Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of April 20, 2015

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(The Way of Integrity: Part 9)

We all grow up with an ego. Evolution probably put this into us as way of increasing our survival rate and the number of offspring we have. The life force in our body imposes an imperative to survive. To serve that imperative, our fabulously complex mind and emotions construct an edifice that we call ourselves. This construction is an intricate pattern of thoughts and emotions centered on the notion that I am here, separate from everyone and everything else. That is after all exactly the case for our body. Even though we depend on other people and this planet to maintain the life of our body, that dependence does not overcome the appearance of separateness, the fact that our body stops at our skin. We think as follows: this is my body, my clothes, my home, my car, my spouse, my opinion, my resume, my bank account, and so on forever. We implicitly and unquestioningly assume that the “my” in those thoughts refers to the real me and that this real me is not just my body, but is my I. This assumed entity at the center of the construction is our ego.

All that would be fine, except that it causes endless problems. In society, ego leads to crime, cruelty, and war. In our spiritual nature, ego blocks the channel between us and the Divine, preventing our true self, our true I from living and thriving in us.

The whole construction of our ego is a false one. The fact that we say or think the word me, does not mean that there really is a me, unless we take our body as me, which we do not. We think this is my body, as if there is a me that resides in and owns this body. As soon as we start to actually look for this me of ours, we realize that we cannot find it. That is because it does not exist. I can direct my thoughts, so I am not my thoughts. I can to some extent manage my emotions, so I am not my emotions. I can direct my body, so I am not my body. I am not the patterns in my body, mind, or emotions.

If I am none of that, then who or what am I? We generally do not even look at that question. We just assume that I am what my thoughts refer to, what my emotions revolve around. That, however, is our ego and it focuses us on ourselves, on the endless and fruitless task of building and defending our itself.

So if ego does not really exist, how does it block our channel to the Divine? How does it keep our true I from living in us? Put simply, it distracts us. Ego orients us toward externals. When we do look inward, we do it superficially, stopping at our thoughts and reactive emotions. By meditation, presence, and contemplative prayer, we learn to set aside our self-centeredness, set aside our external and superficial orientation, and connect with our deeper nature, with our true I, and with the Sacred. This process purifies us, gradually curing us of seeing everything in terms of our ego desires. Our engagement with the world can then take on a different tone. We treat others as equals, as just as important as we are. We may even begin to see others as not separate from us.

The diminishing of our self-centered fixations is part of the process of purification. Another part resides in our increasing attraction to and devotion to the Higher. Together, these two forces open our channel to the Divine, one acting from below and the other from above. Purity means having that channel open. To some extent we can recognize this in people who do not act from self-interest.

How do we work toward purity? One way is by paying attention to and always acting in accord with the promptings of our conscience. This can be hard. It requires us to be honest with ourselves and sometimes to do things we would rather not do or refrain from things we want to do. Conscience is our eye for truth, particularly about ourselves. Whether they harm others or ourselves, actions against our conscience burden us, clouding our hopes for purification.

Another way toward purity runs through the type of meditation that involves non-doing: just sitting and letting our inner experience unfold without trying to shape it. This trains us to forgo our desire to control, which often comes from our ego.

Gradually, through purification, we put down the enormous burden of building up and defending our ego. We can breathe freely and relax into life. We live our reality, as our true nature shines through unimpeded.

A moment comes when we stand before the Sacred. In that moment, everything depends on our purity. Traces of self-centeredness, of ego, turn us away. As Christ put it: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”


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