Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of April 6, 2020

Calm in the Storm

(A Meaningful Life: 4)

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At irregular intervals, anxiety-inducing events invade our lives. Maybe we or a loved one suffer a health challenge that could prove to be severe. Maybe we lose our job or an important relationship. Maybe we incur unexpected major expenses, or our savings are suddenly worth much less than they were. Or we find ourselves and our community beset by a global pandemic. Or more generally, something we care about is threatened or something we fear looms up. Or all of the above. How can we best respond to such situations?

Clearly, our default approach of falling headlong into anxiety is not only painful, it also makes us less able to craft an optimally constructive response. We succumb to agitation and worry, our thoughts feeding our emotions, which feed our thoughts. Our mind runs in circles around the same barren territory. Sleep eludes us. Our body suffers. None of that helps, yet it all seems unavoidable.

Let's take the example of the current pandemic, which will serve as an archetype for other anxiety-inducing events and situations. Rationally, we are concerned about the disease hitting us or our loved ones. These concerns prompt us to check the news media for updates and advice. We chew on the issues, plan how we will live and act to stay well and healthy, to protect the people around us and dear to us, and we implement those plans. So far, so good. We and our family are healthy. Yet… We worry. We ruminate. Fear drives us. Right now, we are OK, but anxiety looms larger. What to do about our inner state, about the infectious disease of anxiety?

We need peace, inner peace. If only we could think our way there. But our thoughts, even our intentional thoughts, are more or less on the same level as our ruminations. One thought has little sway over another equally strong thought. But we can substitute positive thoughts for the fraught ones whenever we notice them, as is sometimes done in cognitive behavioral therapy. That can be effective.

Can we intentionally calm our emotions? In the middle of feeling anxious, can we relax and settle our feelings? Some people can. But for many of us, this is beyond our power, especially in a looming crisis.

Can our body help? Perhaps it can, when combined with our attention. We notice our breathing. Is it smooth and normal? Is it choppy and shallow? If the latter, we can watch our breathing for a time, without trying to change it. We just watch. We feel the sensations of our body breathing and pay attention to that. We do not try to change our breathing pattern from the surface. We let our attention and awareness of breathing slowly relax it from the inside. Calm gradually comes to our breathing and also to our mind and heart.

Or, we pay attention to the sensitive energy in our body. We open to the inner sensations of being in our body, our whole body. The more awareness we bring to this vibrating energy, the more pronounced that energy becomes. With strong attention to our body and its energies, we take the sting out of our anxious thoughts and emotions. We starve them.

And from underneath them, something remarkable begins to emerge. A field of peace, of stillness, cognizant stillness. This is our true consciousness, boundless and timeless, silent and smooth. Always there, beneath all our sensory perceptions, thoughts, and emotions. Always there and ready to welcome us, to embrace us. Here we have room to breathe, to be at ease, to be ourselves, to be free, to be. For this moment and this moment and this moment.

Our body awareness, our contact with the sensitive energy, helps stabilize us in opening to and abiding in the peaceful plenum of consciousness, the conscious energy.

Both the sensitive energy and the conscious energy are now. That is one of their great advantages. If we are healthy today, the worries concern tomorrow. It is a new age truism that we need to be present here and now. But if the storm is approaching, or worse, raging all around us, we need more than a slogan, more than an idea. We need an inward action that moves us toward peace and freedom. This is where the practice of being in contact with our body, with the energy in our body, gives us a concrete way toward completion, wholeness, and peace. And it does not interfere with actions we need to undertake to maintain ourselves and our loved ones in safety and in health. It makes us even more effective at doing what needs doing.

By being in our sensation and from there opening to the consciousness in which we live, we become able to see, we become the one who sees. There is great power in simple seeing, in seeing without reacting, without grasping or rejecting. When from that place of inner peace, we see the worry and flurry, the anxiety and fear coursing through our mind, without being caught up in them or fighting against them, we thereby allow them the inner space to fizzle out and leave us in the peace of presence. And that peace helps us see and do the right and meaningful thing.

For this week, please practice being in your body, in your energy body. While standing in the present in your inner body, open to the peace of consciousness that is always within you. The storm may rage, but you, you stand here.


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