Commitment One: My Conscience is the Highest Authority
Enjoy a 30-minute meditation and "Trust and Obey Your Conscience as the Highest Authority" Talk. This free class is part of our Creating the Beloved Community free training series. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of this video: https://www.boundlessloveproject.org/news/2019/3/14/tips-for-watching-a-live-stream-or-recorded-video Check out other classes in this series here: https://www.boundlessloveproject.org/creating-the-beloved-community Find the Beloved Community Pledge here: https://www.boundlessloveproject.org/news/2019/2/26/the-beloved-community-pledge This video was recorded March 5, 2019 at the Boundless Love Project's Group Meditation.Posted by Boundless Love Project on Tuesday, March 5, 2019
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Commitment One: TRUST and OBEY My Conscience as the Highest Authority
"The voice of conscience is so delicate that it is easy to stifle it; but it is also so clear that it is impossible to mistake it." So wrote the 18th century French author Anne Louise Germaine (1766 –1817). In this article we will discuss this dual nature of conscience: how it is gentle, quiet, and "easy to stifle;" as well as how it is "clear," strong, and "impossible to mistake."
We will discuss this nature as part of our Creating the Beloved Community training. In this article we investigate the meaning behind the first commitment in our beloved community pledge, which reads: Trust and obey my conscience as the highest authority.
In this talk, we will discuss how trusting and obeying our conscience requires us to take personal responsibility for our ethical conduct.
Trusting and obeying our conscience also requires us to recognize that two contrary forces operate within us: our ego and our conscience. Recognizing these forces, we then must learn how to distinguish between the thoughts of ego, and thoughts of conscience.
We will explore two ways to distinguish our egos from our conscience. The first way is using our bodies as a compass. If you know how to read your emotions, your body becomes a finely tuned compass whose true north points towards truth and unconditional love.
The second way to sort out what's ego from what's conscience is by appreciating the inherent falsehood of language, and thus all thoughts. The primary source of our egos, is our language-based thoughts. When we understand the inherent falsehood of our thoughts, we stop mistaking our thoughts to be the truth; become more interested in experiencing the truth of reality directly through our senses; and live with more peace, ease, and joy.
By using our bodies as a compass, and seeing our thoughts as inherently false, we can hear our conscience more clearly. Then we may trust and obey this "impossible to mistake" conscience as our highest authority.
Taking Responsibility for Our Ethical Conduct
This commitments requires us to take personal responsibility for our ethical conduct. Many of us outsource our ethics. We conform our ethics to what the law requires, or to the standards found in our own community, workplace, political party, or some other group with which we identify. But these minimal standards allow for much unskillful behavior and will never bring us lasting joy or help us create the beloved community. Our own conscience must always be our highest authority.
We don't even want to outsource our ethics to a wisdom teacher or wisdom text. Although these teachers and texts may have great insights, not everything they say and do comes from conscience and is skillful. Few wisdom teachers have fully awakened or attained enlightenment. This means that, at times, the ego still arises in them and acts through them.
This is also why most, if not all, wisdom texts contain egoic falsehoods in them. They were introduced when they were written down, or through translation into other languages, or through misinterpretations. Regardless of how they got there, we must use our own conscience to evaluate and test the teachings to understand if they contain any truth. Only then can we sort out what is wise, truthful, loving, kind, and skillful, from what is not.
Our Conscience Loves All Life Unconditionally
Our conscience would never tell us to harm, mistreat, or disparage any person or being. Nor would our conscience direct us to pollute or denigrate the natural world or any other life form. (By the way, we use the term life form to refer to both animate life forms such as trees, shrubs, flowers, bacteria, etc. and so called "inanimate" life forms such as sky, rivers, rocks, oceans, and so on. Given that air, water, minerals, and so on are necessary for life to exist, it makes more sense to assume that they are also alive.)
Our conscience knows that all life wants to be peaceful, happy, safe, and healthy. Therefore, our conscience wants to help all life be peaceful, happy, safe, and healthy. But sometimes we can't hear the gentle whispers of our conscience, over the frantic shouting of our ego.
Let's turn now to define what we mean by ego and conscience and then investigate how they relate to each other.
Know We All Have Both Ego and Conscience
This first commitment to trust and obey our conscience, requires us to recognize that two contradictory forces operate within us: our ego and our conscience. The ego represents all in us that is false, conditioned, upsetting, unskillful, changing, and temporary. The ego is the false self, but we often mistake the ego to be who we are. When we do this, the ego runs our lives, causing us to suffer and behave unskillfully to our own detriment and the detriment of others.
Experiencing the Ego Exercise
I'd like to introduce you to your ego. Think of a situation where you did something that you later regretted doing. In those moments before you did what you did, what were you thinking?
In that moment before you did what you did, you believed your thoughts to be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Is that right?
Now reflect on the ways that the thoughts you were thinking were untrue and false? How were they untrue and inaccurate? They are often inaccurate because they don't include the full truth. So contemplate what vital information was excluded from those thoughts? Did those thoughts take into account how everyone, including yourself, is inherently valuable and worthy of kindness, compassion, and love? Typically this truth is completely ignored by our egoic thoughts.
Did you all see how your egoic thoughts were inaccurate and false? If not see how they are false, keep looking. Ask yourself, why do you regret the action? What about it do you regret? That might help you see what information you were leaving out.
Once you see how your thoughts were not the full truth, and thus false, reflect on what emotions were you feeling? Do you all have them? Good.
When you believe falsehoods, afflictive emotions like fear, anger, and hatred arise. When you believe a falsehood, the ego, that which is false in you, is running your life. When the ego is in charge, you will be emotionally upset, and you will behave unskillfully in a way that harms yourself and others. Is that not how your experience worked?
If so, then you have now been introduced to your ego. Please greet your ego warmly and with respect.
The ego is a formidable opponent. It is one of the strongest forces in the universe. In order to overcome the ego, you will need to mindfully, kindly, and calmly befriend, get to know, and investigate the ego. Even though it is one of the strongest forces in the universe, one force is even stronger: our conscience. Let's define our conscience now.
The Conscience Defined
In contrast to the ego, our conscience embodies all in us that is true, unconditioned, peaceful, skillful, and unchanging. When we live from our conscience, the mind is balanced and calm, the heart is open and connected, and the body is peaceful and relaxed. In addition, we effortlessly behave in a kind, compassionate, skillful, wise, and loving manner.
People have called this reality by many names: conscience, true self, higher self, intuition, inner wisdom, unconditional love, essential nature, source, being, and so on. Religious people refer to it as the soul, spirit, the formless, or divine nature, and they understand it to be the God of their understanding dwelling within them. Whatever you call it, conscience is the source of all life, wisdom, love, creativity, and skillfulness. Conscience is that creative force and intelligence which animates our bodies, the bodies of all beings, and the bodies of all life forms. Most importantly, conscience is who we are at our most fundamental level.
Why Is Our Conscience Easy to Stifle?
But if the conscience is our fundamental nature, why can it be "easy to stifle" as Anne Louise Germaine said?
Let me answer this with an analogy first. The ego is like a fabulous drag queen: flashy, dramatic, loud, demanding to be heard. Our ego is loud and dramatic because when we believe a falsehood, this triggers the arising of afflictive emotions that destabilize us, command our attention, trigger more false thoughts, and unconsciously push us into doing unskillful behaviors.
In contrast, our conscience is more like a gentle snowflake calmly falling outside of the window: peaceful, subtle, silent, and wise -- happy to whisper the truths of the universe to us. We connect with our conscience more clearly when the mind and body are still, quiet, peaceful, and calm, and the heart is open and connected.
The unconditional love, peace, compassion, and joy of the conscience can be felt in the body. But these pleasant and poignant feelings are often very subtle and faint. They are always with us, so it is helpful to think of these feelings as "states of being" rather than emotions. But because of their subtle nature, the more dramatic emotions of the ego that arise when we believe a false or untrue thought covers them up, and prevents us from connecting with them.
Given the contrasting voices of the ego and conscience, it's not surprising that the flash, glitz, and spectacle of the ego's emotional storms frequently drowns out the more quiet, subtle voice of our conscience.
Wisdom Teachers and Texts Help Us See More Clearly
Before I started meditating, I lived most of my life lost in the falsehoods of ego, with brief, wonderful moments that connected me with conscience. This is the case for many of us in the world. We experience a constant, low-level fear, anxiety, sadness, or anger in the background of our life. We may be so used to it, that we don't even know it is there.
As a result, it takes training and wise effort to reach a state where we can see the thoughts and beliefs that cause these emotions, see the lie in them, stop believing them, and let go of these afflictive emotions, so we can hear our conscience more clearly.
That is why wisdom teachers and their writings can be so helpful. They have often walked further along the mindfulness path than us, and can teach us from personal experience how to take our initial steps. By teaching mindfulness techniques like meditation, and skillful ways to view the world, they help us train our mind and body so we can better hear our own conscience.
Our Body is a Compass That Points Us to Truth and Love
Because both our conscience and ego talk to us, we need to be able to distinguish between which thoughts are egoic, and which arise from our conscience.
One way involves using the sensations of our body as a compass. When understood correctly, our body is a compass pointing us towards our true nature of truth and love. The ego in us thinks that we have emotions because of the situations we experience. Really? Have we mindfully examined our inner world to see if this is true? When we mindfully explore our inner world, we may see more clearly that most emotions arise when we believe a false or unkind thought.
Experiencing How Our Thoughts Create Emotions
Let's contemplate this reality now. Think of all of the various emotions you have experienced while meditating. While meditating, have you ever felt: restless? impatient? bored? frustrated? upset? sad? helpless? angry? or any other afflictive emotions?
If you answered yes to any of these, then you have experienced how believing an untrue or unkind thought creates emotion.
Think about it. When we meditate, we generally sit comfortably in a peaceful, calm, secluded, relatively unchanging environment. If emotions arise due to the situations we encounter, then we should always feel the same thing when we meditate. Right? But do we? Of course not!
Over time, we experience a wide range of emotions while meditating. This happens because our brain constantly churns out thoughts, and if we are not mindful that those thoughts are just thoughts, our brain mistakes them to be "the truth." If the thought we believe are not true, or not kind, our body responds by experiencing an afflictive emotion. The more untrue or unkind the thought is, the more intense the emotion is for us.
Isn't that interesting? Keep mindfully noticing this reality that the thoughts we believe, generates the emotional states we feel. Also, contemplate what this means in terms of how to live more skillfully and with more peace, love, and joy in your life.
Our Body is a Warning Bell That Uses Emotions to Warn Us When We Believe Unkind or Untrue Thoughts
When we understand our body as a compass in this way, our body can also serve as a warning bell. When we feel an afflictive emotion, that can serve as a warning bell alerting us to the fact that we are believing a falsehood. In response to this warning, we get really mindful, pay attention to our thoughts, and investigate them to see the falsehood in them.
When we think of our body as a compass or a warning bell, we can also use it to help distinguish between our egoic thoughts and our thoughts of conscience. Thoughts of conscience will feel peaceful, calming, soothing, spacious, inspiring, loving, warm, and/or joyful in the body, mind, and heart. Be wary of thoughts and impulses that arise when the mind or body are tight, restless, angry, frustrated, impatient, or emotionally disturbed. Such thoughts and impulses typically lack wisdom and arise from ego.
Stop Believing Your Thoughts
Another helpful way to sort out what's ego from what's conscience is by appreciating the inherent falsehood of language, and thus nearly all thoughts. The primary source of our egoic falsehoods, is our language-based thoughts.
When we understand the inherent falsehood of our thoughts, we stop mistaking our thoughts to be the truth; become more interested in experiencing the truth of reality directly through our senses; and live with more peace, ease, and joy.
Let's take a minute to explain how language is inherently false. Language symbolically represents something else. As a symbol, language necessarily simplifies reality to make it more manageable to describe. By simplifying reality, language introduces inaccuracies, falsehoods, and outright lies into our thinking. Thus, thoughts are never the truth.
Experiencing the Falsehood of Language
Let's do an activity to help you experience the falsehood of language. Would you like one million dollars? Yes? Then please allow me to give you one million dollars. Here it is:
One million dollars.
There. Did I give you "one million dollars"? Technically, I did. Would you have rather received one million dollars in cash, rather than just the words? Probably. Is there a difference between the words and the cash? Absolutely! That difference is where the inaccuracies and falsehoods enter our language.
The Falsehood of Fixed-View
Let's try another example. Think of some future possibility that mildly causes you stress. Maybe you fear being reprimanded at work, becoming sick, being late to an important event, not finishing a project by the deadline, or something similar. Have you all thought of some future possibility that causes you mild stress? When you think about it, do you feel stress?
If so, then you are believing a falsehood. When we mistake a thought to be the truth, and that thought causes a tightness in the mind, or an afflictive emotion in the body, then it is the falsehood of fixed-view. Thoughts are never the truth. Thus to liberate ourselves from ego, we stop believing our thoughts and beliefs. We do this by critically examining each thought and seeing how it is untrue, unkind, unhelpful, or not appropriate in all situations.
Thus, any thought you think that causes a tightness in the mind or a mental disturbance, recognize it as false, unhelpful, and egoic. Even if you can't see how it is false in the moment. See it as an egoic, fixed-view thought and don't believe it. Then explore other ways to view the situation that would be more accurate and kind.
The more we shed our beliefs, the more we connect with our conscience, and feel its love, peace, compassion and joy in the eternal present moment.
Using Language Skillfully
That said, our lives do require language and we can wield language skillfully. To do this, we take care to speak as honestly and as kindly as possible. In addition, rather than place the importance on the thoughts and words spoken, we train our minds to value the reality behind the words, the truth to which the words try to point. In this way we start to understand the truth more fully, directly with our senses, free of the inaccuracies of mental concepts, thoughts, and words.
Seeing the Falsehood in Fixed-Views
Let's return now to your mildly stressful thoughts about a future situation. Think these thoughts again.
Now as you think these thoughts mindfully remind yourself that these are just thoughts. Notice how these thoughts are untrue because they are about a future which does not exist anywhere but in your head. When you mindfully see your thoughts as untrue in this way, do you feel more peace, calm, and ease than when you believed those thoughts to be true?
If not, keep trying.
Here's a way to help you see the falsehood in these thoughts. Imagine if you painted a picture representing your scary thoughts. Can this painting harm you? Would it make sense to be scared when you look at the painting? Of course not. The painting is merely a creation of your imagination. It cannot harm you. Why be afraid of it?
Well, that's in essence what your mind is doing. Your mind paints a scary picture with thoughts, then mistakes it to be real. These thoughts are a creation of your imagination that cannot harm you. See them in this way. When you do this, do you feel more peaceful and clam?
If so, you have experienced the power of mindfulness to overcome the falsehoods of our ego.
Other Subtle, Tricky, Easy-to-Believe Falsehoods
This falsehood of fixed-view is very subtle, tricky, and easy-to-believe. Don't beat yourself up if you fall victim to it. We all do, often many times a day. Through mindfulness, love, and guidance on what to look for, you will grow your ability to see through egoic lies and remain connected to your conscience of inner wisdom and boundless love.
The falsehood of fixed-views can be further broken down into other categories of false thoughts. Those of you who took the Mindfulness Fundamentals course, where we spoke more in-depth about each of them, will be familiar with these categories of falsehood.
When we think thoughts about the future, this is the falsehood of futuring because the future does not exist and cannot be known. When we think thoughts about the past, this is the falsehood of pasting (pronunced like past-ing not paste-ing) because the past you remember no longer exists in the reality of the now.
When we think stories about ourselves, that is the falsehood of selfing or self-view, because such stories limit and distort the reality of who and what we are. Our story of self often defines us entirely through our ego, while ignoring our fundamental nature of peace, love, compassion, and joy.
Our thoughts about what we need to be happy is the falsehood of greed because it denies the reality that we can be peaceful or joyful right now, as life intended. Greed may also be called lust, clinging, craving, or wanting. Our thoughts about what we must avoid to be happy is the falsehood of aversion because it denies the reality that we can be peaceful and joyful right now, as life intended.
Any thought that attacks the inherent worth of value of ourselves; or another person, being, or life form; or even the situation we are in, is the falsehood of judgment because it denies the reality that we are all one, that life is interdependent, and that all life and every moment is inherently valuable and worthy. Any thought that sees ourselves as better than, or more worthy than anyone else is the falsehood of arrogance because it denies that reality that all life is equally valuable and worthy of love, care, and consideration.
If reading these categories of falsehoods makes you confused or incredulous, that is normal. Because we have had a lifetime of seeing these falsehoods as true, seeing the lies in these falsehoods will take cultivating our mindfulness, mindfully investigating our inner reality, and repeatedly experiencing their falsehood first hand.
Even if what I've said makes no sense, or seems wildly unbelievable, please do your best to remain open to these ideas, and explore the possible reality of them in your own experience.
The My-Thoughts-Are-True Bias of the Mind
A major reason we have difficulties understanding and seeing these falsehoods is due to our minds' my-thoughts-are-true bias. The my-thoughts-are-true bias is the strong tendency for the mind to assume its own thoughts are the full truth.
Before humanity invented language, our minds experienced the truth of reality as it is, directly through our senses, unfiltered and undistorted by language. All the mind knew was the truth of the present moment. Then language was invented, and the mind started thinking in thoughts.
Having only known the truth for countless generations, our minds assumed the thoughts we thought were as truthful as the information from our other senses. The mind did not see the inherent inaccuracies, distortions, and falsehoods contained in our thoughts.
Fast forward to the present day, and the mind still has this my-thoughts-are-true bias. In addition, we have conditioned our brains to constantly be thinking, and to place great value and importance on our thoughts.
Because of this my-thoughts-are-true bias, we need to develop the qualities of mindfulness and concentration to see our thoughts as thoughts, critically examine them, and see the falsehood in them.
We develop these critical skills through meditation. Thus the second commitment in the beloved community pledge is to maintain a daily meditation practice. To be free of our ego, we need to cultivate a easeful continuity of mindfulness that daily meditation practice helps us develop.
To peacefully create a global beloved community, we are all tasked to shed our egos, and live from our unconditionally loving conscience. This article explained what it means when we commit to trusting and obeying our consciences as the highest authority.
First, it means we take responsibility for our own ethics. We don't outsource our ethics to another authority and we don't uncritically believe the preaching of wisdom teachers and texts.
Second, it means we acknowledge that the forces of ego and conscience both operate within us. Thus, we take the time and effort necessary to learn how to distinguish the voice of ego from the voice of conscience.
Third, it means we start to view our body as a compass and a warning bell. We view our emotions as warning bells to alert us when the ego is active in us, and when we lack mindfulness. Furthermore, when the mind, heart, and body feel peaceful, calm, relaxed, and open, we know we live from the truth and kindness of our conscience.
Finally, it means we appreciate the inherent falsehood of language, and thus all thoughts. When we understand the inherent falsehood of our thoughts, we stop mistaking our thoughts to be the truth; and become more interested in the reality behind the words that the thoughts point towards. As a result, we mindfully rest our awareness in our senses to experience the truth of reality directly, free from distorting thoughts and beliefs, and thus live with more peace, ease, and joy.
By understanding the inner world of our ego and conscience, our thoughts and feelings, and how they drive our behaviors, we can learn to hear our conscience more clearly. Then we may trust and obey our "impossible to mistake" conscience as our highest authority.
Go Deeper: For the next week do the Trust and Obey My Conscience Daily Reflections.