Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the Week of January 17, 2022


Conscience 

(Fourth Way Practice: 9)

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Religions and spiritual paths generally incorporate moral codes, for the simple reason that morality manifests the love at the heart of the universe. Yet life and its innumerable choices cannot entirely be codified and reduced to definite rules, be they narrow or general. To meet this challenge, we open to our own moral compass, that intuitive knowing of right from wrong. The innate moral compass that we each possess has a name: conscience.

Gurdjieff said that the source of conscience in us is the representative of the Creator. [Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, 1950, p. 372]. Consider for a moment: if it is our direct line with the Sacred, how precious then conscience is. Do I really want to go against or ignore a prompting from God? Conversely, if it is somehow from God, then living by conscience would bring me closer to the Divine and align me with the evolutionary destiny of life on this Earth.

Which raises the issue of how to recognize the promptings of conscience, how to tell whether an impulse is from conscience or from egoism, or neither. First, a basic way to recognize when it is not conscience, namely when the prompting goes against ordinary morality, when the action would cause harm to others or to ourselves. We use our common sense to evaluate an intuitive impulse, an intuitive recognition of what to do or what not to do. If it passes the test of morality, non-harming, and common sense, then it may be our conscience communicating with us. If it concerns something immediate and pressing, that test can happen in a flash and we know the truth. If it is not immediate, we can afford to wait if necessary and see whether the feeling of rightness or wrongness persists. The danger with the latter, though, is that we may try to justify to ourselves, our mind spinning excuses for going against that initial insight of conscience.

Another indicator of conscience concerns responsibility. In his masterwork, Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, Gurdjieff uses the word "responsible" 371 times. This emphasis on living responsibly accords with our own intuition that responsible action is generally right action. Our conscience lets us know when an impulse to act irresponsibly arises in us.

To be open to conscience requires a willingness to do the right thing and not do the wrong thing, despite self-centered ego impulses to the contrary. Conscience also depends on seeing, seeing clearly and impartially what the situation is. The seeing is a function of consciousness. The more conscious we are, the more we see. Our inner work practices combine to make us more conscious and more present. Presence means that there is someone here, namely us, who is present, who is conscious, who sees; someone who can receive and respond to the promptings of conscience. The more we see and the more we respond to our conscience, the more it comes to us. When we can no longer look away, when we can no longer not respond to conscience, then our conscience has truly awakened. This condition of having a clear conscience relieves untold burdens.

Gurdjieff taught that the inner work of conscience involves assisting the non-desires in ourselves to predominate over the desires [Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, 1950, p. 373]. To recognize what in us is a desire and what in us is a non-desire depends on the clarity of consciousness and the impartiality of our will, which enable our conscience to make itself known to us. We must learn to recognize when an impulse is coming from fear, greed, vanity, or some other self-centered emotion or desire, falsely cloaking itself in the mantle of rightness. This requires a high degree of honesty with ourselves, as well as knowing our own tendencies.

Then comes the even more crucial step of obeying our conscience and doing the right thing or not doing the wrong thing, despite our desires to the contrary. Do we keep our word and our promises, including to ourselves, even when we would much rather not? Can we see that the egoistic impulses arising in us, despite their apparent strength, are mere paper tigers? No desire can compel us to act. It is just an urge manifesting as a thought, or a feeling, or a physical impulse. We learn that the world and our inner life does not come crashing down if let the urge be, without following its dictates. We cannot readily stop our thoughts or emotions, but we can learn to control our actions despite those thoughts and emotions. And if we could reach the stage of always acting in accord with our conscience, instead of crashing our inner life, that would enrich it by releasing us from the slavery of egoism and opening us to true joy and other higher emotions.

If conscience is the representative of the Creator in us, then it is also the representative of compassion, both for others and for ourselves. We need not deny all of our desires, which would make life dull indeed. Instead, we look to be free in front of any desire, and never to indulge those that go against our conscience. Conscience also shows us how to serve the best interests of the people around us, in small ways and large.

Why is this work of conscience so important? Conscience is not just part of our equipment. It is not separate from us. It is who we are. Conscience is a particular mode of our will and can come from higher levels in and through us. It involves at least a partial perception of the patterns and purpose of life at several levels, from the personal and immediate to the global. The core of the spiritual transformation that is both our duty and our destiny concerns removing the aberration of egoism from the stream of will coming into us from the Divine, so that we can live and act in accord with the Sacred, so that we can manifest the Sacred on this Earth, recognize our kinship with all life, and allow the light of Love to bless us all. Conscience is central to all of that.

For this week, please practice opening to and living by your own conscience.

See Also: Conscience


     

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