Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the Week of February 7, 2022

Essence Self-Centeredness 

(Fourth Way Practice: 11)

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Essence consists of what we are born with and its related further development. Among other valuable things, our essence contains self-centered attitudes, traits, and drives conferred on us by evolution through our genes. These are all about me. Some examples include aggressiveness, competitiveness, impatience, anger, animosity, jealousy, envy, avarice, greed, gluttony, vanity, status seeking, attention seeking, fear of losing face or status, anxiety, external concern bounded by family and tribe, fear of bodily harm, as well as the biological imperatives to breathe, to eat, and to procreate. Such essence drives increased our ancestors' evolutionary fitness, making them more able to survive and propagate their genes down to us. These attitudes, traits, and drives are real, just as our bodies are real. Unlike the personality ego, they cannot be dispelled as illusory by seeing through them. They are permanently embedded in our essential nature and are studied in the field of evolutionary psychology.

Spiritually, the dragon of the self-centered aspects of essence is not going to be slain but may be held at bay by the sharp point of inner vigilance and the soft embrace of acceptance. And though they may be transcended as our essence matures, those self-centered drives will be with us as long as we remain in a physical body. We can, though, "ride the devil's back" of some of them to further our spiritual development, for example by allowing our competitive nature to drive our spiritual practice, while inner vigilance keeps that competitiveness from taking us over. Later stages of development may find us transcending the need to rise above our neighbor and instead being drawn upward by love and the wish to be of service.

Of course, there is much more to our essential nature than its self-centered aspects, more even than what our genes have given us. We have, or rather are, a unique Divine spark, from well beyond our Earth-bound psychology. There is curiosity, compassion, empathy, love, responsibility, altruism, friendliness, kindness, intelligence, creativity, fairness, integrity, gratitude, patience, humility, adaptability, and all the other selfless and constructive qualities inherent to human nature. To the extent that our personality ego does not subvert these positive traits, they can come forward and manifest in us. That is how essence matures, with the uncovering of the Divine spark, with the selfless traits taking precedence over the self-centered traits, where possible and appropriate. Some, like the need to breathe, must stay, but competitiveness can give way to cooperation and rapport.

Personality ego is a powerful illusion derived from the self-centered aspects of essence. Ego is a distortion and an exaggeration of those aspects. It extrapolates from the fact of having a body, a mind, and a heart to the incorrect assumption that we are a separate self, and propagates that assumption clothed as fact via our personality, through patterns of thought and emotion. Once a person sees through their personality ego, utterly and completely, its hold on them ceases entirely and permanently.

But in Buddhist terms, this is just the first stage of enlightenment. It still leaves us with the inner work of essence maturation. Acceptance of the fact of self-centered traits in our essence widens the reach of our individuality. Our real I and our personality ego cannot coexist: the ego of separateness runs directly counter to the connectedness of real I individuality, our Divine spark. Yet the self-centered features of our essence need not interfere, depending on our spiritual maturity, whereas the personality ego, the convincing illusion of separateness, must and can go.

What if we happen to notice some of these self-centered essence traits in ourselves, seeing them drive our thoughts and emotions? Feeling horror, guilt, or shame in response to seeing these traits in ourselves, may help us prevent them from manifesting in external acts, but will do nothing to rid ourselves of them. Those tendencies are not going away. They are an inherent part of the package of being human. The horror, guilt, and shame will cause us to look the other way when those tendencies arise in the future, thereby preventing real change. Having a body and all that goes with it is not a spiritual failure or shortcoming, it is simply one of the conditions of life on this Earth. Spiritual maturation means, in part, accepting the inevitable existence of these traits without allowing them to rule us.

This can be a great relief. We no longer need to feel that self-centered essence traits are a stain, making us impure or unfit for spirituality. They do not block our path. Rather, the luminous tree of our spirit grows out of this soil. Acceptance of self-centeredness as inherent in us, promotes humility. And when we see these same traits manifesting in other people, we may have greater empathy for them, which in turn weakens the separateness view at the root of our personality ego.

How can we work toward the spiritual maturation of our essence? As we see through the illusion of the separateness propounded by our ego, we increase the possibility of consciously being in our essence. That primarily feels like pure awareness and peace. But along with that, the seemingly negative traits in our essence become more obvious to us. Accepting this, accepting ourselves as we are, letting ourselves be, allows this genetic self-centeredness to recede into its appropriate level of significance. When it was hidden in our depths, it could drive our personality and actions without exposure. Once we have a clearer view of what goes on in us, including this essential self-centeredness, we have inserted the circuit-breaker of awareness to weaken its unquestioned hold on us. Inner freedom grows. Our essence self-centeredness, which seemed so contradictory to our spiritual aspirations, is no longer contradictory. It is not an obstacle; it is just part of the equipment we have for life. Like our breathing and digestion, that essence self-centeredness does its necessary thing, while we work to grow into the spiritual heights. Further spiritual practice of prayer, contemplation, stillness, and simple presence then leads not toward elimination of those self-centered aspects of essence, but toward transcending them, toward opening into the deeper realms of essence.

For this week, please reexamine your own drives, traits, and attitudes.


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