Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of February 22, 2021

Inner Freedom, Outer Roles

(Reclaiming Our Life: 7)

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We each play many different roles in life. Maybe you are a member of a particular profession, as well as a sister, mother, and daughter. When you go to the dentist, you are a dental patient. When you drive your car, you are a driver. When you speak with a friend, you are a friend. When you listen to music, you are a music lover. When you vote, you are a citizen. When you shop, you are a shopper. And the list goes on indefinitely. The many things we do each require or invite something different from us, a different attitude, a different approach, a different pattern to fit into. Some are singular, one-off roles, while the rest recur.

None of that is a problem in itself. Indeed, the many roles are part of what makes life interesting. Ideally, we enter each role wholeheartedly, and for those moments we become the role. In such cases we ourselves are formless and thus able to fill the role completely. When that particular occurrence of the role is finished, we leave it behind, like taking off a sock at the end of the day. We are free. We are free to enter the role and free to set it aside. In that freedom, we flow easily from one role to the next.

The difficulty comes when the role sticks to us, when it usurps our identity, when the role becomes us, enlists our ego, and does not let go. When we think of ourselves as a particular role, when we believe ourselves to be that role, then the role has us; it has captured us. When you say to yourself a phrase beginning with "I am," does that phrase continue past "am?" If so, what does it end with? If it ends with the name or title of a role you play, then you may want to look carefully to see whether and how much you are identified with that role.

There are also roles that we do not want to play, that we reject, but that are nevertheless required of us. This too is identifying with the role and prevents us from moving easily into and out of the role, prevents us from filling the role completely. If we are to live our life fully, we need to inhabit it fully, and that includes inhabiting every role we take on. This means, for example, not hurrying to get something over with, not continually wishing it was done when we are still in the middle of it. Such a wish is to kill or skip or not experience that piece of our life. We need every bit of our life. And just as importantly, when the role is finished, we let it go completely and do not carry it with us. One aspect of honoring the past and preparing for the future is to live fully and freely now.

Our work in all this is the practice of freedom by not identifying with any role we play. This means letting go of inwardly rejecting a required role. It means letting go of the ego boost that certain roles can give us. Yet, to be clear, freedom has room for joy and spontaneity in the things we do, in the roles we play.

Freedom in front of our roles also means valuing each role for itself. Without a student, there is no teacher. Without a listener, there is no speaker. Without a patient, there is no nurse. Without an audience, there is no performer. Complementary roles require each other. In such cases, the action requires both roles. Indeed, every role has its place. The One that becomes the multitude, plays all the roles, even if we in the multitude are not aware of our connection with the One.

There is a subtlety and seeming contradiction in our approach to the roles we play. We wish to inhabit our roles fully, with the whole of ourselves, to be the one who does what we do. At the same time, we wish not to identify with any role, not to consider the role as who we are. But to be the one who does what we do, does not mean that what we do is who we are. We transcend any particular role. Our roles are actions we undertake in this material world, while we are more than material. Our spirit, our will enters this world, and as such we do what we do. As the wisdom saying goes: we are in the world but not of it.

For this week, please practice inner freedom within the roles you play.


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