Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of November 23, 2020


(The Ladder of Being: 5)

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At this point in our work on being, the process of purification is making inroads on our self-centeredness and the process of integration looks viable. Yet though we have been learning and practicing for what seems like a long time, we have little indication of the light to come. Though grace does come, it cannot be the sole strategy for our path, just as winning the lottery is not a retirement plan. How do we respond in the immediate glow of those many moments of grace that awaken us in the midst of our life? We certainly need grace and the opportunities it presents. To seize those opportunities, sheer determination to see the path through, to keep up our efforts, our practice, is all we can rely on. Otherwise, those grace notes of awakening slip by. All this does serve our purification, because we now realize there is no quick and self-congratulatory enlightenment in the cards for us. Instead we have a budding sense of pursuing our inner work because it is the right thing to do, because our work serves the great world beyond our self.

Having come this far, we are well aware of the roller coaster ride of inner work. Some days are strong and others not so much. Some moments are strong, such as in our morning meditation, and the rest of day often less so. We hit too many dry spells where we feel distant from the sacred, disengaged from inner work and even from ourselves. Yet the richness of the real moments enables us to glimpse our possibilities and keeps us engaged. As a result, we wish to smooth out the roller coaster ride, or rather make the valleys not as low, by consolidating the profound effects our inner work is having on our being, stabilizing our engagement with our spiritual inner life. Our primary approach to this consolidation is the practice of presence, which integrates several practices into one and is open-ended.

To create our being by living in presence requires a continuing need for presence, a continuing openness to the will-to-be. Without that, we lose ourselves into all the inner and outer events streaming by. A momentary lapse and we are gone, carried off on some thought-train or lost in what we are seeing and hearing. Our practice then is to come back to ourselves, again and again, until we stay present a little longer, and then longer still. We aim to make presence our new normal, our new inner station in life.

How to work at presence? We have three centers of action within us: our body, our emotions, and our mind. Presence, at a minimum, means being in contact with all three simultaneously, not as three separate parts, but rather as one whole. Being in contact means having our attention engaged. As we work with attention, we come to know it as a force within us, a force that is uniquely us. There can be nothing closer to us, more intimate than our attention, because we are our attention.

Putting attention into our body, into the sensitive energy that connects us with our body, into our whole body, already gives us some stability in the present, since our body is always now. We engage with our body as our body, without being lost in it.

Putting attention into inwardness of our chest, into contact with our emotions, gives us a different fuel for presence and helps keep us grounded rather than flying off on the back of some emotion. We engage with our emotions as emotions, without being lost in them.

Putting attention into our head, into contact with our mind, enables us to recognize where we are, that we are. That attention in our mind opens the mental world beyond thoughts. We come to the cognitive capacity at the root of our mind. In doing so, we can stand still as thoughts, if there are any, roll past. We engage with our mind as mind, without being lost in it.

This presence, based in the force of attention entering the whole of us, as the whole of us, body, heart, and mind, changes our relationship to time. Because presence extends our will-to-be over time, it gives us some stability. We do not disappear or evaporate so easily into identifying with all the goings-on of life. This fledgling stability opens us to the timeless, which we shall begin to explore in the next installment of this inner work series. Between stability and the timeless, presence enables us to live more, more vividly, more deeply. Into any given span of time lived in presence, we bring more life, more experience, than when not in presence. Time slows down because there is more of our humanity in each moment. This is one way to live a "longer" life: by living more in each moment.

How does that work? Take the example of eating. When we eat without presence, we are aware that we are eating and we do taste our food, but in a cursory manner. In presence, the experience is much more brighter. The aroma, texture, and taste of the food comes alive. In our hearts, we appreciate this food. In our mind, the whole scene becomes much more distinct. And we are there, as the one who is eating, the one who is tasting. These layers of experience bring new depth and richness to the moments of presence. It is like going from an old, grainy black and white TV to a new 4K model with millions of colors. With the former it is like viewing from a distance. With the latter you are fully in the scene.

Presence triggers can be invaluable in taking our inner work beyond the meditation cushion and into our day. Presence triggers are events that occur frequently in our life that we choose in advance to remind us to be present. We set our intention that whenever the selected event or activity occurs, we will engage in full presence at that moment and attempt to extend that presence forward from there. The list below is only intended to indicate the vast range of possible presence triggers. It is neither prescriptive nor exhaustive, as we each need to adapt the ones listed or devise our own to fit the circumstances of our life. Focusing on one a time, say for a week or a month, allows that trigger to enter us deeply, forming a positive habit. Afterward, even though we are working with another presence trigger, the prior ones may come to us spontaneously, reminding us to be present. In that way, we gradually build more and more presence into our life, on the way toward consolidating our being.

Example Presence Triggers

    • First bite of food at a meal
    • Entering any doorway, or only certain doorways
    • Speaking
    • Listening
    • Waiting
    • Upon Sitting down
    • Upon Standing up
    • Walking
    • Entering a car
    • Exiting a car
    • Reading
    • Paying
    • Praying
    • Entering the shower
    • Cooking
    • Washing dishes
    • Making a move in a chess game
    • Starting a session of making music
    • Starting a painting
    • At each change of scene in a TV show or movie
    • At set times during the day
    • Beginning something
    • Finishing something
    • Awakening spontaneously by grace, i.e., remembering presence
    • Opportunistic short-term efforts (ad hoc goals)

For this week, please renew your practice of presence.

See Also: Presence Strategies


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