This field note will highlight the centrality of our ability to be self-aware and to reflect on our own experience. Cultivation and development of reflective self-awareness would, I believe, foster the best chance for the future of human beings and all other living things on the earth. I will address the cultivation and development of moment to moment awareness, our capacity and ability to be fully present in life. In this field note, I will address some ideas about consciousness and its development through inner work, based in the development of awareness. For the latter, meditation and meditation-like practices are significant method and necessary practices. The last few decades have seen the proliferation of researches conducted to demonstrate and validate benefits of meditation, including the topic of interest here: development of an expanded consciousness that is available more and more to ordinary people.
I am developing this note, having reached the end point of my annual seven-week summer retreat/break. I have been proceeding at an organic pace during my break. I always find a certain ease with not having to be anywhere at any particular time. Probably I’m not alone with this experience. Of course, this year was a little different as the pandemic provided a background that I did not and could not ignore. With the need for social isolation, all face-to-face professional interactions had to stop, and we all shifted rapidly to remote communication and interaction. Even before my summer break, I was already operating remotely, and I will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. In the past, I have done some of my practice by remote means with people who were out of the lower mainland, but doing this as my entire practice is a new experience.
I’ve used my seven-week break opportunity (or “staycation” in my case this summer) to further my own inner work and to develop many ideas including the one that is central to this field note. And as Heesoon and I are both working from home, we have had even more time together than usual. For us, this has been an extended, at times intense, opportunity to get to know ourselves through each other (and vice versa), which certainly precipitated inner work that was of great value. Indeed this has been a generative and creative opportunity for us for our relationship. I’m reminded of the counselling request I received recently from a couple who told me they were having difficulty being together so much during this COVID-19 pandemic, due to the restrictions that forced a significant increase in being in each other’s company. We wish we could have organized an inner work workshop for couples! Maybe next year . . ..
As many of you are aware, Heesoon and I planned to do a workshop on inner work this summer. However, as you are also aware, the invasion of Covid-19 virus negated this possibility: at least the possibility of doing it in-person. In the meanwhile, another project was materializing rapidly and called for my attention. As many of you would be aware, I am engaged with a new project, the Maslow Centre for Executive Leadership (https://www.linkedin.com/company/maslowleadership/). I am one of the founders. In particular, I have the responsibility for developing the inner work course for coaches, and I will also be involved in individual coaching with those in leadership positions, as well as with some organizational coaching as well. All this is to say that I have been very absorbed with many interesting research materials and project about coaching, the integration of coaching and psychological mindedness, and of course, the work with the deep self, which I have been calling simply, Inner Work. Over the summer, I have gathered up a vast quantity of materials, both written and oral (from podcasts and YouTube videos), to do directly and indirectly with Inner Work. Since Heesoon and I haven’t come up with a workshop on Inner Work, while my inner work research materials pile up. Below I will share some thoughts on the topic that has been brewing up in me for a while.
What is inner work on your own?
Inner work, whether you do it on your own or with help and support from another, is a way of discovering and working with the experiences in your inner world and their effects in the outer world. The process initially requires only your awareness and attention. The materials for inner work are constantly self-provided: you do not have to go far to find the material for your inner work. You do however have to turn your attention inward. However, there is one essential without which you cannot do inner work in any meaningful and productive way: your ongoing process of developed awareness and attention. Thus, the foundational first step in inner work is developing your awareness capacity and ability.
How Do We Develop and Cultivate Awareness?
Many spiritual and philosophical traditions start from the premise that there is something that we are that is our core being and that constitutes our true and authentic self. I understand that the primary ‘function’ of the core being is awareness. Maybe it’s simpler and phenomenologically more accurate to say that core being is awareness. Nothing else.
Some traditions posit this core being in a static and even permanent way (e.g., the immortal soul); while some other traditions conceive of it in a more fluid, dynamic, and emergent way (e.g., the Buddhist ‘No-self’). Along this continuum exist many variations on the same theme. As well, different traditions suggest different methods of cultivation and protection for this core being, including the position that the latter is ineffable. Does that mean it can’t be cultivated? Not necessarily! In fact, not talking about it but “practising it” would be recommended. From a more theistic, especially monotheistic, perspective, this core-something in humans presumably depends on God’s will. It is presumed to exist from the moment of birth; perhaps prior to birth, and in some traditions the view is that it is prior to conception and perhaps, depending on your beliefs/experiences, goes back multiple lifetimes. And so on… I have always been impressed with how much in common all these religions and traditions have, how little the proponents of each seem to be inclined towards noticing and acknowledging this, and, of course, the conflicts and even wars that have arisen over the differences.
My development of inner work over the many years, and now in collaboration with Heesoon, and I would add my interactions with all of you, has been influenced by multiple sources, teachers, and philosophical traditions. And while I do not consider myself a Buddhist or a Daoist, I have certainly been majorly influenced by both of these traditions in terms of philosophy, ideas, and practices: Ideas such as, annata (no self), the Dao (the all permeating, ineffable energy in the universe), following the Dao, which means attunement to, and integration with, nature (more popularly characterized as flow), reflective practice and meditation, engagement with everyday life, development of personal ethics that is an outcome of inner knowing, and living life in the present moment.
As well, my own conceptualization, based on decades of search, research, and a variety of practices, is that this core being manifests as life force energy. And my psychologically-minded interpretation of what challenges and changes and that this core being of life force interfaces and contends with in one’s life time, is as follows. I invite you to reflect on whether my conceptualization measure resonates with your experience. Please do share your responses, comments, and/or questions on the site, or to me personally.
The outcome of many impingements on you from earliest days is that this core being, that is your truest self, is bent out of shape, even squashed, by various forces that impact it, including your early childhood home environment, culture, peers, religion, educational environments, and so on. There is an ongoing competition for control between external forces and the inner energy. The inner energy, the life force ‘wants’ to express, just as a seed in the ground wants to burst open and reach for the surface of the ground, and onward towards the sun. Your life energy wants to express itself! You innate propensity and talents, if they are not interfered with, which, in general, is not a strong likelihood, will form the structures through which your life force energy will be expressed. How this actually shows up, and at what level of talent and skill, is greatly dependent on the interaction of genetic and epigenetic factors.
The American educator, John Taylor Gatto*, once challenged us with a great and provocative question: “Are we human beings or human doings?” In moments when I am rushing about, trying to get things done, chasing after one thing or another, even madly, I catch myself and I ask Gatto’s question: Am I a human being or a human doing? I pause, inhale and exhale long breaths, look up at the sky, feel the breeze on my cheek, and I remember that I am a human being. When I am reasonably in touch with this experience I am more in touch with my core being.
I conceptualize Inner Work as seeking and moving towards the optimal possibility of my core being expressing itself. As well, my observation is that the more I know yourself at the deepest levels, the more my talents will show up at an increasingly amazing level. The world in all its manifestations will provide feedback in direct and indirect ways. And the feedback may come in all manners and degrees that meet your disapproval/approval and taste/distaste; and at times can be accompanied by feelings of incredible clarity, joy, bliss, and overall an incredible feeling of presence. Your ability to take in the feedback from the world and work with it in the service of further knowing and liberating your most authentic self will also be the key to the level of performance, service, and creation you can offer to the world.
In the moment, presence
Attunement and integration of mind, body, emotions, and actions (and whatever else you wish to conceptualize and name) are central clues as to the quality of presence. Such presence is aligned with life force energy. All of life takes place in the moment, which is not to say that it is not influenced by history or visions and thoughts about the future. The important question is in fact whether your life is controlled by history, particularly by your personal history and/or fears related to the future. Such is, in my view the experience of most. Our task is to identify that which we have become as an outcome that is ‘ego,’ and that actually runs our lives. In the service of our growth and development, we need to look for the clues to these many inner sub-identities that are running our show. We can learn to embody these sub-identities and facilitate their development so as to be able to integrate them into our entire inner community. We can also work with our imagination that can grow our highest dreams of possibility. These are possibilities to be worked toward. That is, they are not instructions to follow for instant enactment. This work includes working with the Shadow that is represented by our inner obstructions and the sub-identities that play out in our lives and in fact have us. Such work moves us towards full presence or fullness of being: movement towards our truest nature and its expression.
Presence, which may also be described as full attention in the moment, is central to any inner work that you will undertake in order to cultivate life force energy, and to discover egoic structures that are reified and impairing your full presence and connection to your core being.,This requires cultivation of your ability to be aware in the moment of your ongoing experience. One method of cultivation that I learned in my younger days and involvement with Gestalt Training is to preface every moment with the phrase, “Now I am aware.” For example, “Now I am aware that I see the text on my screen. Now I am aware that I see the white background of the text. Now I am aware of my eyes de-focusing somewhat. Now I am aware of feeling my feet on the floor. Suddenly a moment of drifting off . . .. Now I’m aware of the sound of my voice speaking as I dictate this text, using the software equipment. Suddenly I am aware of imagining a conversation with my mother.” Now I am aware of wondering; wondering what you are noticing in yourself. You may well wonder what this is about. This is a significant and important training and learning about how your consciousness actually works. Without developing this skill of attention/awareness of becoming continually aware and articulately “seeing” what is happening on your “screen” of awareness, it will be hard, if not impossible, to progress very far in your inner work and your cultivation of becoming more fully human. This literally shows you the patterns that are probably unknown to most about your consciousness, perhaps more rightly said, your unconsciousness. You may be very surprised to see how the sequence and type of content repeats over and over, and in fact, how this really controls how you experience the world, yourself, and the relational field.
Eventually this kind of awareness cultivation practice will lead into more complex practice, which will help you to liberate your life force energy and to help your egoic structures to become strong, vigorous, and yet flexible and fluid. As Bruce Lee famously said, “Become like water my friend.”
In this field note I have given some description of the most essential factor for cultivation for inner work and your development as a human being that will help you to be more present in the moment, which leads to being more skilled in the moment, and which liberates progressively your being from its constrictions. This, of course, is core to inner work. The process proceeds from there to unfold the knots within and the further nuances and practices of inner work….
As always great thanks to Heesoon for her very able support and assistance with this Field Note.
*For interested readers, please check out John Taylor Gatto’s article here: