Inner  Frontier
Cultivating Spiritual Presence

 

Inner Work


For the weeks of April 2 & 9, 2018

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Discovering Ourselves

(Climbing Jacob's Ladder: 9)

At some level, from time to time, we wonder who or what we are. It is a difficult question because it seems important yet nebulous. We have so much going on in us, how can we pick one aspect to single out as who we really are? Am I my body? Am I my thoughts? Am I my emotions? Am I the sum of my countless experiences and memories? Am I my awareness? Let's take each of these and see what we can about it.

Am I my body? Certainly, we are utterly dependent on our body; all empirical evidence indicates that if our body dies, then we die. However, that association does not in itself conclusively prove that we are our body. Indeed, we can be aware of our body and we can direct our body. Somehow then, we are more than our body.

Am I my thoughts? We can be aware of our thoughts and we can direct our thoughts, at least temporarily. Most of the time our thoughts think themselves, without our direction or intervention. At such times, they clearly do not speak for us. Even the thought "I" is just a thought, just a sound in our head. We are not our thoughts.

Am I my emotions? We can be aware of our emotions, but have limited control over them. Much of the time, our emotions arise in reaction to events or to thoughts, without our direction or intention. At such times, they do not truly represent our view of the matter. We are not our emotions.

Am I the integrated whole of my countless experiences and memories? Certainly our experiences and memories shape how we see things and frame our patterns of thought, emotion, and action. They inform us with knowledge and skills. Yet when we remember something, we are not that memory. Our experiences and memories present us with the raw data from which we abstract life lessons, attitudes, and goals. But clearly our memories are from the past, while we are in the present. Though our perceptions are filtered through our conditioned attitudes, the raw, unfiltered experience of the present moment connects organically with who we really are. We may have an attitude, but it does not define us and we need not be driven by it. Our attitudes can change, but who we are does not. We are more than our experiences and conditioning.

Am I my awareness? This comes closer to who we are, but is not us. We can direct our awareness. Our attention points our consciousness here or there. Thus, our consciousness is passive, while we can be active, for example in directing it. I am the one who is aware, not the awareness itself. Like our body, thoughts, emotions, and memories, consciousness is one of the wonderful tools at our disposal, part of our equipment, whereas we are the user of this equipment.

Where does that leave us? Are we any closer to discovering who we are? If we can fully accept that we are not our body, thoughts, emotions, experience, or awareness, nor any abstraction or combination of all that, then we have eliminated deeply-rooted false views.

What is left is our will. That is who we are.

The manifestation of will that is easiest for us to recognize is our voluntary attention, with which we direct our awareness. Much of what we do depends on attention, or trains it. All those years of schooling depend on paying attention to our teachers, to our reading, to our thinking, to our homework. So also our job, our relationships, our parenting, our cooking, and our driving: all depend on attention. Where is this attention that is our very self?

We cannot see our self, because our self is the one who sees. But we can be our self. Toward that, we look for the source of our attention. We may not find it, be we can, more and more, be it. Beyond our mind, in our very root, in our will, as our will, we live as the source of our attention.

We can begin that journey as a meditative practice. We notice our attention and move toward its source, toward ourselves. The direction is not obvious. But even in not knowing, not seeing, this challenge gives us a framework and orientation, specifically toward our own inner depths. We come toward ourselves, to be ourselves truly. Attention serves as a rope, for us to climb toward where it comes from. Here is my attention. Can I move back along it toward its root, toward my core, toward my self?

As we work at this, the fog surrounding the effort begins to thin out and lift. We acquire some clarity on that taste of being ourselves. We come into being our self, not only in this meditation, but also as we move through our day. This feels like an essential part of how to live.

Of course, there are other manifestations of will besides attention, such as the act of choosing, the act of deciding and committing to a course of action, and the continuing act of staying the course. Will also manifests as understanding, as when we see into an idea or a situation. There is the receptive will of opening, to other people in relating to and loving them, or to the Sacred in prayer. We are our will. Our challenge is to live as our will, as who we truly are.

For this week, please work to discover yourself as your will, as the one who directs your attention, the one who sees what you see and does what you do.


        

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