You have scattered your awareness in all directions,
and your vanities are not worth a bit of cabbage.
The root of every thorn draws
the water of your attention toward itself.
How will the water of your attention reach the fruit?
Cut through the evil roots, cut them away.
Direct the Bounty of God to spirit and insight,
not to the knotted and broken world outside.
In our ordinary state of being, both the outer demands of life and the inner processes of thinking and feeling alternatively monopolize our attention to such an extent that we cannot sustain true consciousness. By consciousness I mean not just perception or awareness, but a field of awareness that includes both the contents of an experience and the one who experiences.
Spiritual work involves maintaining some balance between the demands of outer life and a conscious presence. We wish to enter freely into the life of the world and still know presence, the dimension of consciousness and freedom. We can live through the essence, which is the light behind the personality, rather than through the limited, superficial personality, which is identified with each passing thought and feeling.
The personality is our superficial identity, our learned behavior and attitudes; it is tied to the conditions of outer life, to disapproval and approval, like and dislike, praise and blame. We are working so that this essence, which can truly say “I am,” may come forward in the midst of life.
The personality, which is absorbed in the external world and forgetful of the possibility of an inner life, is governed by that world. All its inner events are tied to outer events and things. The personality exists first of all in relation to other people and things and wants to have its way with them. It feels its own existence through what it achieves and what it possesses. Conversely, each disappointment, each rejection, and each failure is experienced as a challenge and threat to its own existence.
Are we consumed by the experiences of life? Or do we consciously experience life with mindfulness and trust? Is our inner life dependent on outer conditions, or is it becoming free of them?
The transformation with which inner work is concerned allows the “I” to exist more independently as a pure presence or witness. The slavery to like and dislike is diminished to the extent that our feeling of “I” is grounded in pure Being and not in things. The need to achieve our own specialness, for instance, or receive attention from others, is experienced as less important as a stable inner presence develops. This inner presence is satisfying in itself; it enables non-attachment, equanimity, and greater objectivity.
Presence guides us to a healthy sense of self-restraint and self-sacrifice, enabling us to play with our attachments, to confront our own prison. We may learn to slip out of the stranglehold of egoism, which is based in desire and in the thoughts generated by desire. In being present to the play of desire we can diminish the ego’s power over our inner being. Eventually we reach a certain invulnerability in relation to outer things, so that we do not depend on them, but live from this presence instead. To look only outward is to miss the point, to stray from the straight path. It is to go begging for outer satisfactions, while we ignore the hidden treasure inside us.
There is an energy of attention that we at first have in only limited amounts, and it must be conserved. Can we see ourselves throwing it away? Can we see ourselves wasting it on outer desire and satisfactions, intoxicated with the random demands of the ego, reacting to all the needs of outer approval and validation? Our dependence on outer satisfactions and requirements leads us to envy, resentment, pride, guilt, and anger. Isn’t this the contemporary idolotry?
Whoever makes all cares into a single care, the care for simply being present, will be relieved of all care by that Presence. We can take a step back from the world of attraction, comparison, and dependence on externals, remember this vitality within us, and connect with it. Perhaps then we can be liberated from our compulsions and can learn to act through Spirit, rather than through our limited egos. If remembering Presence becomes our single care, then we will waste less of our inner energy.