In true obedience there should be no trace of 'I want so-and-so,' or 'this and that,' but a pure going out of your own. And therefore, in the best prayer a man can pray it should not be 'give me this virtue or that habit,' or even 'Lord, give me Yourself,' or 'eternal life,' but 'Lord, give only what You will, and do, 0 Lord, whatever and however You will in every way.' This surpasses the former as heaven does the earth. And when such a prayer is uttered one has prayed well, having gone right out of self into God in true obedience.
—Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works, p. 487
True obedience, as Eckhart calls it, can never be given to some thing, to something created, or to an outward form. I cannot be obedient first to objects, events, circumstances, or conditions; because obedience is first and foremost an inward quality.
Obedience is generally misunderstood, because our thinking mind always and invariably attaches it to outward form. This is a profound misunderstanding, but it is a ubiquitous one. Obedience is, in its first instance and in the origin of all obedience, always obedience to the inflow. That is to say, obedience begins with obedience to the divine principle which flows inward into Being.
This principle has no character other than Being. So as soon as one thinks one is being obedient to this thing or that thing, already, obedience has become attached to small fractions of the question. In reality, obedience is obedience to the whole of one's life; everything. And the whole of one's life, if we sense it properly, is comprehensive and consists of a universe — an entity which is a living organism, and far too vast to comprehend with one's intellectual mind.
When I say that one's entire life is a living organism, it may seem obvious — after all, I am a living organism, am I not? And yet I don't see that my thinking mind, and the moment I am in, are just a fraction of a whole living being, a body, which is actually a body that exists through time and has a wholeness that belongs to God. The entire life I live itself is a Being, all of which does not belong to me, but belongs to God. It may be helpful, for conceptual purposes, to understand that the consciousness "I" experience in this instance which I call myself is not "me" at all, but an instantaneous construction that represents a single and infinitesimal fraction of the whole of "I," which consists of all Being experienced throughout the organism and the course of its life.
This is one of the reasons that Gurdjieff described conscience the way he did, that is, more or less, the sensing of everything, of one's entire life and everything in it. The practical aspect of this experience — which is impossible to invoke or create, but can only be encountered — is mediated by the feeling quality, that is, the entry of higher emotion into Being. Much of what Meister Eckhart spoke about regarding the idea of God rushing in to a place where "I" abandon myself and empty myself completely of all ideas of myself relates to this. The talks of instruction (from which the opening quote is taken) discuss this idea in some detail in the first sections.
In any event, my obedience must be an inward obedience, and the obedience is obedience to my whole life, as it is. This life, with every single one of its constituents and components, is exactly and precisely the intention that God has for me; and to the extent that I try to manipulate, control, or invoke it on my own, to the extent that I attempt to touch it, rather than experiencing it, so I abandon true obedience.
In regard to this, another quote from the complete mystical works, taken from the next page:
In truth, if a man gave up a kingdom or the whole world and did not give up self, he would have given up nothing. But if a man gives up himself, then whatever he keeps, wealth, honor, or whatever it may be, still he has given up everything.
This idea of keeping everything in the midst of abandonment seems, of course, quite impossible; yet taken from the point of view of higher feeling, conscience, and the inward flow of the divine, it is exactly right. It can't be rationally processed; and there is no point in trying to do so. The only absolute point is to come into touch with the inward flow and to derive understanding from this, which is a complete understanding, not any of the partial understandings we attempt to arrive at in this analysis through mind.