What Is Spiritual Inner Work?

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I frequently discuss the importance of doing inner work, but I wanted to take a moment to discuss what I mean by this in case it is unclear.

Spiritual inner work is the process of getting to know you. It typically entails letting go of all kinds of attachments that cause suffering. Whether the attachment is a desire to be a good parent or a fear of being hurt, these attachments cause suffering for ourselves as well as for others, including the ones we love. Attachments to being good people like being a good parent blind people. They blind people to other opportunities and ideas because typically the ego presumes that it knows how things should go to find "success," in this case to be a "good parent." But how often do any of us ever really know what true success is? There is much that is mysterious and unknowable in the universe, and how any of us should evolve including our children's evolution is part of that mystery. This mystery is something that engenders deeper and deeper humility as we go further on our spiritual journeys. The best we can do is learn to fully embrace the moment and engage with it with kindness and openness, and that tends to offer us better results than when we are attached to trying to be good, successful, and other things.

What is NOT unknowable is us. We can know ourselves, and we can know how our ego is constructed. We can let go of ego issues and attachments to more fully embrace the totality of life, and doing spiritual inner work is central to that.

Spiritual Inner Work Compared to Other Inner Work

While I usually just write "inner work" when I'm discussing it on this spiritual awakening blog, there is a difference between spiritual inner work and other forms of inner work. Spiritual inner work takes us on the road to spiritual freedom. Other inner work serves different purposes. For example, someone healing from alcohol addiction is doing inner work to get over addiction. Spiritual freedom isn't the goal although it can be. Some forms of therapy and recovery use the spiritual path as a central foundation for the healing process.

That said, the primary goal of inner work around alcohol addiction or other kinds of substance addiction is to be free of the addiction and to be physically healthy. It's a worthy goal, but it is different than the goal of spiritual inner work. Additionally, many self improvement paths are about "improving" the person, not freeing them. To improve someone requires as evaluative system. It requires an ego to say: "This is success" and "That is failure."

Initially, this sort of self improvement mentality can be helpful on the path to spiritual freedom, but the further you go, the more troublesome it becomes. How does one succeed or fail at being here now? How does one get closer to the Divine when s/he is immersed in it? The self improvement inner work people do can be a useful means to get started, but the further one goes, the less useful and even inhibitive that thinking becomes.

To be sure, even the concept of doing spiritual inner work can eventually be problematic, but overall, it is an incredibly important initial set of rungs on the ladder of the spiritual path to freedom.

Learning to Turn Your Attention Inwards

Central to doing spiritual inner work is turning your attention inwards. I can't tell you how many people get stuck staring at other people's problems. Yes, there is unconsciousness in the world. Yes, your mother still doesn't listen to you. Yes, your body has all these annoying pains and aches. The external world is going to continue to have its ebbs and flows, and your body is also part of the external world. There will be times of peace and times of turbulence in your body and the world around you. However, what goes on in the external world is irrelevant to your inner work, and if you haven't realized this already, the sooner you do, the better.

Turning your attention inwards isn't hard, but it is a practice. Some simple ways to do so can start with questions like:

"Who is thinking these thoughts?"
"Where do these thoughts come from?"
"Where do my feelings come from?"
"Why do I believe what I believe?"
"Are my beliefs true?"

All of these questions force someone to look at themselves, and while many discoveries will lead you to realizing that family and society taught you a lot of things, you still perpetuate these beliefs and feelings. And I also have to emphasize that you choose your feelings for the most part. If someone ends a relationship with you and you feel sad, you chose that. That is nothing but a choice. Physical sensations are a slightly different animal since some body experiences are just how our bodies talk to us, but many physical sensations are caused by the mind. For instance, people choose to feel scared and clench their stomachs because they're afraid that their team won't win the game today. There is nothing wrong with their stomachs; this is just the ego and its beliefs punishing the body.

Overall, there is plenty going on within you that you have to investigate to begin to let go of these attachments.

How to Let Go of Your Ego

After Awakening Comes the Inner Work

For those who had a spiritual awakening recently or awhile ago, there is still inner work. A spiritual awakening is like a raging fire at first, but if not focused, that fire will burn itself out. Eventually, the roots of the plants that were burnt down push up new ego weeds in your garden. You could potentially end up just as unconscious as you were before awakening or even worse. There is no rule that says you have to become more conscious after awakening. Does awakening really, really, REALLY try to get you to see reality and burn up attachments?

Yes.

But there is still an important level of choice that we have to make first so that we can actively choose to surrender, make space, and do inner work. In so doing, the bounty of our Divinity can be revealed to us.

Without that choice, people typically hold on, and they don't learn how to do inner work. Usually people hold on because they're afraid of losing things or of being hurt. That is just how the ego thinks. However, spiritual inner work is only getting rid of attachments. If you find that a relationship, job, or situation is not true to you without having an attachment to it, then it makes rational sense to leave it. If the aforementioned circumstances do feel true, then you stay in them and create new agreements. You can do so without creating new attachments from fear or desire.

Yet, the ego is not rational. It's just taught to want what it wants and believe what it believes. It keeps operating from the same fears, desires, and core issues until someone really gets serious about doing inner work to expose the ego's misunderstandings. Otherwise, they'll keep believing all the things they've always believed even if awakening is pushing them to realize otherwise.

As a quick aside, the ego is you. When I write in the way I do, it sounds like there are two people. I write this way to create separation with the ego because you can separate from it. However, early on, a person is so enmeshed with their ego self that it really is who they think they are. It's not until someone has really burned up a lot of ego through inner work that it becomes increasingly clear that the ego is not who they truly are.

Burning in the Awakened Fire

Chopping Down the Ego

Gradually over time, identifying the ego and chopping it down gets easier and easier. Changing ideas is relatively simple, and emotional purging--once you get the hang of it--isn't as hard as it sounds. Deeper still, we forge into the tightly held emotions and energies in the muscle fibers and into deeper levels of the energy body. Along the way, we continue to maintain this inner inquiry to simply know ourselves. That drives the inner work.

The minute we don't want to know anymore about ourselves, we're blinding ourselves. That makes deeper inner work very difficult to near impossible. The true aspiration to know oneself has to be the guiding force in spiritual inner work more so than any goal. So this work isn't about perfecting you. It's about discovering who you already are beneath all this other conditioning, attachment, and biological goo. As you do that, more of the old ego structures fall apart.

As that all breaks down, your inner "eyes" continue to become more and more perceptive, and you get greater tastes of what spiritual freedom is. Those experiences tend to lead people further as you realize how limited your thinking and feeling states have been. You start to sense more of the fullness of freedom, and that drives people to discover more and more unconscious attachments.

Discovering Unconscious Associations and Feelings

Letting Go of "Healthy" Attachments

A lot of spiritual inner work focuses on the stuff we know we need to get rid of. It's the usual starting point. It's like going to a house and helping someone clean stuff out. You start with the stuff they have the least attachment to before working your way to getting rid of the stuff to which they have stronger attachments. Doing inner work this way helps people see the benefits of letting go.

In general, there are a whole load of seemingly healthy attachments that inhibit people rather than actually helping them. Attachments to self improvement or being a good parent seem like good things, but as you go, you start to find a lot of problems with the beliefs that surround them. The self improvement attachment has no end point, so the person can never be satisfied. The mindset never allows for someone to have arrived; they always need to improve something. The "good parent" has to make a lot of assumptions about themselves, life, and their child/children to determine if they are a good or bad parent. While trying to be a good parent can serve useful purposes such as actively learning about parenting (and there is a lot to learn), it can get in the way of the organic development that goes on with raising children. It can get in the way of the parent taking care of him or herself if they have a belief that leads them to neglect themselves and focus too much energy on their children. There are all kinds of ways that this attachment can cause problems even when it seems like a good one. Certainly this attachment is far better than parents who don't give a shit about their kids, but I am writing to you because I believe you are someone who is interested in developing yourself to a much greater level of awareness and kindness. To do so means giving up all attachments.

The beautiful thing in spiritual freedom is that freeing ourselves from attachments gives us and our loved ones so much more space to be as we and they are. We find a whole range of opportunity and love is opened to us through doing our inner work, and that gives us more abilities to help and serve ourselves and others where before our "healthy" attachments inherently limited us. So those who get to this level of understanding realize that no attachment is healthy and that spiritual freedom is the best gift they can give themselves and everyone else.

How to Find Spiritual Freedom

The Dedication, Aspiration, and Patience for Inner Work

Once again for the millionth time, I have to emphasize that people must be dedicated to their inner work. It doesn't do itself. Even if you awaken, that extra push to go inwards will not last forever. You have to choose this work, and you have to do it. You have to learn all the ins and outs of your ego. You have to work through the different levels of transformation from the mind to the heart to the body to the subtle energies. You have to learn about all your self-delusions and learn to be deeply and profoundly honest with yourself. You have to be patient. You have to act, and you have to rest.

There's a lot that goes into spiritual inner work, but you can do it. You can do it, and you can find out for yourself just how incredibly rewarding releasing ego suffering and finding spiritual freedom truly are.

If you need a little extra help going deeper in your inner work, I offer sessions, and I have an ebook:

Learn More About One-on-one Sessions with Jim Tolles

Everyday Spirituality: Cultivating an Awakening