Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of November 11, 2019


(Advancing Our Practice: 2)

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Before we look to increase the frequency of our spiritual inner work, we first need to decide what inner work practice we will undertake. Broadly speaking, we divide this into two parts: on-the-cushion and off. By on-the-cushion inner work, we mean meditation, prayer, and other inner exercises done at times that are devoted exclusively to that. This category also includes formal practices that are not actually on a cushion, but for which do set aside times, such as communal worship, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, Gurdjieff Movements, and so on. By off-the-cushion we mean mindfulness, presence, conscious breathing, energy breathing, sensing, conscious movement, focused listening, and the like, undertaken during our normal daily activities. We can brush our teeth in presence. We can sense our body while washing dishes. So we choose specific practices, both for on-the-cushion inner work and during the day off-the-cushion. With that choice prepared, we can then look at the matter of how often we engage in that inner work.

For on-the-cushion practice, we aim for a frequency of once a day every day, preferably in the morning to set the tone for the rest of the day. If we can also arrange to sit again later in the day, perhaps in the evening, and thus take our frequency to twice a day on the cushion, it will more than double the effect. But most important is to establish our routine of this formal practice every day. If mornings don't work for our lifestyle, then we do later in the day. If we can manage to be regular about this, at about the same time every day, then it becomes a positive, external habit. The inward aspects are a different matter, as we do not want the inner experience of meditation to be habit-bound; we strive to be alert, engaged, and to make it always new.

The frequency of off-the-cushion inner work is the first challenge and opportunity of spiritual practice during the day. How often do we remember? How often do we come back to ourselves, to live in presence, in wholeness, as we go about our lives? Off-the-cushion inner work adds a new and vivid dimension to life. It makes our life come alive, enriching our experience.

If we can come back to presence, mindfulness, sensing, conscious breathing, energy breathing, or some other spiritual practice compatible with ordinary life activities, even once a day, then we have established a sacred beachhead of light within our daily routines. There are two approaches to this. One is to find or create a gap in whatever we are doing, in order to stop what we are doing and focus exclusively on our inner work for a moment or a minute. This can be very strong but requires a little down time from our activities. We can set certain times of the day for this, or a certain number of times.

Another approach is to insert inner work into whatever we are doing, in a way that does not interfere with our outward activity. Indeed, inner work can enhance our outward activities. If we are walking, we can sense our body or work on being present while we walk. If we are in a conversation, we can work to be present as we listen and speak. If we are reading, we can sense our body as we read. And so forth.

One challenge with either kind of off-the-cushion inner work is how often we engage in it. There are two approaches to initiating an instance of inner work. One is simply to come back to the practice whenever we remember to do so, whenever we wake up spontaneously. The other is to set up various types of triggers that will remind us to come back to inner work. Both approaches are valuable.

By returning to our inner work whenever we remember to do so during the day, we can bring some order to enhance the spontaneity, to encourage ourselves to practice more frequently. We do this by setting ourselves a goal of a certain number of times to engage in inner work during our day. And then we count each time we actually engage. This count is an important measure of our inner work. It gives us feedback, a reality check on how we are doing. It support us in setting and striving toward that goal of a certain number of times per day. The counting supports us in increasing the frequency of our inner work. We make the effort to meet our goal for the day and, over the days and months, we gradually raise our goal and increase how frequently we return to spiritual inner work.

The other approach is to set up triggers. We set ourselves the intention that whenever a certain event occurs, we will return to our inner work at that moment. We choose triggers that fit our particular life circumstances. For example, we might set ourselves to sense our body whenever we walk through a doorway, or whenever we sit down, or standup, or whenever we eat, or whenever we watch TV, and so on. We choose a trigger and for that day or for a number of days, we work with that. If it grows stale and we find ourselves ignoring the trigger, we start working with a different one.

We can work both with a trigger and with counting spontaneous moments of practice. We look for ways to come into spiritual practice more and more frequently, to make inner work more and more a part of our life, to create a rich and thriving inner life within our outer life. More presence means more heart and more life.

For this week, please increase the frequency of your spiritual inner work.

See Also: Presence Strategies and Frequency


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