Inner  Frontier
Cultivating Spiritual Presence

 

Inner Work


For the weeks of February 11 & 18, 2019

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Non-Clinging

(Spiritual Dynamics: 7)

The incisive practice of non-clinging leads toward seeing through all our clinging, attachment, and identification. We see that the clinging is not coming from who we truly are, but rather from patterns of thought and emotion that we buy into and allow to supplant us. We let ourselves become wrapped up in these likes and dislikes, this wanting and rejecting. The same holds for body habits and desires: we believe in them, that they speak for us, and we let them take us over.

There is no inherent problem with likes and dislikes, habits and desires. Indeed, these drives contribute to making life interesting and enjoyable. So our inner work is not about getting rid of all that, or even any of it, unless a particular one is too costly in terms of our health, inner energies, or relationships. What we are after is freedom: not to be enslaved by our likes, dislikes, habits, and desires.

Self-discipline sounds like the opposite of freedom. But it is really the road to freedom, it embodies freedom. The confusion arises from failing to distinguish between our freedom and the freedom of some desire to drive our actions. Self-discipline trains and enables us to be free in front of any of our likes, dislikes, habits, and desires.

We claim the power of choice in all these matters. No longer do we inevitably have our choices made for us by our desires. At any time we can stand up and be, and let the desire wane without acting on it. It is just a thought, emotion, habit, or urge. It is not who we are, it does not speak for us, and we are not required to follow its dictates. We can just notice it, let it rage in us if it will, and let it subside without fulfilling it. We are free in front of it. And we are at peace.

Our practice of self-discipline involves picking our targets carefully. It is a muscle we cultivate, first with easier tasks and later with more formidable challenges. We do not deny our body the necessities for life and we do not harm our body. But beyond that, almost anything is fair game.

Pick some relatively minor and recurring like or dislike, habit or urge. Also pick a time frame for which you will forgo that particular thing, say a week, or a month, or for Lent. Pick something that is concrete and clear. For example, we would not choose to stop thinking about a particular topic, because we might not notice those thoughts when they do come, we could not verify that we had succeeded, and also because controlling our thoughts for an extended period is likely beyond our ability. So we choose something that we are pretty sure we can actually do, or rather not do, for the time period selected. If I regularly chew gum, I might choose to give it up for a week. If I have a favorite show on TV, I might choose not to watch it for a week.

Whenever the urge arises to do the thing we have chosen to temporarily stop, we notice it, see that it is just a thought or an urge. We relax into our body and let the thought or urge be until it dissipates. We do not follow its dictates. We make this small sacrifice to gain a measure of freedom.

We start small and easy, gradually exercising our will-muscle in this way. Only much later do we tackle bigger things, such as an addiction to nicotine. If we fail at any time, we immediately pick ourselves up and begin again. Only our aim is to succeed, not to fail.

The practice of non-clinging has a broader scope than our patterns of mind, heart, and body. Training in the self-discipline of letting go of particular patterns enables us to begin to let go of more deeply ingrained, hidden, destructive attachments. For example, we begin to get glimpses of our self-centered egoism and through that we might approach letting go of our separateness.

Someone slights or outright insults you. Your immediate inner response is hot anger or wanting to hide in shame. Some event kicks off your jealousy and it poisons your inner world as you ruminate on it. What is going on in such cases? Who is angry or jealous and why? Why does it matter so much to you? Is it you or some part of you that you give into? Is there a deeper you beyond the one who is angry or jealous? Can you let go of the anger or jealousy and be at peace in your true self?

Powerful emotions can show us where we are attached and how we identify with what is not truly us. Though their power is strong, little by little we begin to see the emptiness behind them, we begin to let go more deeply. Our ego identification wanes and becomes porous. Freedom and love beckon.

Nevertheless, we cannot rip away the layers of attachment. We need to respect ourselves and all of our emotions. If a difficult emotion persists, it may be pointing toward something we need to change in our lives. Love also extends to ourselves, both as we are and as we aspire to be.

For this week, please practice non-clinging.

See Also: Non-Clinging


        

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