Inner  Frontier
Cultivating Spiritual Presence

 

Inner Work


For the week of February 20, 2012

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The Path of Purpose

Introduction

We naturally want our lives to have meaning, to have a purpose. Yet we face the complexity of our modern culture, with its myriad, conflicting demands and opportunities. How can we navigate through our engagements of the day without losing contact with our larger vision? For that matter, do we have a larger vision for our life, something that draws us, that fits our unique nature, that engages our higher potentials, that extends beyond the day or the month?

We know the positive feeling of having or serving a purpose, at least on short time scales. We know the rightness of having a job to do, something to accomplish, a responsibility to fulfill, an opportunity to avail. We know the satisfaction of completing a task or project, of following through.

We take on a task, even something small like washing the dishes or going to the grocer. That task is our purpose for those moments. And because purpose is will, and because we are our will, we become that purpose in carrying out the task. So to understand the role of purpose in our life is to understand ourselves. Our purpose is us. Our purpose creates us, in the moment. When we have a purpose, we become real, we become ourselves, and our life becomes meaningful, through that purpose. This is where the domain of purpose crosses over from our external, material life into our inner life, into our spiritual path.

Two of the significant dimensions of purpose interact: importance and time-scale. Generally, the longer the term, the greater is the purpose. Raising a child offers us a long-term task with great importance. Longer-term projects usually yield larger accomplishments. However, the short-term often is very important. In driving, our attention to the immediate road situation matters greatly. In surgery, the moment-to-moment actions of the surgeon matter greatly. And long-term purposes can only be accomplished through a series of short-term actions in the now.

The scope of a purpose helps determine its importance. Does a purpose affect some small scale task only? Does it affect more of my life? Does it affect my family, my organization and its customers, the larger society, even the Earth? Yet the apparent, external importance of a purpose can mask its inner importance. Both the street sweeper and the surgeon can have fulfilling lives, if they accept the task allotted to them and carry it through with fullness of purpose.

We shape the inner significance of an external task by the importance we place on it. The more purpose we imbue it with, the more it can feed our soul, provided it accords with our conscience. But to imbue a task with purpose takes more than just trying to think it important. We engage in it with the whole of ourselves, with full attention and intention. Engagement injects importance into our purpose.

Possibilities matter. What can you accomplish? What limitations confront you? What assets and potentials do you bring to the task? If we adopt a purpose beyond our current possibilities, then either we work very hard to meet that challenge or we languish in an imaginary life.

Quality matters. How well do we carry out our purpose? To bring excellence to our actions is itself a high purpose, affecting not only the world around us but also ennobling our inner world.

The spiritual path itself has a very high purpose. To engage in spiritual inner work is to become a bearer of that purpose, to become aligned with the very purpose of the universe. That purpose can inform our life both immediately, moment-to-moment, as we live it and act on it through kindness, presence, meditation, prayer, and the transformation of inner energies, as well as for the long-term, as it is a life-long pursuit that continues to spiral upward. As with all great purposes, the spiritual path is not just about personal gain or personal salvation. For example, as we progress along the path, our practices involve an increasingly refined transformation of energies. Those higher energies contribute crucially to our planetís spiritual ecosystem of energies. To experience an example of this effect, we need look no further than the atmosphere of peace created in the immediate vicinity of people meditating. You can feel it. You can also see its effects on you when you meditate in a group, how much stronger that can be than meditating alone. Our inner work affects our world in direct but subtle ways. This is one of the primary purposes of our spiritual practice. That overarching purpose informs all our inner work: our purpose of being present as we go about our day, our purpose of connecting with the Divine Purpose when we engage in contemplative prayer, and our purpose of entering the peace of meditation.

In the coming weeks, we will look further into various aspects of purpose, particularly as they relate to our inner work:

    1. Suffering
    2. Necessity
    3. Self-Improvement
    4. Pleasure
    5. Soul
    6. Conscience
    7. Service
    8. Destiny
    9. The Divine Purpose

For this week, notice the role of purpose in your life. How strongly do you feel it and in what contexts?

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