Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of March 26, 2012

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(The Path of Purpose: Part 5 of 9)

Do we have a soul? Or not? For that matter, what is soul? Would we even know if we had one? To answer these questions, we seem to be stuck in the position of either believing or disbelieving what others have told us or what we can find in books, because we cannot see the answers for ourselves. Yet such beliefs or un-beliefs leave us unsatisfied and uncertain. Thinking about these questions does not help much either, because, if there is soul, it might be beyond thought, logic, or ordinary perception.

There is however, like Pascal’s wager on the existence of God, a prudent path forward. We can take as a working hypothesis that we have a soul, but that it needs developing, it needs work. We could be wrong about that in two ways. Either there is no such thing as soul or we have a perfect one already. Even if there is no such thing as soul, we still find empirically that spiritual practice makes our life better in many ways. As to whether we already have a perfect soul — it seems doubtful because we do not feel perfect. And if our soul is already perfect, then we are not in touch with it. Either way, the prudent path is to take up inner work wholeheartedly and see where it leads. Perhaps it will teach us about our soul directly, through our own experience. Perhaps it will develop our soul and/or our contact with it. And almost assuredly, if we persist, it will bring us a more satisfying life.

Balanced inner work leads to balanced development. One aspect of any complete spiritual path is purification, of our egoic self-centeredness. We come toward that through seeing ourselves clearly, through acting in accord with conscience, and through our growing attraction to the Sacred as our inner work progresses. We cannot attack our egoism directly, because our ego is a chameleon and joins the attack on itself, so it can claim our spirituality for itself, like thinking “I am more spiritually developed than he is.” So we use the indirect approaches of seeing, conscience, and attraction to the Sacred, to help us past egoism, to help us set ourselves aside, to help us make our ego irrelevant. Conscience will be the focus of the next part of the Path of Purpose series. Seeing ourselves depends on self-awareness and the willingness to look without bias, without flinching, and without judgment. That willingness arises from the realization that self-centered egoism blocks our spiritual path and that seeing weakens our egoism. Some of the deepest nourishment for and activity of our soul can only come through the channel that our ego occupies, the channel of our will. Witness Christ’s “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Self-centered egoism, an aberration of will, usurps the place of our I, blocking the connection between our will and the Divine Will. Again from Christ, “… not my will, but thine …” Purification from egoism opens that channel, opens our attraction to the Sacred, and is thus a self-reinforcing, positive-feedback process.

Another key aspect of balanced development of soul concerns our energies. Self-awareness grows with the quantity, quality, and organization of our inner energies. Our inner work of sensing, presence, meditation, and prayer, if pursued intelligently, persistently, and with a keen eye toward exploration and learning, has a profound effect on our spiritual energies. We need to explore and to learn, because the world of the soul, our inner world, is largely unknown to us. We can learn methods from other people. But to grow in wisdom and understanding requires us to see for ourselves, directly. Methods help us see. So again we come back to the classic approaches of sensing, presence, meditation, and prayer. These have both short-term and long-term benefits. Just as our body feels better from a healthy meal, exercise, or a good night’s sleep, so our soul feels better when we engage in the actual practices of the spiritual path. It feels nourished, present, peaceful, and clean, ready to meet the challenges and opportunities of life with wisdom and with heart.

The practices of inner work open a new dimension to our life, open us to a new life, an inner life. Our inner world is not separate from our outer world, but is a side of our reality that we neglect. When we work to establish ourselves in presence, to stabilize our presence, we are working to stabilize, to form our soul. When we can feel “I am here,” with presence in our body, our mind, our heart, our senses, and our Self, we are residing in our soul. When we sense our body, our energy body, completely and robustly, we are in our inner body, or outward part of our soul. In contemplative prayer, we strengthen the highest part of our Soul, our unified and purified will that connects us with the Divine Will. The deeper we go, the more unified and purified we are. This soul work, then, can be one of the central purposes of our life.

For this week, examine your attitudes toward your own soul. Notice what you can about your soul and its varying states. Work to develop your soul.

For more about the soul, please see: Structure of the Soul

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