Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of May 17, 2010

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Worlds of the Spirit: Introduction

Our world view divides reality into categories such as the spiritual world and the material world, the inner world and the outer world, heaven and earth, the higher and the lower, the body and the soul. These and other such schemas of possible experience and levels of reality provide the foundation not only for New Age movements but also for traditional and ancient Christian, Buddhist, Sufi, and Kabbalah teachings, to name just a few.

Two main factors drive this abiding human interest in categories of experience. First, we need a way to make sense of our chaotic inner life, particularly if we seek spiritual reality. We need a map to see where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going, a map to guide us through the fog of our inner world toward the invisible territory of the spirit. Without a good map we stay lost and can only guess the direction.

Second, the spiritual reality truly does have structure and many representations of that structure have been put forward, most notably by religions. In exploring those different representations, however, some common features emerge. The basic similarity consists of the hierarchical nature of these models of reality, with levels that range from our ordinary daily experience up to the most sacred Divine realm.

And this is the first important aspect to consider: there are not just two divisions, like heaven and earth or body and soul, but several levels between ordinary life and the high heavens. If reality holds only two great divisions, then the chasm between the two seems insurmountable. But with more divisions, our problem seems more tractable, for we can better see our next steps and at least conceptually grasp the whole context. Our inchoate feelings that draw us toward the spirit, gain a partner in our mind, a mental map which we gradually flesh out with experience.

In the coming weeks, we will explore a particular schema of seven worlds. This schema is compatible with and true to the traditional representations, but has the significant advantage of a more modern language and outlook. We have adapted this model from the account given by J. G. Bennett [1], who drew on earlier teachings. The power of the model comes not in taking it as a theory, but in seeing it in practice, in the actual experience of living, and thereby letting it bring order to our world view.

Here is the list of the worlds; we shall take them up in the coming weeks in the reverse of this order:

This is the Jacob’s ladder that we seek to climb. These seven worlds each represent a way of being, a way of experiencing and acting. After being born into the physical world, we need to learn to walk, to talk, and to eat. In the same way, we need to learn to function in the higher worlds. The worlds differ dramatically and for each one we shall explore the nature of how we might function in that world. A primary factor behind the diversity of the worlds is that each is characterized by its own particular type of inner or spiritual energy. Not only do the tools we use in functioning and the energies that drive them differ among the worlds, but so do the attitudes and actions of will. So as we come to study each of the worlds, we will look at the functions, the energies, and the will that shape that world. Various spiritual practices address each world and train us to operate there. So we will also look at the characteristics of those levels of practice.

To move from one world to another is not so easy. The Sufi concepts of state and station illuminate this issue. Our inner states are temporary sojourns in the various worlds, while our station is our base, our long-term stable residence in a particular world. It is possible however to change our station to a higher world from our current one. But that takes a transformation of our being: a change requiring sustained spiritual inner work over a lengthy period of time. Our state however can and does change on short time scales. These changes of state may be haphazard due to our immediate circumstances or they may be intentional, for example as a result of some spiritual practice. Our states generally range from the world of our station to the worlds just above and just below.

The seven worlds interpenetrate and we can live in more than one world in the same moment. Our inner work of presence, for example, can enable us intentionally to engage at several levels at once. Even within our ordinary level of living, we can be touched by a very high world, a temporary state well beyond our typical reach. Studying this schema of worlds and internalizing it through observation, experimentation, and experience, can help clarify our position in any given moment and guide us along our way. As we learn the direct taste of each of the worlds, the schema becomes a trusted and valued part of our repertoire of understanding, of our view of life. And as we make our way along the path, our understanding of the worlds evolves. The schema is not static, but dynamic, with many layers of subtlety.

For this week, please begin to notice the qualities of your own experience. Is it all on the same level of awareness or can you see differences of higher and lower in how you are and how you act at various times? Does it change haphazardly, seemingly by chance, or can you affect it?

[1] See J. G. Bennett, Deeper Man (Santa Fe: Bennett Books, 1978)


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