Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of March 30, 2015

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Having Principles

(The Way of Integrity: Part 6)

To have clear, internalized moral principles is to have a well-functioning rudder in life. This goes beyond the compass of conscience, which shows us the right thing to do. And it goes beyond the values that inform our inner world. Having principles means being able to act in accord with conscience and with our values; it means having a rudder that works. Our principles, to be effective, not only need to be acceptable to our conscience and reflective of our personal values, but also be cleanly in accord with the moral norms and laws of our society. Examples of norms include the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule.

This does not mean that we need to have a set of rules memorized. A person of integrity might not be readily able to articulate his or her principles of living. But those principles shine through that person’s actions, because they are embedded in their fundamental attitudes toward life. Immoral and unethical thoughts may well arise, but they do not get translated into action because they do not pass the filter formed by the life principles of integrity. People of integrity can trust themselves. They need not be permanently on guard to do the right thing and avoid the rest. Rather, it comes naturally and easily.

But what if that does not describe us, as we currently are? What if we are morally challenged from time to time, tottering on the brink, and sometimes even falling? We suspect that even people of great integrity find themselves on the edge of a moral challenge at times. Temptations attack us all. If we have principles to fall back on, even if they are not firmly established, they help us let the temptations pass without succumbing to their siren song, without taking the attractive and easy, but unethical way. If we can relax back into our core, beneath the level that is tempted toward a moral lapse, we can come back to our innate purity, to the stillness of our mind and heart.

Many temptations come through the mechanism of our likes and dislikes, our desires and antipathies. We have bodily desires that, if given free rein, end in one of the myriad forms of addiction. But well short of addiction, we have work to do. For example, do we control our food intake enough to keep our body healthy? Can we relax in front of our cravings with the help of principles like “enough is enough” and by respecting our body to the point of doing what we can to keep it healthy, such as not overeating?

We have mental and emotional desires. Do we indulge thoughts antithetical to our principles? When we notice such thoughts, can we let them go, can we change the inner subject? Do we indulge emotions that drive us toward actions against our principles? When we notice such emotions, can we relax and let them subside, or can we at least refrain from acting under that influence and just ride out the storm? With perseverance, we grow stronger, more able to withstand temptations. Impulses that gave us trouble, no longer touch us. New temptations arise, but we have a practiced approach to dealing with them, to maintaining ourselves and our integrity.

Throughout our work to live a principled life and to rise above temptation, we have the remarkable tools of spiritual presence to help us. When we feel drawn toward to something we should not do, we can shift our attention to our inner work, for example to awareness of and contact with our body, with our sensation. Moving into our body in this way can raise our inner state above the temptation.

We can ride our principles to a guileless attitude to life and to people, an approach that leaves us inwardly free and thus able to experience the natural joy of living, our birthright. Living by principles declutters us: we do not need to remember lies we do not tell. We do not need to strategize ways to cheat or to avoid getting caught. We do not need to hide our actions and attitudes when there is nothing that needs hiding. We do not need to seek forgiveness for things we did not do.

For this week, please notice your own temptations. Notice also your own moral rudder and work to strengthen it.


     

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