Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of September 13, 2010

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Stages of Freedom

Life pulls us in two, apparently opposing, directions: outward and inward. Outward into the material world, into this remarkable, intriguing, complex and beautiful universe, planet, and town that we inhabit, with all its people, buildings, machines, animals, plants, rivers, sky, fields, forests, mountains, oceans, and our own body. Outward into the world of necessity, of earning our living, of caring for ourselves and our family. Outward into the world of opportunity, of understanding this great universe, of understanding people, of creating, of consuming.

And inward into this unknown muddle of our inner life, into the intuition that calls us, that some deep, important secret, the Real Truth, lies hidden from us, obscured by our mind, yet accessible only from within. Inward into the nonstop thinking, emoting, perceiving, doing, attituding, judging machine that is our mind, that is our master, that is who we believe we are.

So here is our ongoing challenge: how to fully drink in what the outer has to offer, how to organize the inner and unlock its secrets, and how to honor and serve both, without being completely subject to our changing outer circumstances or enslaved by our chattering, emoting mind.

Outer freedoms, political and economic, matter to us all. Yet even the wealthy and powerful cannot banish all unpleasantness from their own lives. Utter fulfillment cannot be found in the outer alone. Something is missing: we are incomplete. To find our completion, we need inner freedom. The more inwardly free we are, the more peace, fulfillment, and love we experience. Even in the most dire of circumstances, some people find a way to maintain their humanity and their dignity.

Spiritual teachers have long called us to inner freedom. They have variously termed it liberation, death and resurrection, enlightenment, union, or perfection. And they have laid out specific steps along the path to that freedom. Over the coming weeks, we will explore the meaning and practice of inner freedom through a nine-part representation of its stages:

    1. Illusory Freedom
    2. Allure of Materiality
    3. Wish for Freedom
    4. Non-Dependence
    5. Transcending Personality
    6. Illusion of Ego
    7. Non-Separateness
    8. Surrender
    9. The Sacred Partnership

These stages of freedom primarily revolve around the purification and refinement of our will, but also depend on the development of our being, on our ableness to be, on inner order, on our inner unity. The more we are, the more clearly we can see. The path to inner freedom depends on seeing how we are not free and seeing the associated possibility of becoming free. We ascend the ladder of freedom in stages, with each rung leading us toward the ultimate freedom.

Each new stage of freedom opens to us gradually. At first, we receive glimpses of the new freedom. Sometimes those glimpses go unrecognized by us. At other times, the glimpses arrive so dramatically as to jar us from our usual mode of existence. These temporary tastes of freedom quickly pass, leaving us however with confidence in our direction, in our inner work, and renewed vigor for it. After a time, the glimpses of the new freedom come more frequently. We accept the new mode of living as right and normal for us, even if temporary. Then we may enter extended sojourns in the new freedom. Our state rises into it, but in time we descend to our previous level. And eventually, we come to live the new freedom, our new station, and we rarely fall back into our old modes of thralldom.

Our inner work adapts as we go. Even if we use only one method of meditation, prayer, or presence for our entire life, our relationship with that method changes, we enter it more deeply. Those who use a variety of methods find themselves needing one or another from their repertoire at different times of their life. Either way, a map of the stages can help us stay on the path. Even without knowing exactly where we are on that map, it helps orient us in the direction of increasing freedom.

For this week, please consider your own situation. Where do you stand with respect to inner freedom? How free are you, inwardly? In what ways are you not free? What would it mean to be free?

See Also: The Path of Liberation


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