Inner  Frontier
Cultivating Spiritual Presence

 

Inner Work


For the week of November 18, 2019


Duration

(Advancing Our Practice: 3)

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As we go about our day, if we wake up and take up our inner work, and a second or two later we get lost again in the stream of experience, then that momentary episode of remembering our practice has little impact. If instead we wake up and enter our inner work with the intention to stay with it as long as we can, with the intention to live in presence, that begins to change our being, to enable us to be. Every moment in the world of presence, of being centered, awake, and truly ourselves, is precious. That world is our true home in this life. When we come back to ourselves, we are fully alive and at home. When we lose ourselves we are unmoored, tossed around on the surface of life. So we seek to stay here, to stay with our inner work, to extend every occasion of presence. We even begin to hope that we might enter the world of presence permanently.

Now this gets interesting. Sensation does dissipate, though whenever we come back to body awareness, it quickly arises once again. Yet the longer we stay with that sensitive energy, that intentional body awareness, the stronger it becomes. We maintain a steady attention throughout our body, moment to moment, and we begin to stabilize.

Consciousness, on the other hand, does not seem to wax or wane. However, our contact with it certainly does. Consciousness remains in the background, while we collapse onto and run after every shiny object it puts in front of us. But whenever we stop and come back to ourselves, to our inner work, here we are, more or less conscious once again. And since consciousness is not subject to space and time in the usual way, every conscious moment has a timeless quality, a pure, inner space into which we can relax and reside, awake and alert. This brings consciousness into the foreground, that is until we get distracted again.

Simply remembering about our inner work does matter, but mainly as an opening to extend our inner practice beyond that moment of awakening. By stepping through that opening, making it an episode of presence, of inner work, making it last a little longer, those moments become more likely to recur. If we do not engage beyond the moment of awakening, then we waste that opportunity. The awakening itself is an act of grace, coming to us without any effort on our part. Grace presents us with the possibility of a choice, of choosing to initiate and extend our inner work, or not. The moment of awakening is not an end in itself, but can be a beginning.

Sometimes the moments of awakening come cleanly, with an urge to be present, to live with heart. But curiously at other times they come with self-reproach and doubt that sounds something like: "Oh, I can't do this. I'll never truly awaken. Look how long I forgot about presence, how long I've been asleep since the last time I tried to be present. I can't stay present…" And so on. As soon as we notice this negative pattern arising, we can take it as our reminder to let go of that ugly thought train and work at presence right then, rather than spending all that energy castigating ourselves and falling down that particular psychological rabbit hole.

So, whenever we do awaken, we immediately turn toward living in presence, by way of whatever spiritual practice we are currently working with. But the idea is not to have this be a series of fleeting experiences. Indeed, even a hundred moments of awakening that result in a half-second of presence each, only amounts to a total of fifty seconds of presence. Instead we seek to extend the duration of each episode of awakening, longer and longer. We seek stable presence. We even look to make being in presence our new normal.

For this week, please take every opportunity of remembering your inner work to actually engage in it. Practice extending the duration of each episode of inner work during your day.


        

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