Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of March 24, 2014

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Rising Above Our Plateaus

(The Path of the Path: Part 3)

What is the difference between being in a groove and being in a rut, with regard to our spiritual inner work? Let us say that one means gradually moving up the sacred mountain through the quality and quantity of our inner work, while the other means doing just enough to stay at the same level. Regularity of spiritual practice is a hallmark of a well-conducted inner life. But regularity sometimes leads to complacency.

As our inner work deepens, joy, love, conscience, and equanimity suffuse our life. This is wonderful and, for many who come to it, good enough. So after reaching that grand plateau, one can practice just enough to maintain the necessary inner tone. If that meets a personís goals and aspirations with regard to their inner life, then he or she has attained what they sought. This is completely honorable. The world certainly is a better place because of people who live in such a state. This is a groove, not a rut.

For others, however, the spiritual path has no upper bound. Their aspirations reach all the way to the Divine. For them, any spiritual plateau, no matter how sublime, is a rut, a temptation to be overcome.

How does this situation arise? Let us presume the person in question has a regular and effective spiritual practice. Perhaps it is primarily based on one or more daily periods of meditation, prayer, or other formal practice. After years of such practice, they reach the plateau of peace, love, and joy. Life is rich and flows smoothly. The natural and reasonable lesson is that they only need keep up their regular, daily practice to maintain this satisfying way of life, both inner and outer.

But something in their conscience nags at them. That something hints that greater perfection is always possible, that the peak of the spiritual mountain still lies far above, that Jacobís ladder has no top rung on which to rest. In response, we have only one option: more and deeper practice. This is not so easy, for it means going beyond what we know and are accustomed to. For example, it means making more efforts of presence throughout our day. But we get busy with our life. And besides, we had a good sitting this morning and we feel just fine. Certainly we all want happiness and it does tend to flow as a by-product of well-conducted inner work. But is our inner work about making ourselves feel good?

What is the purpose of our inner work? Whom do we serve by it? Only if the answers to both of these questions point beyond ourselves, do we have any prospect of actually doing what we need to do to rise above this sweet plateau. Do we have any sense that our inner work serves our neighbor, our society, our planet, or the Sacred? If so, that sense can give us the motivation to do more, to find ways to deepen our inner life.

Fortunately, it is not all up to us. There is grace. And in prayer we can ask for help, with our awakening, with our soul, with our service. But we must not wait for grace or for help. They come in their own time and manner. Meanwhile, we can take responsibility to do what we can from ourselves. In a balanced practice, doing what we can includes non-doing, letting go, and just being, along with the more active forms of inner work such as being in contact with our sensation body, active presence, being our I, fasting, and acts of kindness, as well the receptive forms such as meditation, prayer, and opening to higher energies.

If we find ourselves on a spiritual plateau, at whatever level, it behooves us to review and question where we are and whether we have arrived at where we want to stay. If we want to move forward, what will that take?


     

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