Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of March 29, 2010

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Right Intention

(Aspect 2 of the Eightfold Path)

Broadly speaking, the way of Right Intention has two major sets of features: first, to have a coherent and effective intention, and second, to have that intention be “Right.” We’ll begin our discussion with the second, that our intention be “Right.” In the context of the Eightfold Path, the intentions alluded to by the word “Right” include the intentions to follow the path, to do the practices, to serve, and not to cause harm. But the primary emphasis is on following the path. Ordinarily we may have many wholesome intentions such as to care for ourselves and our family, to develop our skills and talents, to serve society through our employment and through kindness, to engage in creative and productive endeavors, and to enjoy our life. The intention to follow the path does not preclude any of that. We can live full lives while devotedly pursuing our inner work.

Right Intention depends on our understanding of the path and its practices and on our ability to actually do those practices. Our knowledge of the path develops by learning from teachers, from spiritual friends, and through reading. As with Right View, knowledge transforms into understanding through our experience of working with the practices. Our ability to do the practices grows through practice, which changes our perceptions, sharpens our attention, accumulates our energies, and defragments our will. This process continues throughout our path as our understanding deepens and our perceptions refine. All the while our intention to practice provides the essential impetus to keep us going and to apply our full intelligence and creativity to our inner work.

Along the way, plateaus come. Perhaps the practices bring us great satisfaction, even joy, and we are content and tempted to settle for maintaining our current level of practice. But if our intention includes full liberation and maximizing our potential for service, we persist in refining our efforts and in our experimentation to find what’s possible, necessary, and appropriate for us at each new period and at any particular moment. Now there are teachers who tell us to relax into the natural unfolding of our path and life, to realize that we have already arrived. And certainly there is truth in that. At the same time, however, we pursue our practice indefatigably, not toward some distant goal, but to enter into this very moment more deeply, more durably, and more lovingly. All this is driven by our intention. Lack of intention means lack of inner work. So we respect and nurture our intention to practice. And that intention can grow into determination and commitment.

The intention to practice creates a kind of self-imposed inner pressure. This is necessary if we are not to stagnate on those spiritual plateaus. However, this inner pressure must be appropriately modulated, tuned. It should not be so overly dogmatic or desperately, inflexibly muscular that it causes us stress. Rather, we stay relaxed, inwardly and outwardly. At the same time, however, our intention to practice should not be so lax that we become inwardly lazy toward our inner work. We remain relaxed but diligent. This whole dynamic changes over time, as we open more and more to the Sacred and to liberation. The Reality Itself draws us, attracts us, effortlessly boosting our intention to practice, which moves from being solely active to being more receptive and responsive. The path shifts into being something we wish for with all our heart, rather than something we impose on ourselves. Instead of needing discipline to meditate regularly, we look forward in joyous anticipation to our periods of meditation. Similarly, the Sacred draws us more profoundly into the practices of presence and of prayer. At that stage our heart is really in it.

Intention is an aspect of will. In the practice of presence this manifests as the intention or will to be, to be present, to be here now, to be aware of our inner and outer perceptions, to be aware of our body and our surroundings and our self. In prayer, we have the receptive intention or will to open ourselves to the Higher. In acting with excellence in life, our will manifests in a third mode, neither active nor receptive, but a synergy of the two and more. These three modes of will, active, receptive, and synergic, in various levels and permutations, enter all that we do.

Indeed, we are our will, the one who sees what we see and does what we do. We can practice living as intention, being the one who lives our life, being the center from which our actions and our attention emanate. The typical alternative consists of living half-aware, while abdicating our center to let our life follow a haphazard, reactive course.

You may wonder how to reconcile the feeling of being the one who sees what you see and does what you do, being the agent of your life, with the Buddhist teaching of no separate self. The reconciliation has to do with levels. If we are just inwardly scattered, there can be no letting go of separateness, for we are caught by everything. So we need to have a self to open, we need to develop the inner collectedness that comes with being the one who lives our life. Then ultimately, in every religion, we work toward opening ourselves to our oneness with the Sacred and in doing so overcome our separateness.

Here are some examples of how to put this inner work of intention into practice. In watching TV, be the watcher. In walking, be the walker. In speaking, be the speaker. In listening, be the listener. In thinking, be the thinker.

In reluctantly doing a necessary chore that part of you does not want to do, choose to do it, choose to engage in it fully. While doing the chore, make the ongoing choice to do it, to be there doing it, to be the one doing it. Choose to do what you are doing.

For this week, notice your intentions. What does Right Intention mean to you, in your life, in your inner work, in practice?


     

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