Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of September 20, 2021

The Evolution of Will 3

Consciousness and Will

(The Spiritual Ecosystem: 6)

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Ramana Maharshi's classic question, Who Am I, resonates deeply in us, because as we look into it, we recognize its significance, yet we quickly find ourselves at sea. The obvious candidates for answers never quite seem to fit. Am I my body? I cannot believe I am my leg, because I can control my leg. If I can control something, then I am not that thing. So am I my brain, that three pounds of flesh hidden away in my skull? Assuredly I'm not one of neurons in there. Am I an emergent phenomenon arising from the concerted action of billions of those neurons?

Here we arrive at a quite subtle question. Parsing it further, we might ask, am I my thoughts? Am I the voice in my head? But like my leg, I have some control over my thoughts and over that inner voice, so I am neither my thoughts nor the voice in my head. Crucially, I am not even the thought I. Am I my emotions? Again, I have some control over my emotions, so I am not my emotions. Taken seriously, these can be major discoveries for us, because we believe in that voice in our head, in the stories it weaves about us, in the desires and fears it expresses, and in all the rest it has to say. But maybe what we really are is not that voice, but something behind that voice. Usually that voice in my head speaks for itself, according to ingrained habits, patterns, and programming. But sometimes I am controlling, directing that voice. What is it that controls that voice in our head?

Am I my consciousness? Again, we parse this further. Am I my senses? I can close my eyes and plug my ears without affecting my sense of self. So I am not my senses. Then am I the silent screen of awareness, the consciousness on which the results of my senses are displayed? The issue of control arises again here. I can control my senses to some extent by focusing attention on something. Controlling my senses in itself does not mean I am controlling my consciousness.

Then is consciousness the top of the ladder? We are left here with two major domains: awareness and will. Is consciousness in control, the source of control? To consider choice, or will, to be merely a function of consciousness is a mistake. Consciousness operates as a field of awareness. Will operates as the receiver of that awareness, as the one who is conscious, and as the one who chooses and directs. What we see is our consciousness, while our will, our I is the one who sees. Consciousness displays the information, while will is the one who is informed by it, the one who understands it and decides what to do. To be clear, the information displayed by consciousness includes all our senses, thoughts, emotions, memories, images, dreams and daydreams, in short, everything in our ordinary experience including the voice in our head. Will is not any of that. We are not any of that. Will is primary. Our will is who we are. Our will acts through our consciousness. Consciousness is an energy, which along with our sensitive energy, fuels the connection between our will and our equipment, between our will and our body, heart, and mind.

Focusing attention does concentrate consciousness, thus providing evidence that will is not part of consciousness. Further evidence for the primacy of will, for will not being a function of consciousness, emerges in deeper spiritual practices, which depend on acts of will, such as aligning oneself with the Sacred, letting go of egoism, allowing compassion to arise in us, opening to non-separateness, the unity of love, and surrendering to the Divine. Indeed, these acts transcend consciousness altogether.

In the next part of this inner work series, we will explore this question, Who am I, further, in a somewhat more practical manner. For this week, please look into yourself to recognize and tease apart your will and your consciousness. By recognizing and understanding each of these and their difference, we can support our evolution.

See Also: Who Am I?


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