Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of April 18, 2011

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(The Path of Liberation: Part 4 of 9)

At this stage of the path of liberation, we still spend the bulk of our time living in the illusion of self, in the illusion that our personality is who we are. But at other times we are free of that illusion, living in awareness in the here and now. Itís not that, in these freer moments, we have seen through the illusion; rather the illusion has temporarily dropped away as we experience contact with the real world of sensory perceptions. At those times we rise into sensitive contact with what we see and hear, with our body, even with the meaning of our thoughts and the tenor of our emotions. That sensitive contact raises us out of illusory living.

Though in our mind, we hear our thoughts as sounds, we know that such sounds can be spoken, recorded, or heard in othersí speech — all external to us. We also know that our thoughts can be written on paper or electronic media, again external to us. This knowledge points us toward recognizing that our thoughts themselves are external to us, are objects passing through our mind. Though we perceive our thoughts with our mind, we, as the perceiver or thinker, are more internal, more subjective than our thoughts, not defined by them. This is seeing our thoughts as thoughts, as mere thoughts. From that, we extrapolate to seeing our emotions as emotions. And we are deeper than both, more inward, as the one who sees or hears or sometimes guides our thoughts, the one who feels our emotions.

And then we fall back into the automatic mode of living, where our thoughts think us, our emotions drive us, where we are utterly identified with our thoughts and emotions, with believing that we are our thoughts and emotions, that we are the pattern of our personality.

Back and forth, up and down, we oscillate between these states of illusion and relative freedom, of identification and some measure of presence. Our life becomes an uneasy and confusing coexistence of these two worlds, these two modes of being. We experience rising intimations of truth amidst the illusion. This is where we begin to realize and feel the true urgency of spiritual practice, of the work of presence, in daily life. We begin to understand what it costs us to be our personality, to live by rote automatism, even though we have not yet fully penetrated the illusion. We begin to know the taste of living ensnared by our personality, a constrained and uncomfortable taste in comparison to living in sensitive contact with our life.

For example, a simple, accidental daydream about someone insulting you, or saying something nasty about you to someone else, starts a whole train of angry thoughts and vindictive, resentful emotions. But your seeing of this process does not have the power at this stage of the path to release you from its grip, so you stay captive to this pattern until it subsides. You know you are caught in this web of mirrors, yet you cannot step out of it. You try coming into awareness of your body and sometimes that helps, but if the emotions are already strong, it is too late, and you stay trapped until they dissipate on their own. Then you come back again to some degree of presence, breathing the fresh air of sensitive contact with your body, mind, and surroundings. And so it goes, up and down, back and forth.

The disturbing contrast between these two modes of our life, between the involuntary mode of identification, constraint, and absence and the intentional mode of relative freedom and presence, no longer blindly acquiescing to the former, but not yet able to enter the latter at will, fuels the fire of our inner work, our need to practice presence and letting go. Our unwillingness, having seen some truth, to go back to the personality-only life, where our presence collapses under our personality, coupled with our inability to stay in the life of presence, where personality serves presence, leaves us bewildered and stranded. Only the forward movement of our personal evolution can free us.

So our need and determination grow and we practice presence more and more. To be specific, at this stage of our path, the practice of presence consists primarily of sensing our body, of body awareness, of awareness of the sensitive energy in our body, on an ongoing basis. Sensing our body spills over into contact with our thoughts and emotions, with the meaning of our thoughts and the tenor of our emotions. Sensing gives us a foothold in the present moment and a way to climb out of identification with our personality. The more we sense, the more we can see our personality in action, how its siren call seduces us into its empty embrace. Sensing is the foundation that enables us to see clearly and vividly, to see our personality for the empty shell that it is.

Stranded between the taste of freedom and our inability to stay free, we constantly renew our inner work. For this week, notice when you are free and notice when you are under your personality, believing it is who you are. Each moment of such seeing adds to the account by which you buy your freedom.


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