Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the Week of December 20, 2021


Tasks and Themes 

(Fourth Way Practice: 6)

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Our days make so many demands on our attention and are so full of things pulling our attention, that little is left. This confronts us with the problem of bringing our inwardness alive into a day that seems to have no room for it. We are already busy or otherwise occupied. How can we squeeze out more time and more cognitive bandwidth for inner work as we go about our day?

The first thing to recognize is that inner work itself does not take time, except for practices like work in the quiet. Inner work, such as presence and sensing during our day, occurs in parallel with our ordinary activities, as if on a separate track of time. It occurs while we are engaged in life. Indeed, by increasing our cognitive bandwidth, inner work enhances our engagement with all that we do. But there is such a great momentum to how we live our days, that we must take special measures to enable us to devote our inwardness to our spiritual practice instead of spending it on unnecessary commentary, narration, random thoughts, reactive emotions, and the rest of the usual accompaniments to our outward activities. We seek to transform that inner material into an inner life worthy of the name, worthy of our humanity.

Two of the classes of such special measures are tasks and themes. Inner work tasks are specific inner practices that we set ourselves to do during the day. There is a wide range of such practices, including for example, sensing our limbs in sequence at pre-selected moments, sensing for the duration of a particular event, and sensing a certain number of times during the day, for which we keep an inner count. There are also ad hoc tasks that we set ourselves in the moment, such as sensing while riding an elevator until we reach the destination, sensing while walking until we reach the next street corner, sensing our whole body as we speak, or listening with full attention to someone else speak. And with all those tasks, we can substitute other practices instead of or in addition to sensing, such as breath awareness, awareness of our emotions and/or thoughts, full presence, living with heart, or drawing inner energies from the air.

The point is to make our choice of inner work tasks specific enough for us clearly to know when we are engaging in them. That specificity gives these tasks the power to become part of our day for real. It takes spiritual practice out of the realm of foggy ideas or wishful thinking and into the realm of creating a vibrant inner life as a counterpart to our outer life. Of course, it all becomes one life, a very rich life of presence and heart. But we start with the distinction between inner and outer, to grow our inner life to be as strong as our outer life, whereupon the two can merge into a real life. Along the way, self-imposed inner work tasks, taken seriously, offer essential opportunities, training, and help.

Themes are inner work-related topics for study and observation, typically taken for one week. A theme is usually not as specific as a task, thus leaving the theme open to our interpretation and exploration. The theme may be there in the back of our mind as we go through the week, thereby exerting an organizing and guiding influence on our perceptions and thoughts, popping up at unexpected but opportune moments. To consolidate the results of our work with a theme, we occasionally take a few moments to ponder the theme and what we have seen in relation to it. We also have the option of devising and undertaking specific inner work tasks adapted to help us penetrate the theme.

By engaging with a variety of themes over time, we move toward balance in our practice, while deepening and broadening our understanding. Another great value of theme work is that it sets us up for new insights into our spiritual practice and into ourselves. Every new insight and every effort nourish our soul and support our transformation. Drop by drop, they add up.

Please set yourself an inner work task and pursue it for this week. Consider taking on themes interspersed with tasks in the coming weeks.


     

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