Materials for the online teaching group Inner Work for Spiritual Awakening     

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by Ted Nottingham

We are not one person. There is no "I am," but many "I's" coming from numerous places within us. There is the "I" who is in command when it is hungry. There is the "I" who is in a bad mood, there is the "I" that loves to read poetry, and on and on. This work enables us to look at this phenomenon while it is happening. In the state of sleep, we just assume that we always act as the same person. Inner knowledge tells us that we are made up of many disconnected, fragmentary facets without unity. When such information is verified, then a presence besides those many "I's" is also present. You can no longer fall entirely for the illusion of unity.

A person beats his child in a moment of rage. In that instant, he is only adrenaline and anger. Hopefully, sometime later another part of him is going to be horrified. But it could also happen that in the moment of explosion, something in him could have seen it coming and chosen not to let it take over: "I will not go with that. That is not me. I do not need to do that." This effort leads to a dis-entanglement from a life of mechanism that leads us nowhere. One of the other great ideas of this Work is that who we are attracts our life to us. If we are always unpleasant to be around, we will end up being by ourselves. We will gather to us a certain kind of life and people.

It is no small thing to begin to see who we are. It will impact our whole life. We are not one, but many. The aim is to become one, the true one behind the many "I's". The mysterious metaphor "man is legion" refers to the multi-faceted being that we are in our separation from the unifying Source. Part of our inner work, then, is to develop an awareness of the feeling of "I" in the moment. Such an effort will allow us not to be that fragmentary self claiming to be our whole identity. Any change in the sense of "I" will also transform the world around us. If the person who is about to strike his child catches himself and recovers some patience or forgiveness, he or she is going to change their world. The child will grow up without carrying the violence into another generation.

We generally encounter the world as an egotistical bundle of personal reactions and that is the cause of so much of our unnecessary unhappiness. We must develop a feeling of "I" that is different from the one we have now. We all have the experience of constant chatter in our heads. We are always thinking something, responding to something, imagining something. We say "I" to each activity in our mind: "I hate this...I am this...I want this." But this flood of constant response and talk in our brain is nothing more than life acting on our personality and our personality responding to it. We can form in ourselves, in our own psychology, a little bit of awareness that can stand back from that torrent of thought and activity and simply see -- without response to it, without judgement or justification.

This seeing allows us to recognize that in one moment we are this "I", yesterday we were another "I". Life impacts us and our personality responds. That little bit of "observing I" within us will grow and become more powerful. Eventually it will lead to our "true I" where we will have the power to be more than merely reactions. No single I in our personality will include the whole of itself in our consciousness. The "I" that we are now cannot possibly contain all of who we are. It is a fragment. The Work tells us that what we are not conscious of will control us. When we are completely caught up in our ordinary sense of self, there is no chance of change. We are convinced that we are right, we take for granted that this is who we are. We don't create that inner space which allows a new evolution to take place. So long as we take ourselves as one person, we cannot move from where we are.

There are sets of I's that are contradictory to the ones that make you feel bad. You can say "yes" to them and "no" to the ones that make you feel bad. As you begin to distance yourself from this inner ocean, you will be able to observe parts of yourself that we are calling I's which are not only contradictory but entirely foreign to what you really care about. For instance, you can be a religious person as well as the very opposite. In order to strengthen the part of yourself that wants to be a spiritual person over against the part that couldn't care less, one has to intentionally give power to those I's that will do the work of spiritual evolution and remove power from those that will not. This requires serious personal separation. As things are now, all of these I's claim to be yourself whenever they appear.

When you make that space -- which is the detachment of the mystic -- and you see these armies of light and darkness inside, then you know where the battle must take place. You will also see that the army of darkness is much bigger than the one of light, those I's that wish to love God and the universe and transcend their selfishness. Over against them is this horde of barbarians that are only interested in being comfortable and satisfying their desires.

We say I to everything. Everything that comes along makes us feel something. We say I to it. A lot of our I's are extremely contradictory to one another. Those I's don't know each other. We are changing I's at every moment, every event, every thought, every feeling is a different I in us. They all belong to personality which is acquired over our lifetime. If we can see these I's as separate from our true self, if we do not give them our force for just a moment, that energy goes into true I and gives it more strength. Everyone has I's that they don't like in themselves -- cruel I's, lascivious I's -- we don't want to think of ourselves as that kind of person. So when we have that I, we don't acknowledge it. If we see it at all, we justify it: "well, they deserved it." Most often we don't see it at all. It comes and goes and another I takes its place.

An I happens to you because a set of circumstances in the external or internal world provokes that I. If we can see that it just happens, if we can separate and not say I to them and just refer to them as " passing I's", we begin to detach from all of the emotional bondage that these I's inflict upon our lives. The Work tells us that nothing can change in us if we identify with all our I's. The whole point is to discover that we are not all that inner traffic. This insight gives us independence from the external world. This is a fundamental aspect of spiritual maturity and freedom. If we look at the teachers of humanity, they were independent of the forces around them. They were truly themselves and able to act in the world regardless of surrounding influences. That is one characteristic of higher consciousness.

We do not have to create any grief for ourselves as part of our spiritual awakening. Life will give us all the grief we can handle, and a whole lot more. Going into a monastery or developing an intense discipline will not necessarily lead to authentic transformation. With this teaching, we are offered the mechanism of self-change. It is very specific, very scientific. This is spirituality brought to the West so that all of us who are bred through the use of the mind are able to access these higher states through knowledge. If we cannot see we are many and insist on regarding ourselves as one, then we can do nothing with regard to our inner life.

Buffers are a psychological phenomenon that keeps one set of I's from knowing another. They allow you to live with all the contradictions because they are not seen. This is a fundamental characteristic of the state of waking sleep in which we live wherein we cannot see the whole picture.

Lower I's cannot see higher I's. How can we separate if we take everything as ourselves? Some I's can make us depressed and have power over us. We do not even challenge them. We can detect their presence by a sudden loss of force. If we are not quick enough, they will take over. It is no use arguing with unpleasant I's. All our work lies in separating from wrong I's.

Where do they come from? At birth, we have a certain nature, called essence. Everything that happens to us from that point on lays down patterns of behavior, attitudes and associations in thought. These I's are not expressive of real I, but come from what has been built up in us through experience. This is determined by where we were born, when we were born. In a different culture, our I's would be completely different. In the desert, you might have wonderful associations concerning rain, whereas in Seattle it might depress you. They are all just I's, arising from personality which is a conglomeration of acquired thoughts, attitudes, moods, opinions. We don't have to take all this as oneself. If we invest our energy by identifying with an I, we give it power. By observation, we can see that they change constantly. Eventually, we will be able to separate. What is separate from that stream of I's? Real I. This is important because the state of consciousness that we live in, characterized by multiplicity, is the reason why there is so much violence in our world. Everyone is identified, everyone is asleep, everyone has false ideas about themselves. All of the I's that arise out of personality come from self-interest. And self-interest is always in conflict with the world.

If we have an I that says, "I am an American and therefore, as a good patriot, I must have an enemy who is not an American." Here is an example of why that state of consciousness is so dangerous. Everything is turned into conflict because we cannot find the place within that does not need to fight for its vanity or for those attitudes that keep us locked in. If all of that were unplugged, and we were at peace, not easily offended, not aggressively competitive, and could go through life being goodness, this would be the result of struggling against the I's.

All of us, even "nice people", have abhorrent thoughts. If we ascribe them to ourselves, we are in the power of that thought whether we act it out or not. We must not give it our energy and say I to it, and it will pass. Those kinds of negative I's will come in cycles. If we keep refusing to allow our emotions to get attached to them (identification), we will recognize that it isn't I, but that it comes and goes. We don't have to be that thought.

In order to protect our inner being from negative events, we must become hermetically sealed. They cannot penetrate to the core of ourselves and pollute us. It is possible to keep a part of ourselves protected. The idea of selection allows us to choose which thoughts to go with. "Get thee behind me, Satan." This is inner spiritual warfare. Satan is the conglomeration of all those results of the sleeping human psychology that creates the distorted human beings -- the selfishness, the violence, the chaos within.

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