Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of February 17, 2020

Presence in Difficulty

(Relationship Presence: 8)

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Of the many kinds of difficulties that arise in relationships, the most common are due to our emotional response to some interaction. Someone speaks to us harshly, demands something of us, criticizes us, slights us, insults us, refuses us, disagrees with us, says something we disagree with, or otherwise hurts us or raises our hackles. We are all too familiar with the resulting flush of anger, grousing rumination, sadness, self-doubt, indignation, criticism, and the urgent impulse to respond in kind. This is all quite ordinary and much too common in our interactions, but what happens next is crucial. Do we respond out of our reaction, or do we find a larger context? Do our emotional actions exacerbate the situation, making everyone involved even more miserable, or does the broad scope and stability of our inner life give us the resilience and freedom to stay centered?

This is where our spirituality meets our everyday reality. If our inner work is to have a strong, beneficial effect on our ordinary life, we would hope that includes the domain of relationship difficulty, which can be one of our most fraught and problematic spheres.

But there is hope. It comes in several forms. First, as noted earlier, if we work consistently to establish ourselves in presence, to the point where some degree of stability in presence begins to bless our inner life, then we are better prepared to meet whatever life throws at us, including difficult interpersonal moments. True equanimity, unlike indifference, is not easily rattled. We see our reactions rear up and we can let them subside without pushing them aside, without acting on them, without letting them color our attitudes and awareness, and without necessarily withdrawing from the situation. We just let our reactions wash through us and leave us be. Of course, we all have our limits, depending on how stable our presence and equanimity are, but to the extent we can live in that zone, it is a great blessing for us and for the people around us.

Second, presence takes us out of our self-centered ego. As such, we do not feel compelled to defend that ego, which does not exist in any case. In difficult interactions, we may feel attacked. But if we are not in our ego, our inner walls are translucent and porous, and the would-be attack simply washes past us without causing a ripple. We are free. We do not take it so personally, because we are not in our personality, we are not self-centered at that moment. We do not even need to let go of our reactions, because they do not arise to begin with.

Third, in presence we live in the same inner space as other people. We are cognizant of sharing the one field of consciousness. We are cognizant of our fundamental connection with other people. If someone splits that field and treats us unkindly, we recognize that anomaly as a mistake. We do not react harshly because within that oneness, within that shared sameness of consciousness, we would only be reacting against our larger Self.

And lastly, in presence, we are more open to love and compassion. Presence brings us inner stillness and peace. Inner peace, in turn, opens us to the deeper reality of love and compassion. When we can open to be a bearer of love, the world tends to come right.

Sometimes, however, we need to protect our well-being. Sometimes a bad actor needs a vigorous response. This is a matter for conscious judgment and hopefully not a matter for identifying with our reactions. We err on the side of love, compassion, and acceptance.

In all of this, we are careful not to use presence as an escape, not to subvert presence into being a safe-zone in which we can inwardly rage and indulge our reactions. We let presence enable us to relax into the problematic situation.

For this week, please practice presence in relating to people, especially in difficult interactions.


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