Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of August 21, 2017

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Volitional Self

(The Fog of Self 3)

When it comes to volition, to intention, agency, and will, the picture of who we are turns foggy indeed, being a mix of truth and illusion. The fact that we do things, that we cause things to happen, implies that there is someone, a self that is me, who is the causer, the doer, the decider and chooser. This is our apparent volitional self.

The illusion serves to hide the fact that many, if not most, of our actions, are not decided upon or chosen by anyone. Instead, these actions are automatic, programmed by our conditioning, our history, our views, our opinions, and habits of action and reaction. Though we do not feel that we are choosing or deciding in such cases and though is there is no self, no chooser behind these automatic actions, we nevertheless assume that there is. We assume that everything we do is done and chosen by us. Thus, we allow the default creation of our volitional pseudo-self, who purportedly chooses everything we do.

This automaton proves valuable and necessary. It takes care of so much of our life. It relieves us of needing to consider how to walk, how to wash dishes, how to type on a keyboard, and so much else. Yet though it pretends to be us, though we believe it to be us, we are not that mechanism. We are not our automatism.

An entirely different situation occurs, however, when we are alert and present. When we are in this sense conscious, fully engaged, and not on autopilot, we do feel that we are choosing and deciding. In these conscious choices, we have a self, our true self, our I. This self, this I is driven by conscience, not by conditioning, programming, habit, and reaction, not by urges and impulses. This I works from foresight, wisdom, and compassion, from seeing the right thing to do and doing that. Most importantly, the further we delve into this I, the more we operate from that, the more we realize that this I, that we are not separate, that our innermost root is common to us all.

Our automatic self acts like a fog, obscuring our view and connection with our true self, our I. Our best tool for seeing through that fog is voluntary attention. This comes from us, from our I. When we intentionally place our attention somewhere, it is our I doing that. Attention is will, deriving from and directly connected with our personal will, our I. Attention can teach us the difference between the pseudo-self of conditioned, habitual, reactive, programmed actions and the true self, rooted in the timeless present, acting with real intention.

Still, between the thoughts that think us, the emotions that drive us, the physical urges that capture us, and the inner passivity that eats our life, we are largely ruled by our conditioning. Yet we believe that all our choices and decisions are our own, are made by us, by our I. This is our fundamental illusion. For the great majority of our life, we are absent; we live as an automaton. But, we are much more than that.

For this week, see the difference between the two types of volitional self. The false one that is little more than an assumption based on the conditioned actions of an automaton, and the true one that feels like you, that is you. Be at peace, open to your inner wisdom. Let your attention flow from you. Be your attention, and thereby be yourself.


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