Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of September 6, 2021


The Evolution of Will 1

Particles to Human

(The Spiritual Ecosystem: 4)

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We have come to consider evolution as a matter of variations in physical bodies, subjected to selection of the fittest. That is external evolution. Within the spiritual ecosystem, evolution does not depend on physical changes; the human body as it is now may be adequate, at least for the near-term needs of inner evolution. Spiritual evolution is the evolution of will. Up to this point, we have primarily approached the spiritual ecosystem in terms of energies. The exchange, generation, and transformation of spiritual energies are the most "visible" aspect of the spiritual ecosystem. But the driving factor behind all that is will. Now we turn to will, how to understand it, its role, and how to be it.

First, what is will? If we simply look at our own inner experience, we know that we have will. We choose what to do and what not to do. We decide and we judge. We pay attention, thereby directing our consciousness, which shows that will, as the driver in our attention, is more fundamental than consciousness. We ponder something and gain insight into it. We form an intention and act from that. All of these are acts of will: choosing, deciding, judging, attending, pondering, insighting, and intentional actions including opening our feelings, opening our hearts to someone or something. Everything we do and everything we perceive, outward and inward, involves our will, the silent driver of action, the silent perceiver. We ourselves are our will. Our I is our will: not the thought I, but the actor and perceiver that is I.

There are some hurdles to understanding will. First is that it can never be objectified. We cannot hold will up before us, observe it, and say yes that is will. Will is always the subject, the one that acts, the one that sees. It is will that observes and thus cannot be observed. Our will is who we are.

A powerful and important exercise to come to know will is to practice being our attention. When you pay attention, be your attention. This brings us into being our will, being that in us which directs our attention. An alternative practice is to search for the source of our attention, to seek an answer to the question of where does my attention come from? Not to formulate an answer as a thought or theory, but to come into being the source of our attention experientially. Attention is not the only form of will, but it is readily available for us to investigate. And in that investigation we may not only discover and become who we really are, but we may also realize something about the nature of the Sacred and our connection with It. These practices need time and patience, because in them we are exploring a central aspect of our life which may be entirely hidden from unrecognized by us.

A second hurdle to understanding will is that much of our life just happens without any active choice on our part. For example, when we let ourselves go into a TV episode, we are mostly passive in front of that TV. Will mainly participates in the initial choice to watch TV. After that, we tend to go on autopilot. Much of our life is on autopilot. But not all of it. At any moment we can pay attention intentionally. We may live in a habitual way, hardly tasting our food, hardly engaging any will. But in the middle of a meal, it is possible for us to awaken with attention to the taste, texture, and aroma of the food. Here we see the contrast between passive and active will.

A third major category is receptive will. We behold a great work of art or a masterpiece of music or a grand vista of nature. We are not passive. We are very much there. Neither are we active. We are not making this perception happen. But we are here receiving that glory with the whole of our body, heart, and mind. It is through receptive will that we enter deeply into prayer or contemplation.

If there is will in us, it is reasonable to look to see whether there might be will in other things, perhaps in everything. In quantum mechanics, the act of observation causes a change in the quantum state of a particle or other quantum object. The act of observation is an act of will. We surmise that elementary particles have a rudimentary will, the simple will to be what they are. Their freedom of will is constrained to a narrow set of probabilities. In the act of observation, a higher level will interacts with the particle will to change its state. Entangled particles share the same will. Since will transcends time and space, entangled particles act like parts of one particle even when separated by great distances.

Following this line of reasoning that everything has will, an atom has the will to be itself. That will subsumes the wills of the elementary particles which constitute the atom. A molecule has the will to be itself and subsumes the will of the atoms which constitute it. A table has the will to be a table, a will put into it by its human creator. The will of the table subsumes all the wills of the molecules which are part of it. A tree has the will to be that tree, a mountain to be that mountain. And so it goes up the scale.

In humans, the enormous complexity has reached a level that enables their will to be free over a very wide range of possibilities. A table has no free will. It can only be itself. A human has a multitude of options in acts of will. Spiritual evolution for humans means continuing up the scale of will.

Our next step, which is a major challenge, is integrating all the disparate and fragmented urges, tendencies, attitudes, drives, desires, wishes, and tastes that we have in us individually into a single will, subsuming the whole of ourself under that one will, which is us, our real I.

How? We need to begin by seeing our inner fragmentation as it is: how we promise ourselves that we will do one thing and wind up not doing that thing, how we are inwardly in conflict with ourselves, how this prevents us from having confidence and trust in ourselves, how this lack of a stable sense of ourselves drives us to compensate by building up and buying into a pseudo self, our ego, by defining ourselves in contrast to and as separate from others. It's a mess, but there is hope.

Seeing some of this, we can begin the process of integration, of becoming whole, not by force, but by love and compassion for all our disparate parts. We embrace ourselves. We embrace the whole catastrophe that is us. In so doing, we bring our parts into relationship. We bring our parts under one umbrella. If we try to force it, say by attempting to crush those aspects of ourselves that we do not like or consider unbecoming, we end up deepening our inner divisions. But self-compassion heals. Creating a big tent allows the interdependence of our parts to strengthen toward unity. Compassion toward ourselves enables compassion toward others. When we see an impulse in ourselves that we do not like, in other words an impulse at odds with another impulse, we let it be. If it is destructive to ourselves or others, we do not act on it, but we let be it; we see it with acceptance. Eventually its drive, its vigor, becomes part of the one in us who sees, our real I.

But there are also more direct methods to work on will. Because attention is a power of the will, the practice of sustaining attention strengthens our will. This means active, intentionally directed attention. Inwardly active meditative exercises are a prime means for this. If we are hearing a lecture or in a conversation, we can practice sustained and total listening. In speaking, in cooking, in walking, in almost any activity, we can practice sustained and total attention to what we are doing. We can practice sensing our body during the day, which requires sustained attention. We can practice keeping our word, keeping our promises, both to ourselves and to others.

We can broaden our practice of will to include receptive will. We engage in prayer and contemplation, where we open our heart, open ourselves to a higher will. We practice kindness, allowing our walls of separation to drop away to receive the love that embraces us all.

For this week, please engage your will to evolve.


     

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