Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of September 24, 2012

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Soul Food

(Growing a Spiritual Life: Part 2)

For our inner body, our soul, to grow and function, it needs food, but food of a different nature and quality than our normal three-meals-a-day type of food. A soul body needs soul food. Our physical body takes energy and structural materials from physical food. Our soul needs energy and soul material from its food. To think that this will happen adequately on its own, without our intentional effort and as a mere byproduct of living, is mistaken. Our physical body doesn’t eat on its own. We have to earn our food, grow it or pay for it, prepare it, and then eat it — all intentionally. So it is with feeding our soul: it needs to be done intentionally. Much of our inner work concerns just this.

Will and organized inner energies are the two major aspects of our soul. When we focus our attention, we use inner energies. Our will interacts with the conscious energy to direct our awareness, our senses, our sensitive energy. At some point, our attention falters because our energies are temporarily depleted. Our experience of being centered, mindful, aware, largely depends on and fluctuates with the quality and quantity of our inner energies. That experience of being centered, mindful, and aware is a function of our soul and manifests a particular state of our soul.

Before we consider how we feed that, we would do well to look into and plug our energy leaks, to stop wasting our inner energies. It’s no use gathering more energy, merely to waste it. Some quantity of inner energies is produced in our body and mind without any particular effort on our part. While that amount is not enough to build a robust soul, it is a base level that we can learn from. We learn by observing our inner state, our ability to pay attention, our centeredness, and calm. What increases that state and what diminishes it? We learn that destructive emotions, obsessive thinking, unnecessary physical tensions, hurrying, fidgeting, overeating, lack of exercise, inadequate sleep, smoking, recreational drug use, and more generally, unhealthy lifestyle choices — all these waste our inner energies. This list is long and not exhaustive. It would be glib to say that we observe, we learn, and we change our ways to stop our leaks. But it is not so easy to change deeply ingrained habits, ruts of energy flows. So we take one thing a time and work on that. We begin with the easier ones and gradually our self-control will improve. Then we can tackle the more difficult problems, like smoking. This is fundamental to our path and needs to be returned to, checked on, periodically throughout our life. We learn to manage our lifestyle to serve our soul.

But then what? How do we feed our soul? How do we enhance the flow of energies into our being? There are different levels, types of inner energies. Each requires its own kind of action. And there is interaction among them. Our inner work gradually opens our perceptions of these energies.

The sensitive energy accumulates in us by the act of paying attention to our body, holding our attention continuously in a part of our body, or in our whole body. This draws the sensitive energy. We perceive it directly, giving us a more vivid experience of our body, like a warmth or a vibration, a fullness, a substantiality. We call this sensing. We practice sensing at first only while in sitting meditation. Later, we become able to sense our body while engaging in the normal activities of life. But it does take practice, sustained, persistent, long-term, repeated practice. And through that practice, we find the sensitive energy coalescing and settling into the form of our body, as the beginning of an inner body, a soul body.

And yet we need more of that sensitive energy. As it happens, we are surrounded by it. The atmosphere, the air we breathe, is full of sensitive energy. But in normal breathing, it comes into us and goes right back out, without our awareness of it. None of sticks. Even the meditative technique of conscious breathing does not change that situation. In breathing consciously, we become aware of the sensations in our body associated with breathing. This does nothing to draw the sensitive energy from the air into our being.

That requires what we may term energy breathing. Rather than attending to our bodily sensations associated with breathing, we pay attention to the air itself. This does not mean changing the normal physical patterns and rhythms of our breathing at all. It does mean using our attention and intention to draw the energy from the air we breathe, as we breathe, and allow that energy to flow throughout our body, if and as it will. We can combine energy breathing with sensing our body to give the incoming energy a place to land and be absorbed. This valuable and remarkable practice can dramatically enhance the flow of sensitive energy into our inner body and its assimilation. It has been known since ancient times, for example as prana by Hindus, and is the reality behind the practice of pranayama. It was also known and practiced by the early Sufis and Taoists. Some people get this almost immediately. Others do not. You might try it for a while, perhaps one period a day for a week. If an unmistakable flow of energy does not occur, just drop it and maybe try it again in a year’s time; there are other effective ways to build your soul.

In meditation and in presence we come into awareness of the conscious energy, which also surrounds us, inside and out. This energy is the base of awareness, it is the pure awareness behind all content, behind and between our thoughts, behind our sensory perceptions. It is vast and clear, pure cognizance in a realm of peace. As noted above, when we pay attention our will interacts with the conscious energy to direct our sensitive energies, our sensory and mental perceptions. Our will is who we are. If we sit and just be, being aware moment-to-moment, inside and out, that act of will puts us in the midst of the conscious energy. We relax and open into the wide horizon of consciousness. The more we acquire the taste, the perception of this, the more we can open into it, be in it. We can even come to the point of being able intentionally to draw more of it in, to concentrate consciousness in our own field. This grows our soul.

By intentionally inhabiting our body, being here in our body, in the whole of our body, experiencing it moment-to-moment, we bring the conscious energy into contact with the sensitive energy. We sense our whole body, so that the sensitive energy fills us. Then we inhabit that sensation body, we enter it and stay in it. By doing so, we create a scaffold made of will and conscious energy to give body-shaped structure to our sensitive energy. This sets up an interaction of the conscious and sensitive energies. They help stabilize each other. Our being grows. Our soul is fed.

There are deeper energies still, energies that feed the very roots of our soul. We will address some of that in the next part of this inner work series. For this week, please decrease your energy leaks and feed your soul.


     

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