Inner  Frontier
Cultivating Spiritual Presence

 

Inner Work


For the week of September 10, 2012

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Growing a Spiritual Life

Introduction

Our spiritual life grows like a tree: so slowly as to be imperceptible, yet capable of reaching a great height and strength. Much of a tree’s growth is hidden underground and most of our spiritual growth is hidden from us, rooted in the depths beyond our ordinary awareness. The soil for our spiritual growth is our body, heart, and mind as they are when the seed begins to sprout. The seed of our soul comes into us at birth, but lies dormant until awakened, in some cases suddenly and in others gradually. Once awakened, our inner growth can begin.

That awakening rouses the spiritual yearning in our heart. But the awakening is not something we can do intentionally from ourselves. It is not a choice that we make. It happens to us in a uniquely individual manner. Some event or series of events, inner or outer, gives us a taste or a promise of a deeper life and ignites our need for that. What we do with that need is our choice and our responsibility. We can ignore it and leave our spiritual life stillborn, our soul incomplete. Or we can nurture it, even if half-heartedly at first. But the path and our early, halting attempts at inner work have their effects and intensify our need.

The tree works hard, but invisibly, to gather and transform light, water, and nutrients into the substance of its body. Our spiritual inner work is also invisible from the outside, because it takes place within our body, heart, and mind, and feeds our soul. Just as a tree grows toward the sun, our soul grows toward the inner light of the sacred. And the water that enables it all to flow into and through the tree is the heartfelt yearning that keeps us on the path, that keeps us engaged through thick and thin. That yearning informs our will and moves us. The whole process, though, is uncertain: of all the seeds produced few sprout and fewer still attain full maturity. What makes the difference is our own free and repeated choice to practice.

In this series, we will explore the inner work that grows our soul. Many paths offer differing views and different methods. But there is clear commonality among subsets of those paths. We will look at methods that are in some sense shared among several paths and have been developed over centuries or millennia. We also have an eye toward balance in our inner work, so that our practices support each other and the full-spectrum of our wholeness.

It is one thing to know about spiritual practices, quite another thing to develop the ability to do those practices, and yet another to actually do them. If it’s suggested to us that we “be conscious” or that we “open to the world of sacred light,” we are immediately confronted with a problem. Regardless of any amount of study or theoretical knowledge of practices, levels of energies, or different spiritual realities, we do not really understand what these things mean until we have experienced them for ourselves. So we need to work at the level that we can work. Gradually our ability to do the practices increases. New perceptions and unexpected capacities open to us, if we persevere in the practices that we can do. Once we know and understand a practice, we come to the problem of actually doing it, regularly, in the frequency and duration it calls for. That is why the spiritual path is work, inner work. Though the sacred does help us, only our own actual, long-term inner work can prepare us for that help and make use of it in our spiritual transformation. But the dividends of the work are immeasurable, for ourselves, for the people around us, and for the sacred.

Growing our spiritual life, growing our soul, like any other process, comes in stages. The seed and our need awaken. We learn about some practice. We experiment with it. We get feedback from it and try to improve, to deepen our work with it. It begins to have an effect on our being. Something shifts in us. A new perception or ability opens. We incorporate that in our inner work. The cycle continues and our inner life grows. Time passes and we enter deeper into the timeless, as our inner world opens up. While maintaining our life responsibilities, we dive into our spiritual work. Half-hearted becomes wholehearted. Then we reach a plateau, however pleasant, where nothing much changes for a long time. But we persevere, even redoubling our efforts, because each act of inner work is valuable in its own right. And then a change, a new possibility enters without fanfare. This becomes our new normal, our new plateau. We continue to practice. These cycles continue. And we climb Jacob’s ladder. Our life is full. Our heart is full. We serve the sacred.

For this week, notice the difference between knowing about or thinking about a spiritual practice and actually doing it. Thinking about the path is not the same as walking it.

    1. Meditation
    2. Soul Food
    3. Prayer
    4. Presence
    5. Conscience
    6. Doing and Non-Doing
    7. Love
    8. Contemplating the Source through Attention


        

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