Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of August 7, 2017

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Bodily Self

(The Fog of Self 1)

To get to heaven, we begin with our body. Several related factors affect this area of our inner work. First, we take care of our body, keeping it healthy to the extent we can. Obviously, we need our body to serve as the temple in which we perform our spiritual work. We know what we need to do to live a healthy lifestyle. Do we actually do that? Or at least come close enough so as not impair our inner work? If our energy is being wasted, for example, in excessive alcohol use, excessive eating, in using tobacco or recreational drugs, or more generally in overindulging in bodily pleasures, then we have that much less to put into our inner work. It takes energy and a clear heart and head to work at meditation, presence, prayer, and the rest. We cannot afford to waste our limited time in dissipation.

When we have issues like these, we can work at changing our behavior. We might try starting small. Take something relatively easy and fix it. Instead of drinking every day, we limit it to every other day or once a week. Instead of three drinks, we cut it to two. Instead of two, we cut it to one. Starting easy builds our self-discipline muscle, so that we can tackle the harder things, such as addictions like smoking. If we keep in mind that this effort of self-discipline is about being healthier, being clearer and more effective, both inwardly and outwardly, about bringing more meaning into our life, it can help us through the rough patches.

The second factor consists of basing our inner work in our body, in body awareness, in being present in our body. We can begin by sensing our right hand. That means putting our attention into the hand and holding our attention there, so that we are directly, viscerally aware of the hand from within it. Gradually, our experience of the hand changes. It becomes vivid, buzzing with energy. That energy we call the sensitive energy. Placing our attention in part of our body draws the sensitive energy there.

Next we can work on sensing our right foot, then our left foot, and finally our left hand. Once we develop some proficiency with that, we move on to sensing entire limbs. We begin with our right arm, from shoulder to fingertips. Then our right leg, left leg, and finally left arm. Then we can practice sensing both arms at the same time. Then both legs, and finally all four limbs.

Ultimately, we include our torso and head and we sense our entire body. This brings an important to wholeness to our work of sensing. We practice this in sitting meditation and while going about our day, though not during dangerous or critical activities that need all our attention.

This work of body presence has profound effects on many levels, including the development of our inner body, our lower soul. It also opens us into the higher energies, into consciousness and on from there.

The third factor: we notice and move beyond identification with our body, beyond believing our body is who we are. When we identify, we are creating a self, an illusory self. When we identify with something, we are making that thing our self, narrowing our vision to just it and giving it power over us. It is natural to identify with our body. It is our primary experience, this visceral sense of being alive. The more abstract aspects of experience, like emotions and thoughts, seem to depend on our body. When part of our body is injured, we feel that we are injured. When our body is sick, we feel that we are sick.

Careful examination of this feeling that we are our body, reveals it to be an inference, an assumption, an illusion. My thoughts are not my body, yet the thought "I" leads me to feel that I am my thoughts, that secret voice in my head. Another consideration: I have some control over my body. I choose to raise my arm and it rises. Both considerations lead me to conclude I am not my body. Certainly, I depend on my body. I take pleasure in its pleasures. I live in my body. I own my body. When my body dies, perhaps I will die with it. But still, I am not my body.

Paradoxically, the greater our awareness of our body, the less identified with it we are. Indeed, the more body presence we have, the easier it becomes to free ourselves of the illusion of self in all its manifestations. This is because in body presence we enter a deeper part of the present moment, touching a level where identification, self-making, loses its hold on us. As long as we believe we are a separate self, be it body or some other notion of self, it inherently blocks us from oneness.

As for the I, the self that lives in, takes pleasure in, and owns my body, we will address that in upcoming aspects of this series on the Fog of self. For this week, the main points are to work at body presence and to see, again and again, that you are not your body.


     

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