Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of May 11, 2009

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Guiding Principles

Without principles we would wander rudderless through our life. Too often we forget whatever principles we do have and engage in the expedient, following the path of least resistance. This raises questions. What guides our myriad choices in life? Within the bounds of morality and societal norms, within the requirements of duty to our body, our family, and our society, and within the scope of our interests, we still enjoy an enormous range of choices and opportunities laid before us. So how do we choose what to do, what not to do, where to go, when, and with whom? Our principles, or lack thereof, fundamentally shape our choices and our life.

Our spiritual pursuit offers and requires a relatively clear principle to guide our choices. We can judge by asking ourselves questions like: does what I am about to do help me awaken, does it prevent me from awakening, or neither? Does what I am about to do serve others, damage others, or neither. And then we do what helps us awaken and/or serves others, we avoid what prevents us from awakening and/or damages others, and we make use of the neutral.

As a simple but important example, when we have a spare, not-fully-occupied moment, do we turn to our inner work, to the practice of body awareness through sensing, to the practice of presence? The opportunity to make this choice arises at many moments every day. Does the guiding principle embodied by our spiritual practice live in us strongly enough to penetrate our choice of what to do in these small, “spare” moments? Without the principle that values spiritual practice, or with a weak embodiment of it, these opportune moments flit by us unnoticed and squandered.

Similarly, do the principles of integrity, responsibility, kindness, and respect affect our actions? Unless such principles live in us, we miss the moment that calls for kindness and respect or we fail to act responsibly and with integrity.

To the extent they guide our choices, our principles intimately connect with our will and thus define us. We may see, particularly in difficult times, that our principles are our most important asset. If, to apply our principles however, we find we must try to remember them as we go about our day, then there is a gap between us and our principles. The closer and more central a principle is to us, the more it lives in us without any special effort to remember it. If there is a gap, we can narrow it by intentionally and frequently remembering and abiding by the principle. So if we practice kindness or presence, integrity or respect, then these principles grow in strength in us, effectively shaping who we are. We create ourselves by what we feed in us.

On the other hand, we do make choices, non-randomly. So something guides us. The question is what and does it need to be changed? Are our actual, effective values what we wish them to be? Our actual principles may be fractured and conflicting. But by supporting and attending to the ones of true value to us, we become ourselves.

For this week, examine how you make choices and decisions. What are your guiding principles? Do you apply them in your daily life? And to what extent does your spiritual pursuit itself guide your choices?


     

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