Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of August 8, 2011

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Living In Presence


We understand the notion of quality of life as concerning robust physical health, family and friends, adequate financial and material resources, meaningful work that engages us, and leisure time to use as we please. Important as all that is, it only addresses the quality of our outer life, our material life. The spiritual path and its practices extend the notion of quality of life to include the quality of our inner life. Some may have an excellent quality of outer life and yet experience a chaotic and difficult inner life. Others may have a poor quality of outer life and yet experience a loving, blissful, vivid, peaceful and coherent inner life.

Though we do not claim that the inner should take precedence over the outer, our usual way of life is unbalanced toward the outer, to the point of ignoring the need to work on the inner. In doing so, we leave our inner perceptions and capacities undeveloped and disorganized, preemptively sacrificing our chances for a complete life on the altar of the material, partial life. If we do take up inner work, we find that the two ultimately are connected; our spiritual practice opens us to the one life that embraces both inner and outer.

Occupying the central position within the broad constellation of spiritual practices is the practice of presence. Found in various incarnations in every major spiritual and religious way, the practice of presence has a wide variety of effective approaches, as well as layer upon layer of subtleties. And if we practice presence consistently, it develops in us, in duration, from the short-lived to the long-lasting, in frequency, from the rare to the regular, and in depth, from the senses to the Sacred. Our presence does not develop on its own: it depends directly on the quality and quantity of our intentional efforts.

In the coming weeks, we will explore presence, explore how to live in presence through these seven aspects of its practice:

    1. Living in Six Senses
    2. Sensing
    3. Living with Attention
    4. Living in Consciousness
    5. Living as I
    6. Living in the Sacred Now
    7. Living as the Sacred

To prepare, we begin by looking at our lack of presence, how we live largely unaware, driven by our thoughts and emotions, physical needs and impulses. We look to notice the extent to which we are present or not. Am I aware of myself and my surroundings? Am I here within that awareness? How often is that the case? And for how long? These questions matter because we often just assume that we are present, even when we are not. One source of that assumption is that when we ask ourselves whether we are present, the very question itself wakes us up and indeed we are present, at least for that brief moment. So whenever we ask, we find a positive answer. From that, we extrapolate to assume we are always present. This we may call the illusion of presence. The problem here is that if we believe we are already present, all or most of the time, then we have no incentive to undertake the actual work of expanding and deepening our presence.

When we do work with specific, concrete practices of presence, our general lack of presence and its various degrees in those moments when we are present become more obvious to us. Nevertheless, we need the motivation to begin our work at those practices. So for this week, please notice when you have been absent. Noticing itself is part of presence, so when you do notice then you are no longer absent. But as you awaken from a period of non-presence, you can notice that you have been absent.


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