Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of August 17, 2020

Looking Inward

(The Ladder of Will: 2)

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The disillusionment of the first fana, which reforms our attitude to the material world, confronts us with an upheaval in our source of meaning and identity. People respond to this in many ways. Among other pathways, some continue into the career they had already planned, some turn to lives of service, some to the arts or sciences, some fall into despair, others embark on the journey into spirituality, and still others engage in more than one of these.

Those of us who turn to the spiritual path may have had some earlier experiences that did not fit with the standard world view. Or perhaps in our childhood our family had introduced us to church, mosque, temple, or synagogue, where we came across rituals that emanated the distinctive feel of the sacred, or we met people who shone with faith. Or we had an inquisitive outlook, always wanting to peek behind the façade to see the inner workings of our world. Or we had been deeply moved by a piece of music or a work of art. Or our lives had been touched by traumatic events. Any of these or innumerable other conditions may have prepared us for the first fana and the resulting questions about who we are and what our life is.

At this point, the first fana has weakened the hold that the material world has on our motivations. The unexpected realization of the first fana shows us that our assumptions and attitudes about life and about ourselves are not all valid. The upshot is that at some point we start looking more carefully at how things are with us, within us. We look inward with a new and more penetrating gaze. We begin to see that though we are, by necessity, physically dependent on the material world, we are also psychologically dependent on externals. Some of that is necessary. We naturally need healthy human interaction, engaging and interesting endeavors, contact with nature and so on. But our psychological dependence on externals goes far beyond our needs and shackles us just as surely as our former identification with the material world had. Discovering the extent of that dependence can come as a further shock.

We begin to notice that our inner world is largely driven by reactions to what comes from outside us. Life events push some button in us, and our thoughts and emotions respond predictably, one could say automatically in a pre-programmed way. Incessant thoughts lead to yet other thoughts. Emotional reactions lead to further reactions. Long, associative, ruminative chains occupy the center stage of our awareness, and for those moments, define us.

Is that who we are? Is that all we are? Just a jumble of memories combining into reactions, attachments, and identifications? No freedom? No initiative? No us? Just a bunch of rote responses?

These new realizations and questions inspire and strengthen our commitment to the spiritual search. We want to be ourselves. But it dawns on us that we do not know what that would mean. We feel hemmed in by our endless, inchoate stream of thoughts, reactive emotions, and physical impulses. There seems to be no room in all that for us, for me.

But a dawning faith tells us there is more.

We may not be able to articulate much of all this to ourselves at that time, because, like everything else in our inner world, our spiritual journey is still a muddle. To resolve the situation, we may seek out a spiritual path that presents us with ways to work through the near-chaos of our inner life, toward the light and freedom just beyond our reach. In that way, we begin our engagement with the surprising and fascinating world of spiritual practices, which help us see and make sense of our inner life and offer the hope of transcendence.

In addition to discovering that we have an inner world to look at, one of the most important aspects of this stage is the simple fact of learning to look inward, to investigate what goes on in our thoughts and emotions, to explore this new inner territory. This inner look, this investigatory approach will serve us well throughout our spiritual journey. There is much to learn about ourselves and much to discover about the higher spiritual realities. Adopting the attitude of an explorer in this strange landscape will enable us to notice what we have never noticed, enable us to recognize the reality that lies beyond our conventional world view. And maybe even explore the explorer.

So we begin experimenting with spiritual practices like meditation, body awareness and sensing, contemplation and prayer, presence, kindness, self-acceptance, and so on. This opens a new life to us, our inner life. It has been there all along, but we never really looked into ourselves in an organized way, with tools refined and handed down through the ages. The more we work with these practices, the more we see and understand and the deeper it goes.

All of this has profound ramifications in the world of will. The withdrawal of our hopes and dreams from being exclusively centered on material possibilities is a matter of will. The turning to look inward and not just outward is a matter of will. The engagement with spiritual practices and the entry into the spiritual path is a matter of will. Having had but few glimpses of the higher worlds, the ability to see our then-current inner situation more truthfully, without falling into despair, without losing hope, and without giving up on spiritual practice, is a matter of will. The dawning determination to pursue the spiritual path without end is a matter of will. And the adoption of an exploratory, see-for-myself approach to our inner life and to our spiritual possibilities is a matter of will. These workings may be through the active will of decision and determination, through the receptive will of acceptance and faith, or through the reconciling will of adaptive intelligence, but they are all a matter of will.

For this week, please look inward with fresh eyes.


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