Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of March 10, 2014

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Handling Our Peaks

(The Path of the Path: Part 1)

Some people enter the spiritual path prompted by their own gradually increasing connection with the spirit. Others start because of a peak experience that affords them a glimpse of some aspect of the spirit. For those who are engaged in spiritual practice, results do come, sometimes in the form of an extraordinary, temporary perception of the spirit. Such peak experiences of the spirit affect us positively, profoundly, and sometimes permanently by reshaping our world view. Yet our attitude toward such experiences matters.

With the Sufis, we make a distinction between state and station. These terms refer to our inner condition, to the level of our experience. A state is temporary and our station is long-lasting. Our inner state fluctuates up and down throughout the day, but generally stays within a band that defines our station. Thus our station is our home, the level of our being. At whatever level we are, we may temporarily rise into the next higher level or fall into the next lower. But we come back home to our station, the stable zone of our being.

The spiritual path, our inner work is rightly directed at changing our station, at a lasting transformation of our level of being. The methods of the path accomplish this by training us to enter into and extend our stay in a state corresponding to the next higher level beyond our current station. The intention is eventually to make that next higher state our new station, to enable us to live in that new way. This takes long-term persistence.

Though temporary states can show us our possibilities, no single experience of a higher state, on its own, will change our station. This has definite consequences for how we approach the path. We are not seeking a temporary state, regardless of how sublime. There are methods for doing that, but they are like using drugs: fun, but useless or worse. So we do not chase states. We do however persist in our inner work. We try to live in slightly more and deeper presence. And we keep trying. Gradually the new way of living soaks into us, becomes part of us.

Very high experiences are remarkable and reset our view of reality and possibility. Yet such experiences also tend to feed our egoism in two ways. One is that we may become fixated on repeating that experience, on coming back to it. This is usually fruitless, because high level experiences are not in our control. Our personal readiness for deeper experience is necessary but not sufficient. The Sacred Spirit chooses if and when to touch us. That choice is not ours; we can only open ourselves toward it. We work toward the future, not toward the past.

The second ego fixation from high experiences is that we are now somehow special, different and better than other people who have not had that experience. This is a serious misconception. We are all equally children of the Creator or, if you prefer, of the universe, of life. We may differ in our form and abilities, but fundamentally we are the same: we are all human. We all matter equally. To feel that our personal experiences of the spirit make us better than others, to inflate our ego by using such experiences for bragging rights, bragging either to ourselves or to others, is a misappropriation, an abuse of those experiences. And it also makes deeper experience less likely to come to us. The grander our ego, the more of an obstacle it is to the spirit.

To return to where we started, the true value of peak spiritual experience is in showing us a glimpse of reality and our own possibilities, and thereby encouraging us to begin or persist in our spiritual inner work. As the Koren Zen Master Chinul taught, sudden enlightenment should be followed by gradual cultivation.

For this week, note your own peak experiences and how they have influenced your inner work. Are you making use of the motivation they provide?


     

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