Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of August 3, 2020

The Ladder of Will


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If we wished to describe who we are, essentially, in one word, we could say we are our will. If we wished to describe the essential nature of the Divine in one word, we could say the Divine is Will. Between our will and the Divine Will, there are many layers, but the essential nature remains the same throughout and the two can be unified. For us it is a matter of making the spiritual climb, on the rungs of the ladder of will.

First the question: what is will? We all have an intuitive grasp of the lowest of the powers of will, namely attention. If we look carefully at what our attention does and how it works, we shall go a long way toward understanding will. We see, for example, that through our attention we have the power to choose, specifically to choose where to direct our awareness. So directing and choosing are two features of will.

Our attention directs the energies of our awareness, our sensitive and conscious energies. Thus will acts on and through energies, which in turn act on our various functions, from intentional movements of our body to intentional chains of thought to intentional focusing of our senses. So to get something done, will does not act alone, but only in combination with and through the intermediary of energies. We can also see this by noticing that if we focus our attention on something for an extended period of time, there comes a moment that despite our intention to continue we cannot. Our attention runs out of fuel, out of the energy it is acting through. So we rest and replenish and then get back to the job at hand.

When through attention we focus our awareness, sensory information flows back up and becomes perceptions. We, our will, our attention, are the perceiver, the one who is aware, the one who receives what our senses bring us. The three elements in this process are us, our will, at the center, acting on our energies of awareness, which focus and report information from particular senses: will, awareness energies, and sensory functions, all collaborating seamlessly. The fact that the collaboration is so seamless makes our life flow more easily.

Yet that very seamlessness has drawbacks: the primary one being that we do not see the elements of the process and become identified with our senses and with our energies, thereby losing ourselves, our will, into the midst of life. We become passive spectators immersed in the ongoing event of living. Even the most outwardly active among us may still be utterly passive at their center, subject to every passing whim. But by means of the inner work necessary to climb the ladder of will, we can extricate ourselves from passive identification and become able to serve in ways that matter.

The greatest difficulty in understanding will is that we cannot see it, we cannot perceive it. Will is that in us which sees, which perceives. Furthermore, will is not material and not an energy. Thus there are no mirrors by which will can see itself. We can only perceive its results in the energies and the functions.

Nevertheless, we can be our will, because we are our will. We can act. We can choose. We can decide. We can direct our attention. We can direct inner energies. We can understand. And we can love. All of these are acts of will, acts of our will, acts of our I. So though we cannot see our I, we can be our I. We can be the one who sees what we see and does what we do. To understand will is to understand ourselves. Not to understand will is not to understand ourselves.

Our starting point, though, is a scattered and fragmented will, corrupted by our self-centered egoism. Gradually through our inner work, through integration and purification, through reaching and opening beyond ourselves, through selfless service, we move up the ladder of will toward freedom, love, and reunion with the Sacred. Along the way, a great deal of work with various levels of energies also must occur, but the essence of the whole adventure of human spiritual transformation is in the will.

In this inner work series on the Ladder of Will, we shall explore the rungs of that ladder and the challenges involved in climbing them. For this week, please begin by noticing how you use your attention. Please practice being your attention.

    1. First Identity
    2. Looking Inward
    3. Empty Personality
    4. Choice: The Quantum of Will 
    5. Integrating Will: Our Own I 
    6. Ego? What Ego?
    7. Conscience
    8. The Door of Service
    9. Purpose
    10. Union


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