There are, of course, both inner and outer energetic influences of a subtle nature that can’t be so easily measured or discussed; and then again, as a consequence of these, there are thousands of influences of a more coarse variety that flow into us from external sources. Let's call it ordinary life.
I encounter hundreds of different spiritual practices and approaches; the number of different kinds of yoga, of new age therapies, of Buddhisms, Christianities, and flavors of Islam is bewildering. Maybe I'm from time to time drawn to Zoroastrians or Judaism; maybe to Hinduism, maybe to some form of shamanism. Maybe I practice tai chi, or yoga, or Qigong or the Alexander technique —no matter what, everyone is attracted to some idiosyncratic version of practice and signs onto it wholeheartedly — or doesn’t, because of an inability to commit to anything definite. And I suppose that all of these outer practices and influences are, for the most part, “good” — as my teacher Betty Brown said, “well, it can’t hurt you.”
But if that’s the criteria I use to select my practice, it seems inadequate: it seems to lack discrimination.
Of course all of this outer form looks like it has something to do with my inner work, just as many Americans adopt diet as a form of identity, in the belief it may cure their health problems.
Yet one can't, I feel sure, adopt one's form as a cure. If one wants to understand inner work from a new point of view, one ought to throw everything out. Absolutely everything. Inner work verges on the edge of the absolute, the transcendent, which is untouchable and unknowable, unmanifest and perfect, and beyond any comprehension — the incomparable. Real inner work comes up against the margins of the incomparable, the impossible, and the unknown, and understands that one can never go beyond those boundaries.
One can only receive the emanations and influences that come from beyond them, which are a form of help.
So one has to throw everything out. One shouldn’t make plans; one shouldn’t plot out how one is going to do one’s inner work, or what one will do; one needs instead to come into an intimate contact with an energy that flows into Being, and know that only that mysterious force is what may prove useful in coming to a new sense of self.
That sense will have nothing to do with any of the outer influences. It won’t look like Jesus or Buddha... even though they may both be in it.
It is the wujūd that matters; the finding.
Thinking about things and laying out plans is useless. I have to come to my life helpless and alone, knowing from the beginning and from the very core of my being that I am alive and valuable, but otherwise know nothing.
I can perhaps suspend judgment on all things and let life flow into me, observing the many different conflicting values, opinions, and sheer idiocies that arise in my mechanical parts from moment to moment. All of these things have to be tolerated. I have to move through these parts of life without being touched by them, constantly receiving a different influence.
That alone can transform; and staying in relationship with it alone is the only thing that matters to me. It knows what is necessary; I don’t.
So faith, hope, and love all involve coming into relationship with this conscious influence that flows inward into Being.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.