Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of April 12, 2010

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Right Action

(Aspect 4 of the Eightfold Path)

What we actually do in this world defines us, both individually and collectively. One of the great revelations implicit in the Bible shows that the Creator both cares about and acts in human history. To make that relevant to our personal path, we simply realize that the Sacred Spirit can act through us, particularly if we are free enough of egoism to respond to the deeper promptings. But that communication channel is noisy and thus easily corrupted by self-centered illusions. So we need some basic, clarifying ground rules of what not to do. And for that we adopt the moral norms of our society, tempered by the Golden Rule and its variants: “do to others what you would like to be done to you” and “do not do to others what they would not like to be done to them.”

If we engage in some form of spiritual inner work on an ongoing basis, we may feel that the issue of being moral in our actions is somehow behind us. We may think: of course I am already moral; my real challenge is being present. But throughout our life, questions of right and wrong continue to appear in both large and small ways. And this is a challenge to presence, a challenge of paying attention to what we do, to ensure that all our actions pass the test of morality. This becomes particularly clear if we broaden the domain of morality to include doing right not only by other people and human society, but also by plants, animals, and the Earth as a whole. Then we see that moral issues confront us at every turn, challenging our attentiveness, our judgment, and our purity. Life situations abound in conundrums of our own conflicting values. Our development along the line of resolving those conflicts can be summed up in the word conscience, the voice of the Sacred within us. We can aspire to be a person of conscience by not attempting to sweep our questionable actions under the rug of unawareness. Our conscience sees all.

There are very deep spiritual reasons for living in such a way as to have a clear conscience. We do this out of love and connectedness. We do it for the inner freedom it affords us. And also because to become worthy of entering the highest abodes of the Sacred, purity of will is an absolute requirement. At that level we encounter a barrier through which self-centered agendas cannot pass. Only a moral person with a clear conscience and a pure heart can have any real hope of becoming a vehicle for the Sacred. Given the many exigencies of life, this high standard of purity may seem an impossible goal. Yet it needs to be the foundation of our choices and our aspiration, to which we bring the best of our presence, attentiveness, heartfulness, judgment, and willingness to learn from mistakes.

But there is more to conscience and Right Action than what we should not do. The positive side, what we should do, can be an even greater challenge, because of the bewildering array of possibilities continually opening to us. How do we find a pattern of action for a life that offers us personal fulfillment? Innumerable questions arise about how we will choose to live. We can begin by following the basic guideline of doing the right and responsible thing. Further, again, we can seek guidance in our own feeling, intuition, judgment, and willingness to learn from mistakes.

There is, though, another overarching path toward Right Action: the path of excellence. What we do, we do with excellence. We seek perfection, but without demanding it, without making it into a constricting and impossible burden. We can aspire to excellence in anything we do. Take the mundane example of walking. It is possible to walk with excellence. We walk with the appropriate purpose and intention, with the degree of physical effort and speed that corresponds to that purpose, with awareness of ourselves and our surroundings, with presence in our body, heart, and mind. Between our active inner impulse that drives the walking and our receptive awareness of our body and surroundings, we find the balance of synergy. The walking goes on, while inwardly we are free, at peace, and in the moment.

This kind of approach to excellence can be applied in any activity, from washing dishes to playing a musical instrument, from speaking or writing to watching, listening, or thinking. We look at the activity to discover what excellence could mean for that particular situation. Through trial and error, attention and judgment, we refine and improve what we do and how we do it. Seeking rightness of action through excellence directly feeds into creating a satisfying life for ourselves and supports our spiritual inner work. More than that, acts of excellence raise the quality of the world and thus become acts of service. So even something as seemingly mundane as excellence in walking emanates a quality that we all need.

Finally, in the pantheon of Right Action, we must include service, both inner and outer. With the guidance of our conscience, we serve as we can our family, our society, our planet. And by our inner work, our prayer, presence, and meditation, and our inner attitude of kindness, we also emanate a quality that serves the transformation of the world.

For this week, raise the quality, the rightness of your actions.


     

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