Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of January 3, 2011

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(Inner Body Development: Aspect 7 of 7)

The secret ingredient of progress on the spiritual path is persistence, simple, dogged persistence in the practices of the path. Yes, other qualities and conditions matter, but overshadowing them all is the determination to keep going, come what may. A steady, daily persistence allows our inner work to build on itself. Our energy and determination from one dayís practice carry over to the next, so that each day our baseline, our starting point can be slightly higher than the day before or, at the very least, not much lower.

We naturally have ups and downs in the quality and quantity of inner work we are able to come to on any given day. Many factors conspire to produce these ups and downs. Our body may be ill, or just slightly ill, or tired from lack of sleep or overexertion. And that can negatively impact our inner work, pointing up the importance of a physically healthy lifestyle. Our vital energies set the conditions for our ability to practice. A vital and vibrant body can support stronger inner work. Conversely, certain inner work, for example energy breathing, can increase our physical vitality.

Our emotions may be in turmoil due to some unwelcome event in our life. So we need to work toward equanimity and moderation, particularly with the destructive emotions. We can live our life wholeheartedly, without ever letting our emotions overwhelm us or derail our inner work.

Our mind may be obsessed with something that has happened or may happen, or something we want or donít want, or something we disapprove of, and so on. So we practice awareness of our thoughts as thoughts, which mitigates their power over us. Or our mind may fill with doubt about the spiritual path. In response, by faith, we continue our practice, without needing certainty about the outcome or demanding proof of the spiritual reality. This is not blind faith. We are realistic about our position, the level of our experience, and about our need to practice diligently.

All these and many other ups and downs are part of living and part of spiritual practice. What matters is that we keep on, come what may, following a blue-collar ethic of inner work. Then we will inevitably bounce back from the lows. We adopt an attitude of stopping our losses by not allowing our inner work to disappear entirely on any day. We keep watch, so as not to be infected by an attitude or assumption of failure with regard to our inner work.

The less we backslide, the quicker we recover from the lows. We do not give up, even temporarily. Some degree of inner work, some body awareness, for example, or some letting go is always feasible. If we have been practicing sensing regularly and come to a moment when our sensation is weaker than usual, then that weak, partial sensation itself may viscerally call us to strengthen our body awareness. This is persistence under clouds and rain.

But persistence is not only about mitigating the low points, it also concerns pushing forward when we are able to practice. When we can, we persist in deepening and strengthening our presence. We work to fully inhabit our inner body. We engage in practices to raise the quality and quantity of energy in our inner body. We persist in staying in our inner body in this moment, increasing the duration and frequency of our practice. We allow a relaxed inner body presence to become an increasingly continuous condition of our life. We carry on attempting to approach the Divine through deep meditation and contemplative prayer. We explore our inner world to understand it better and enter its unknown but marvelous regions.

When our sitting meditation sessions are strong and deep, we may be tempted to slip into just cruising for the rest of the day. Our inner state may be clear and free and pleasant. There seems to be no pressing reason to practice presence in such times, because we are already where we want to be. Yet those days offer opportunities not to be squandered. Here we follow the old adage: make hay while the sun shines. So we practice presence even when it seems unnecessary. We work to broaden, deepen, and strengthen our presence, even when we already feel good. Our spiritual work is not only to help us in our down moments. We practice at all times because it builds our soul and serves the Sacred. This is persistence in the sun.

Another common limitation is settling for the spiritual station or plateau we currently occupy. We grow accustomed to a certain level of inner work. By level or plateau we mean the amount and quality of our inner work and presence. It tends to vary within a range and we accept that range as part of who and how we are. This is an artificial and self-limiting envelope. When we notice our plateau, we work to raise our practice beyond that level. This is persistence on the plain.

And we are creative in devising methods to remind ourselves to practice presence during our day. Such reminders typically do work for a time, if we take them seriously. But then they lose effectiveness, growing stale as we start ignoring them. So we change reminders as needed. Here is smattering of specific examples of normal daily activities to train ourselves to be present in, one at a time. We practice presence, beginning with sensing and inhabiting our energy body while:

    • shaving
    • putting on makeup
    • brushing our teeth
    • dressing
    • using a keyboard
    • thinking about some particular issue
    • awakening from sleep in the morning, while still in bed
    • washing dishes
    • cooking
    • eating
    • exercising
    • walking
    • shopping
    • standing up from a sitting meditation
    • going through a doorway
    • speaking
    • listening
    • reading
    • watching TV
But most of all, we adopt the straightforward attitude that we want to be present at all times, that our new normal is full presence. Then when we are not fully present, we have some existential discomfort that draws us back into presence.

For this week, persist in developing your inner body.


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