Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of April 7, 2014

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Silence

(Deepening Our Inner Life: Part 1)

The daily practice of meditation, for many people, is the foundation on which their entire spiritual path can be built. Meditation provides the energy and peace that allow presence to grow, joy and love to blossom. While there are many different styles of meditation, one characteristic shared by their deeper reaches is silence, both inner and outer.

The outer silence is relatively simple. We find a quiet space in which to meditate, even if that means wearing earplugs. We find a comfortable, erect way of sitting, which we can maintain for the duration, without moving or fidgeting and without falling asleep. It may take some weeks or months to find our seat, but eventually our body settles into the necessary posture. This provides the context of outer silence. Though outer silence is not absolutely necessary, it helps, for example by decreasing the number of stimuli that might set off trains of thought.

Inner silence is a different matter. As we sit there, we discover the endless and familiar churn of our thoughts, the unceasing inner voice which we take to be our own. There does not appear to be any room for inner silence, since every crevice of our cognitive space seems filled with thoughts or emotions or sensory perceptions, in an endless stream. At first blush, the answer might look as if we should intentionally and directly stop our thoughts. But a little experimentation quickly shows us the difficulty and near impossibility of that.

So we take a more subtle approach. We allow our thoughts, mental images, emotions, and sensory impressions to come and go, without trying to stop or control them. The key here is to notice them, continually, so that we do not fall prey, do not fall into the stream and get carried off by it. We just see our thoughts as thoughts, emotions as emotions. We see them for what they are, without judgment, without grasping for them or pushing them away, and without being taken in or away by them. This takes a good deal of practice, for we repeatedly find ourselves captivated by our thoughts and emotions. When we come to and notice this, we simply return to watching, again and again.

For this to work well, we need an inner place to stand and watch, a safe and stable base for viewing. That base is our body, our direct perception of our body. So we begin our meditation session by slowly scanning our body, by coming into inner contact with each part of our body and then with our whole body. Thinking about our arm or even knowing that we have an arm are quite different than being in the arm, being in contact with the arm, in this moment. So we practice staying in direct, visceral contact with each arm, then with each leg, then with all four limbs, and finally with our body as a whole. Sitting here in our body and keeping that vivid contact as the background of our awareness, we also watch the parade of thoughts and emotions pass by, without interfering with them and without allowing them to interfere with our body contact, nor with our watching.

Gradually, something almost magical happens. The watching changes our relationship with our thoughts and emotions. We are no longer quite as enslaved by them. We are no longer quite as identified. Though part of our equipment, just as our body and breathing are, we see that our thoughts and emotions are not who we are, do not define us. A little more light of inner freedom dawns. We realize that we are the one who sees all this. We are the one who is aware of our thoughts and emotions and everything else. We are the one who can, if we so choose, think intentionally. Yet our typical running thoughts do not speak for us, they speak for themselves. They are not us. They are just long-ingrained patterns, combined with haphazard, accidental sensory impressions setting them off. They are just thoughts.

Furthermore, inner silence begins to reveal itself. Gaps of silence appear between our thoughts: at first brief gaps and then wider ones. Silence appears to surround us, to fill our inner space, with the thoughts and emotions passing through without disturbing the underlying silence. We rest in this natural home of silence, in this big sky of our silent mind, which is awareness itself. We sink into awareness, into just being. We soak in that silent awareness. And so we find relief in this inner peace, which then carries over beyond our meditation session into our day.

Eventually we become able to be in contact with inner silence even in the midst of outer events and the busyness of life. It gives a base of peace and equanimity to all we do. Out of that, joy comes, and love, and a new dimension of depth to our inner life.

For this week, please practice contact with silence.


     

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