree to which you keep your word and the degree to which you speak with attention and intention connected to your integrity.


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