Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of June 20, 2011

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(Obstacles on the Way: Part 3 of 9)

Natural cycles of activity and repose shape our lives. So also with our inner work: we cannot always be at a peak of intensity or quality in our practice; we need a balance that includes relaxation and non-effort. The trouble sneaks in when we let that slackness go too far, when we neglect our inner efforts of presence or our outer responsibilities, when we settle for half-hearted efforts or none at all. We call this laziness, or one of its variations: sloth, torpor, negligence, indifference, apathy, despair, or hopelessness. This insidious state undermines our spiritual practice by starving it, by not producing the nourishment that our soul so desperately needs.

Laziness directly reflects the state of our will. If we are low on energy, then it may be right to relax and rebuild. But laziness is not due to lack of energy, it is lack of active will, and thus a serious impediment to our path. One primary way for our I, our individuality to come forward into our life is through presence. Inner laziness stops presence before it can begin. Yes, we can be both present and relaxed; presence does not mean being taut. So inner laziness is not the same as being relaxed: it is the lack of will to be, the lack of will to act, the lack of will to see. For our inner work to progress at all, we need to break through that inner laziness, again and again, until it becomes natural for us to rouse ourselves off our inner sofa and work at presence, not to cruise along in absence.

External laziness, as we well know, has many ramifications for our outer life. If we fail to keep up with our duties and responsibilities, our life falls apart. If we fail to rise to challenges, opportunities, and creative changes, if we take shortcuts even when they shortchange us, if we fail to take practical steps toward our goals, if we fail to have goals and set projects for ourselves, then our life tends to stagnate. Thatís what laziness does to us outwardly.

External laziness, however, also affects our inner life. Not to fulfill my responsibilities means not to obey my conscience. Irresponsibility thus feeds my egoism, my self-centeredness, my conscience-ignoring tendency. If I feel my connectedness with other people, with the world around me, then I will care enough to pay attention to detail and do what I need to do. If in my egoism I feel separate, then none of the outside world matters, except insofar as it affects the fulfillment of my desires and the avoidance of my aversions.

To prevent laziness from running our life, from keeping us stuck in its mud, we work through it: we just do what we need to do despite any inner or outer lethargy. We train our body, our feelings, our mind, and our attention to move, to act when itís called for, regardless of inner or outer inertia. At our job this may be easy, because our livelihood depends on not being lazy in that context. But in our life outside of our job and in our inner life, we find ourselves thrown back on our own inner resources, on our choices about how to live, what to make of our life, thrown back on our own will to follow through on those choices. Thatís where the challenge of laziness comes into play. Will my passivity rob me of my potential?

Excuses for laziness come in many forms. One such affects our mind: doubt, the inappropriate demand for certainty. We cannot know in advance the outcome of our efforts, outer or inner. Nor can we know the truth about the higher worlds of the spirit before we ourselves attain to those heights. Doubt takes advantage of these situations to give us reasons not to act, to, in effect, justify our laziness. We think: since I may not win, I wonít really try. Since I donít really know whether God or heaven exist, why bother with all that? But we do not need certainty to act on what our heart is drawn to, and we need not let doubt contribute to our laziness.

Laziness is a choice, or the abdication of choice. It seems like a dense fog, mental and physical. For this week, notice your own tendency to be lazy, to shirk your outer and inner responsibilities. Some inner challenges evaporate just by seeing them clearly. But to counteract laziness, we need to act. See the extent to which the fog of laziness parts when you do choose to act, when with dogged persistence you intentionally enter presence again and again.


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