Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of April 9, 2012


(The Path of Purpose: Part 7 of 9)

If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?
And if I am only for myself, then what am I?
And if not now, when?


Some make it their life purpose to serve others or our planet. We respect them for that, knowing its inherent rightness as well as the purity of motivation behind it. But service is not only for the devoted few; it is an element of all our lives and a central function of the spiritual path. To earn our living, we provide some service to society, something society values. To have a happy home life, we serve our family. Through our generosity we serve those in need. Through simple acts of kindness and courtesy, we serve the people within our present moment. Our role in outward service is to do it well, to be intelligent, effective, and compassionate, to pay attention and learn how to serve better. We know the satisfaction it brings us when we do something useful for someone, something that matters even in a small way. We serve others to fill their need and our own. When someone does us a kindness, it predisposes us to pay it forward in another act of kindness. These ever-expanding circles of kindness raise the tenor of our world.

But there is also an inward service, one which we typically do not recognize as service. Through our spiritual inner work we serve ourselves, our society, our planet, and the Sacred. This radical notion sounds nice in theory, but can we have any direct perception that our spiritual practice affects anything or anyone beyond ourselves? Certainly it affects us; otherwise we would likely not have gone into it. But does it affect others?

When we meditate in a group, we see that our meditation is stronger, deeper, or more profound than when we practice alone. So if the group affects us, then our own meditation must be affecting others. The same holds for communal worship. How much more vibrant is our prayer when in a community of prayer! What we bring to that community affects it. When we are around someone who carries an inner peace, we feel more at peace ourselves. So if our inner work brings us peace, we carry that to the people around us. When we are with someone who exudes the joy of life, it rubs off on us. So if our inner work brings us joy, it spills over to others. When we are with someone who is calm, alert, and awake, we tend to wake up as well. Likewise, our own presence helps others be more present. All this adds up to show us that our spiritual practice is an act of service.

And it goes well beyond these localized benefits. Through our practice we gain perception of and facility with inner energies, spiritual energies. For example, by practicing sensing, or contact with our inner body, and by energy breathing we work with the sensitive energy; we have a direct perception of it. In silent meditation and in true presence, when our mind and heart settle, we come into the cognizant stillness of consciousness, the conscious energy that surrounds us all and always. And there are higher energies beyond those, for example in deep prayer when we are flooded with the light of the Sacred. Our inner work transforms energies, raising their level by generating higher energies from lower ones, and opening us to receive energies directly from a higher world. Associated with this is the notion that this planet, in its atmosphere and otherwise, has a pool or reservoir of spiritual energies. Just as we each have our own collection of energies in our nascent soul, so does the Earth in its nascent soul. And just as the state of our being, our very experience, is a function of the quality, quantity, and degree of organization of our personal supply of energies, so it is with the Earth as a whole. By our inner work, we contribute directly to the Earth’s complement of energies, to its soul. In our own small but significant way, our spiritual practice affects the level of society, of our civilization, as a whole. We need the Earth and the Earth needs our inner work.

We know that the life on this Earth forms a complex ecosystem, based on the exchange and transformation of the material and energies of life. This ecosystem also has an inner dimension. The ongoing exchange and transformations of spiritual energies form a spiritual ecosystem. Whether or not we are aware of it, we all live in that spiritual ecosystem, we all take from it and give to it. The quality of what we give to it depends on our inner life. If we live in an inner chaos, in continual identification, self-centeredness, unawareness, and autopilot habits, we give little but a fairly low grade of energy, with a neutral or even negative impact. If we engage in spiritual practice, in meditation, presence, and prayer, we produce a higher quality of energies for the Earth’s spiritual ecosystem.

The transformation of energies is not the only way we serve that ecosystem: our will, our actions, our attitudes make a difference. We affect the people around us not only by the quality of our energy, but clearly also by what we do. So in meditating together, it is not only the atmosphere of conscious energy that has an impact, but also our inner attitude of keeping to that particular practice. Our presence affects others, not only because of the sensitive and conscious energies we engage, but also by our will, our will-to-be, by the fact that I am here. Prayer is primarily an act of will, dependent as it is on the purity of our motivation. The person-to-person atmosphere of peace or joy is due to an attitude of will.

Service is one aspect of spirituality, perhaps the central one. Outward service, with its expanding circles of kindness, matters dearly. On the inside, seeing that our inner work serves purposes beyond the personal gives us a sound basis for its practice. In the inevitable ups and downs of a long-term pursuit of the spiritual path, the realization that our inner practices serve society as well as ourselves adds that extra bit of non-self-centered motivation that we need. Regarding our inner work as service allows us to enter its high and noble purpose and stay with it.

For this week, look at service as the purpose of your outward acts of kindness and your inner acts of spiritual practice.

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