“Man, if indeed thou knowest what thou doest, thou art blessed; but if thou knowest not, thou art cursed and a transgressor of the law.” (Apocryphal insertion at Luke 6:4, quoted by Hitchcock p. 185)

“It is equally a grave mistake to think that it is enough to gain some understanding of the images and the knowledge can here make a halt. Insight into them must be converted in to an ethical obligation.” (MDR quoted by Hitchcock p. 13)

The two quotes above may be enough to form the basis of an entire spiritual practice. On the one hand, we are encouraged to bring conscious awareness to every moment of our life, to clearly see the intention behind every action. This awareness, however, is not enough. It lacks moral guidance which we find in the second quote. We must take whatever understanding we receive as moral guidance and hold ourselves up to this new standard. Continuous consciousness is how we hold ourselves up to our own standards, thereby creating a virtuous cycle.

It is interesting to see these two ideas play out in my own life. For example in bringing consciousness to the act of giving. There are times when I do so out of generosity and other times when I do so out of a feeling of obligation, wanting to be seen in a certain light or feeling guilty about my internal conflicts regarding generosity. If I fail to bring consciousness to this act it becomes hard to see the real intention behind it. I may miss the fact that I am not acting out of right intention and therefore am, in fact, supporting a habit that is unhelpful (e.g. acting out of guilt). When I do bring awareness to this action, I can notice the internal conflict that is happening and new ethical commitment arises: to be compassionate with myself when working with difficult habits and to respect my internal conflicts even when they appear to be at cross purposes with who I “should” be.

I, by myself, often lapse into a lack of consciousness of my motivations or even my actions for example when dealing with shadow aspects of my personality. In these cases I find it helpful to surround myself by friends who will help in holding me up to my own best intentions. Their presence alone may be enough to remind me of who it is I want to be. At other times, clearer and more direct feedback is necessary. Even this reliance on community comes out of the above quotes. Having seen my own limitations, I’ve placed myself in an environment that will help me stay true to my values and intentions even when that is challenging.

Another important aspect of environment is that it can serve to push me out of my low-energy, “stable equilibrium” into states that are further and further from equilibrium. I consider CIIS to be exactly such an environment and getting out of my comfort zone was a main reason for choosing this path. I’m already seeing the effects of this injection of energy into my system. One of the interesting side-effect of living closer to a point of unstable equilibrium is that it becomes harder to foresee what shape the future might take. For me, this is a good chance to learn how to simply enjoy the ride.

“Deep inside, we still know that the aliveness is in the risking of ourselves in some real way with an irreversible outcome. Only out of the risking comes the joy.” (The Web of the Universe, John Hitchcock)