Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of April 30, 2012

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Spiritual Habits


As creatures of habit, we would do well to manage our lives, in part, by cultivating useful habits and letting go of destructive ones. In this inner work series, we will focus on certain useful habits that we will call spiritual habits. The term spiritual practice itself implies a repeated or regular return to some attitude, action or technique that develops our soul. But a practice is more than just a habit: practicing means being engaged enough to improve, if only slightly, with each repetition. We will use the term spiritual habit to refer to any spiritual practice which has been so deeply ingrained in us, in our manner of living, that we do it regularly and with little resistance.

Positive habits can be difficult to form. It means giving something up, be it some other activity, some desire, or some attitude. It means that, despite distractions and conflicting desires, we make that positive choice again and again, until it becomes second nature for us. Once a spiritual practice develops into a habit, its very regularity becomes a source of peace, of energy, of hope for us. We trust the practice to lead us in the direction of our evolution. It gives us confidence in our own possibilities, because rather than just thinking or talking or reading about soul and spirit, we start actually doing something about it. It gives more meaning to our life. Then instead of always being faced with our own resistance to the habitual action, we begin to appreciate it, to look forward to it. We know that, at least for those moments, we are doing something necessary, right, and useful, something that gives us satisfaction and makes us a better person, something that makes a contribution.

The key step in establishing a positive habit is to create an effective trigger that will remind us to enter the spiritual action that we seek to make habitual. Such reminders can be of many different types, which leaves ample room for our creativity in developing a trigger that works for us and for the particular spiritual action.

Once we have the trigger, we need to will ourselves into action whenever the reminder occurs. This takes persistence and determination, both of which are enhanced by remembering why we are doing this, by recalling the benefit of that spiritual action.

Sometimes established and effective triggers or reminders lose their potency. The reminder comes and we fail to follow up with the action. In such cases we can either reinvigorate our commitment to keeping that reminder effective, or we can drop it and develop a new one.

Managing these reminders and the practices that they remind us to do is a major part of the art of effective inner work. We pay careful attention to see what works for us, what does not work, and what needs to be changed. How we go about creating spiritual habits depends very much on the practice in question. And to develop all sides of our spiritual nature, we need a balanced variety of such habits. Each of these positive habits reinforces the others. In the coming weeks, we will address the process of entering the path and transforming our lives by making the following categories of spiritual practice habitual:

    1. Meditation
    2. Prayer
    3. Presence
    4. Letting Go
    5. Kindness
    6. Integrity
    7. Inner Exploration

It is a mistake to equate habits with unawareness, with auto-pilot living. While it is true that habits, by definition, operate by automatically eliciting our response to a cue, that response itself need not lack awareness or intention. We may have the habit of brushing our teeth, but we could brush them consciously. All spiritual habits depend on full awareness in the habitual action; otherwise they are empty, like praying without contact with the meaning of the prayer or without an attitude of devotion.

For this week, please notice your own spiritual habits, how regular you are about them, what needs strengthening, and what needs changing.


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