Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of March 5, 2012

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(The Path of Purpose: Part 2 of 9)

The various necessities of maintaining our life impose on us a set of purposes that we cannot shirk. Yet within necessity lies opportunity: necessity becomes our teacher. Our wisdom grows in learning to distinguish the truly necessary and in learning to do what we must with efficiency, with quality, and without resentment or grumbling, perhaps even with joy. There is a difference between what we must do, what we want to do, and what we should do. For example, we must wear clothing. But how much clothing do we really need? Is everything in our closet necessary for us or could we get by with less? If we choose to have more clothing than we need, then we cross the line from needs to wants. Thatís fine. But itís useful to be aware of that line between necessity and desire, because that awareness gives us more choice, more freedom. The same applies to our food: what we eat and how much we eat. It applies to our home, how big, where itís located, how itís furnished, and so on. Seeing the difference between what we need and what we want shows us the choices we are making, choices that, once made, go on by momentum, by forgotten precedent. The necessary and the desired on the life side of the ledger limit our time and resources for other things, for family, and for other goals.

For those on the spiritual path, there can be tension between lifeís needs and time for formal meditation and prayer, tension arising from the simple fact that our physical body can only do one thing at a time. This recurrent issue of how to spend our time often confronts us with difficult choices, choices through which we develop our contact with wisdom. But when it comes to the inner work of the spiritual path, there is less or even no tension with life activities. It is not an either-or choice, because our inner work takes place in our developing soul and can be done in parallel with external engagements, can even support and enhance what we do externally. The one is in time and the other is in the timeless. As we move in time we can carry the timeless within us.

Presence, for example, is a kind of spiritual multitasking that gradually transforms so that there is no division. Instead of two parallel processes of living in time and being present, instead of the multitasking of activity and inner work, our life becomes our practice and we live it with presence. This brings a new dimension of depth and meaning to all we do, enriching the mundane. In presence we are already where weíre going: we are here. So in doing the dishes, taking out the garbage, cooking, cleaning, commuting, and laboring ó in all that necessarily fills our day ó we also seek presence. This marriage of necessity and spirit, of the seen and the unseen, completes our life and makes us whole. Without that, the chores can be empty drudgery. Yes, they are necessary and serve a definite life purpose. But we do not live to eat and sleep and have clothes to wear. Those things enable us to live and participate in a greater purpose. By learning to be at peace with the requirements of life, we leave ourselves open to serving purposes beyond those of caring for our body.

Necessity arising from the fact of our physical body is only one of several types. We also bear moral necessity and spiritual necessity. The first refers to our obligations and responsibilities toward other people, society, and our planet. The second addresses our obligations toward the Sacred. These two define and invite us to purposes that we can more easily ignore than those arising from having a body. However, physical necessity itself cannot provide the opportunities for purpose and fulfillment offered by moral and spiritual necessity. These latter we will address in more detail later in this inner work series on the Path of Purpose.

For this week, please look at how physical necessity shapes your purposes and how much room it leaves for other purposes. What do you need? Can you accept that as it is? How do you go about fulfilling your needs? Is there something you need to do differently? Do the choices you are making correspond to your priorities? Does what you do matter?

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