Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of November 4, 2019

Advancing Our Practice


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If we do the same thing in the same way, over and over again, every day, our ability to do that thing hardly changes, by definition. Our appreciation and understanding of it may deepen, but very slowly. To master something takes practice, a great deal of practice. And not just any practice, rather a certain type of practice. To improve, we push our envelope by striving beyond our current abilities, while assessing our performance to guide and refine our ongoing efforts. The need for challenging practice holds for any skill that we want to improve. It even holds for the skill of spiritual inner work. While we continue learning from other people, learning from our mistakes and failures, exploring new approaches we devise, we apply all that in a manner that evokes our best and then some.

To make such intentional spiritual practice effective, we need ways to measure it, both in quality and quantity. To advance our inner work in this way, we need to make it less nebulous and more specific, with metrics and goals that we can apply with some degree of objectivity. Our inner world seems chaotic and fuzzy, not amenable to self-applied, crisp measurement; it is a place of random, layered, and often unnoticed events. Yet the very act of looking at our inner work through the lens of metrics that we make as objective as we can helps bring some order and clarity to that world.

But before we get to the issue of inner work metrics, we ask why? Why spiritual practice? Our reasons can be many and can change over time. We may start out wanting, by our inner work, to straighten out our dysfunctional inner life that causes us so much angst and unhappiness while limiting our effectiveness at doing what we aim to do. From there, we may want to be able to engage in better, warmer relationships with the people around us. At some point we begin to suspect that our personal inner work, in a small way, helps create a better atmosphere for our society. We also come to see that as our inner work deepens it begins to serve the Sacred more directly. All these purposes coalesce into one great purpose that draws us ever onward and deeper into spiritual practice. The stronger our sense of purpose, the more we practice, and as our practice continues unabated, our sense of purpose grows, forming a virtuous cycle.

To advance that practice, we need to make ongoing assessments of it. The question then is what metrics we can use to measure our inner work. Fortunately, Henri Tracol offered five: frequency, duration, breadth, intensity, and depth [1]. In the coming weeks, we will explore these metrics and how to apply them to our own ongoing practice, both on the meditation cushion and off.

Dogged perseverance in our spiritual practice matters more than almost anything else. Metrics can help us persevere. Without them we have much less visibility into the quantity of our inner work, and somewhat less into the quality. This fuzziness lets us stagnate or even backslide without even realizing it.

One thing does matter more than effort and perseverance, namely grace, the unexpected help that comes to us from the Sacred. But without continued inner work, we close the door to grace, we leave no room for it to enter. It is not that we earn grace by our efforts. Grace comes unbidden and unearned. But if we are practicing, we enable grace to touch us, and we create the conditions for grace to enhance our practice. So we do not wait for grace to lift us up. We do what is within our power now, and that is to persevere with our inner work.

This is where measuring inner work matters. The metrics give our inner work context and direction. Every morning we start again. Can we make this day a little better inwardly, a little stronger and deeper than yesterday? Can this intention lend some urgency to practicing right now, for example to be mindful and present?

For this week, please assess the current level of your own inner work.

    1. Introduction
    2. Frequency
    3. Duration
    4. Breadth
    5. Intensity
    6. Depth

[1]   Tracol, Henri, The Real Question Remains (Sandpoint: Morning Light Press, 2009)


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