Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of May 6, 2013

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Spiritual Efficacy

(Developing Wisdom: Part 5)

work out your own salvation
(Philippians 2:12)

Psychologists define perceived self-efficacy “as people's beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives.”[1] We can define spiritual efficacy in a similar way by inserting the word “inner” before “lives” to make the definition about our inner life. The question of spiritual efficacy matters because many of those who sincerely wish for transformation are not, in their heart of hearts, convinced that it is actually possible for them. Enlightenment and the Sacred seem remote from us. We look for those who know to teach us, to show us the way. But that is not as it would seem.

Teachers can help by instructing us in spiritual practices. They can also help by being examples that ordinary people, no different than us, can enter true spiritual transformation. Teachers can help by easing our way into deeper experiences through the quality of their energy, when we practice in person with them. And teachers can inspire us. All of that is important, useful, perhaps even pivotal in setting our feet on the path. But it masks a fundamental truth: the spiritual path is within us, it cannot be shown, it can only be discovered.

Self-limiting assumptions block our entry to a deeper inner life. As long as we believe that we cannot do what’s required to be in contact with the sacred on a regular basis, we will not discover what is required. We can profitably look outside ourselves for pointers, but to make the transition, we need to explore within ourselves; we need to bring our own creativity, longing, and determination to look deeply within, to try varying approaches, to build our own experience with and capacity for the spiritual in life. We need to learn to trust ourselves, to listen to our own insights, to pursue and verify them.

What does it mean to come into the great inner silence, the cognizant stillness of consciousness? How do we find and open our inner door to the sacred? Words, formal prayers, and guided meditations can point the way, but only our own action, only our investigation of our private experience, only our own inner experimentation and observation can give us the taste, the understanding, and the ability to enter the spiritual depths.

None of this is meant to downplay the great potential benefits of working with a teacher or a group. It is meant to point up that we each have possibilities for transformation, the realization of which depends to a large extent on our personal efforts, exploration, capacity-building, and understanding. Spiritual efficacy can be shared and enhanced in a group, but it resides in each individual.

Realizing this makes us personally responsible for our spiritual life and empowers us to do the inner work of presence, meditation, prayer, and kindness, with diligence. We do this not because of what we are told, but because we see that each step, each effort does indeed bring us closer to the sacred and to the joy that awaits there. We do this because no one can do it for us. Every day is a new chance, a new beginning. Regardless of how well or poorly our inner work of the previous day went, each morning we begin again. It is solely up to each of us individually to make our efforts of presence and the rest, to enter deeply into the privacy of our being and find our reality there.

Enlightenment cannot be given to us. And there is no fixed recipe for it. But truly, there is a part of each us that already has its place in the higher world. Our work is to reconnect with that deeper part of ourselves, not with someone else’s, but with our own higher self. So we explore within to find our Self. And our growing spiritual efficacy shows us not only that we can, but that we are doing this and will continue to do this. The great I am is who I am: it comes from me. No one can give it to me, because it already is me. Persistent inner work clears away the illusory blockade between my ordinary experience and my true self. I am.

The wisdom we seek cannot be borrowed or acquired: it comes from within. For this week, take stock and build your own spiritual efficacy. It is up to you.

[1] Bandura, Albert. Self-Efficacy. In V.S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Human Behavior, Vol. 4, pp. 71-81. (New York : Academic Press, 1994)


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