If we could practice perfect presence and perfect love without any effort, spiritual growth would be easy. Happiness would be easy, too.
But that doesn’t normally happen. The reason we set out on a path in the first place is because, at the root level, we have cultivated a consciousness that breeds discontent. This consciousness then sabotages our efforts to be free of it. (Here I am using the word “consciousness” in a loose way, to refer to predominating dispositions and habits of our mind, of our psyche, which have a momentum and “life of their own.”)
The best explanation for this self-sabotage or “corruption” is that “The mind is a dynamic and living entity that has an agenda of its own survival ahead of your emotional well being” (qtd. Gary van Warmerdam). Gary uses the word “mind” here because he is writing for a general audience, but in other audios and articles he is more specific that the part of the mind furthering an agenda for its own survival is the ego-mind. After all, “mind” can also refer to thoughts, imagination, memory, intellect, subconscious mind, etc; but these aren’t fighting for survival. The ego’s the fighter.
It’s also a shapeshifter; it stays alive by disguising itself in different forms. (But that’s another story…)
It’s important to know that the ego creates this sabotage and corruption in the form of “near enemies,” because otherwise a helpful, liberating practice can become corrupted into something that is being used against you.
A near enemy of meditation is using meditation to shield ourselves from the world in a self-absorbed way.
A near enemy of prayer is to pray from a victimized point of view, reinforcing the Victim part of the ego.
A near enemy of inquiry is to ask a question hoping to get someone else’s answer or looking for answers that support a point of view we already have.
A near enemy of intellectual discernment is to cling to the intellectual conclusions we’ve reached in a rigid way or mistake them for the Truth only experience can reveal.
A near enemy of service is to get righteous and prideful about the good you are doing for others, and reinforce the Judge or Righteous part of the ego.
A near enemy of love is to love while expecting to get something back for your love or to say that what you are expressing is “love” when it really is, in a relationship context, attachment or co-dependency.
. . . Those are just a few examples, and with respect to those practices, those are not the only ways that those practices can be corrupted. We can corrupt in all sorts of ways! Woohoo!
So basically any of our practices can be corrupted and this happens when the ego shapeshifts into a form that reinforces part of itself as we assume its identity. The example of being prideful about giving service is a good example. First, the ego shapeshifts into the Righteous Judge; then we believe in that thought-identity and assume it (like putting on clothes); then that assumption of identity trickles down into our behaviors, emotions, and subsequent thoughts. With practice, you can recognize it not only in yourself but in others as well.
What’s the good news here? An intellectual awareness of “near enemies” paves the way for an experiential awareness. This article lays out the intellectual awareness, which prepares the mind to recognize the shapeshifting when it happens in actual experience. From the Witness Observer point of view comes the possibility of just seeing the shapeshifting happening, and when we are in the Observer point of view, we are not in the ego identity—whichever form it has taken.
Then, as the Observer, we are not “feeding” the ego with our energy by believing and assuming the identities (like the Judge and Victim) that it shapeshifts into. Not only do we not create our reality from ego-based energy in that moment, but we refrain from corrupting our practice through judgment, victimization, attachment, etc.
Awareness, then, is the key to being free of the near enemies created by ego-mind. However, only practicing over time can make us masters in expressing love and presence without corrupting them. (“Practice makes the master.”) It’s just not realistic to expect someone to get it right off the bat. In any field of endeavor, you don’t expect a novice to perform like an adept from the get-go.
This is why, I think, in the Toltec tradition there are three masteries: Awareness, Transformation, and Love—in that order! Love is the “greatest mastery of the Toltecs”—perhaps because it is the most powerful—but awareness is the first mastery. Love, without awareness, can be corrupted into something that is not actually love. Awareness is the foundation.
Yet when the masteries come together in consciousness, the power of love is unbounded, and love, in all its glory, is free to awaken, heal and revitalize its vehicles. This comes about by being real, true, and trusting what we already know in our hearts.