Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of October 22, 2012

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Doing and Non-Doing

(Growing a Spiritual Life: Part 6)

“…the Master acts without doing anything…” Lao Tzu

Our lives are full of busyness, always something to do. Yet at times, what we do can reach into the very heart of world, connecting us with the Sacred Will of the universe, what Lao Tzu called the Tao, what many call God. This does not require us to be sitting on a meditation cushion or kneeling in prayer. It can happen right here in the midst of our life.

We can distinguish three levels along the spectrum of doing and non-doing. The first is pre-programmed reaction. This is the anger or frustration that comes on us in traffic or waiting in a slow line or when someone criticizes us. Yet our brain is so complex that its programmed reactions appear to be freely chosen, as if we decided to get angry. But looking objectively, we can see below the surface, see that these automatic reactions, that our automatic associative thinking, is all done in us, done to us. We do not do those things, they just happen. There is no inner freedom.

The second level is when we are more aware of ourselves, aware of actually being the one who is choosing, the one who is doing what we are doing. We are that one. We are ourselves. We set goals. We make efforts and follow through. We are effective. We are present. There is more freedom. Yet we are limited by being who we are.

Then there is effortless effort, or in Lao Tzu’s phrase: doing non-doing. This is flow. This is real doing. We no longer have the feeling that “I am doing this.” Yet this is not the non-doing of us on autopilot, reacting in unawareness. In real doing we have full awareness and full freedom. We are not subject to our conditioning or even our character. Rather we put our skills to use. The only efforts we make are those that are necessary. We allow these moments of perfection; it all just flows; it all happens through us. We just agree to participate, to be the vehicle of the action, in full presence, in full contact with our situation, with the action, and with ourselves. But we transcend ourselves.

This is the music playing the musician, the dancer becoming the dance, the role playing the actor, the child playing with the parent, the sweeper becoming the sweeping. This is the walker walking, in full awareness, unburdened and free. This is the creative force acting through the artist. It is the athlete in the zone. It is a lack of consciousness of a controlling self, while being fully conscious.

The action is its own purpose. It may be useful. It may produce something useful — or not. But the action is the thing. It moves through us. We step aside and let it happen. We do not interpose our ego, our self-centeredness, our goal orientation, our wants and desires. We set all that aside and just be. And we let our being open to the doing, the action that acts through us, with our full participation.

In becoming the action, we transcend our self: no doer, no actor. This can happen even in simple things, where our life just flows. We live our life without interfering with it, without damming up the flow. We get out of bed, prepare for the day and do our job. Inwardly at ease, though outwardly strong efforts may be necessary. We make those efforts on the outside, without inner complaint or resentment. We allow what needs doing to be done through us. We do non-doing. This is the life of the Tao. Our whole life can be that way.

By getting out of the way inside ourselves, we leave room for presence, for conscience, for joy, and for love. The action becomes its own end and the ultimate result takes care of itself quite well. Here is Chuang Tzu: “The mind of a perfect man is like a mirror. It grasps nothing. It expects nothing. It reflects but does not hold. Therefore, the perfect man can act without effort.” We can enter that perfection, just as we are.

These are very special moments to be treasured. Still, they can come in very ordinary circumstances. When we set ourselves, our ego aside, when we give up our misappropriation of the Great Will, it is That which flows: from the inner, creative, loving core of the world, through us, and into action.

If we can make the time for a daily meditation practice, it can ease our way into living in non-doing. In meditation we can practice relaxation of body, equanimity of heart, and the inner stillness which comes from resolving all our various and competing intentions into one: namely, the will to be. And in just being, we stop diverting the will that comes through us; what we do just flows.

For this week, try this with your chores, whether at work or at home. Just do them. Give them what they call for. Leave your complaints and resentments aside. Leave aside wanting to finish and be done with it. Leave aside escaping into your thoughts and daydreams and time-killing. Just do what needs doing, without addition or subtraction. Just do what you are doing. And with the whole of yourself, let it be done through you.


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