[[Hi Sister Laurel,
You have referred a couple of times to doing "inner work" in relation to spiritual direction and recommended it for formation and discernment. I wondered what you meant. Is this something one could do if their spiritual director does not usually expect or use it or does one need to do it with someone? What you wrote about developing the heart of a hermit was very powerful for me, it resonated with some of my own experience so I was wondering if the kind of inner work you are referring to could be of any help to me. I am not sure about wanting to become a hermit but I think I might have "the heart of a hermit" as you describe it. Anything you could suggest to help with this would be appreciated.]]
Great questions and I am glad you appreciated the piece on developing the heart of a hermit. It's always special, I think, when something someone writes like that "resonates" with our own experience. Anyway, I think I have been asked about "inner work" one other time --- though it was a few years ago. The post might be of some assistance as background so I'll see if I can find it and create a link even though I am sure I will repeat a lot of it here.
When I speak of inner work I ordinarily mean the personal work that stems from and prepares for spiritual direction or from everyday situations or things that arise from prayer. In spiritual direction it often happens that I become aware of places where healing needs to happen or where significant growth is occurring which requires conscious attention not only to help things along but also to honor the way grace is present in my life. Some of this work means using the tools I learned or am learning to better understand and use from my director who is also an animator and/or facilitator in PRH (French for Personality and Human Relationships). We also call this growth work but it provides a focused approach to healing and maturation with a significant spiritual dimension. The idea behind PRH as I understand it is that it provides a fairly systematic approach (PRH would say "methodical") to the very human task of becoming fully alive --- which is exactly the reason Jesus came to us.
What I most appreciate about it (something which is an essential part of its incredible power and contribution to contemplative life) is that it always begins in the present. It is not given to random or "feverish" (to quote my director) "emotional archeology" (my term). It can certainly lead to the past and help accomplish the healing needed there but unless that need is showing itself in and affecting one's present functioning one does not spend time and energy on this. As part of this work I do journaling using a number of really effective tools including "topographies" (a kind of written illustration of the emotional journey one makes in relation to situations which trigger disproportionate recurrent reactions) and occasionally my director will give me a specific question or set of questions which allow me to explore and "live into" what is "alive" in me at a given time. I also use dialogues (a way of learning to listen to and integrate my unconscious with my conscious mind as well as to resolve inner struggles with various parts of myself).
By the way, both PRH and Jungian approaches are entirely consonant with theistic approaches to inner work and with Christian thought and spirituality. PRH especially has an underlying theology which some may choose to ignore or leave entirely implicit, while Jung's psychology seems to me to call for an explicit theology supporting the dialogical and teleological dimensions of the human being Jung honors and describes so well. The point is that one need not compromise one's faith to use these or some other methodologies (various approaches to journaling, for instance) and in many ways can enhance that faith with these approaches to inner work. One final approach I should mention which can accommodate or even be used collaboratively with PRH and Jungian approaches, and which also respects one's spirituality is the IFS or Internal Family Systems approach to inner work. This approach is profoundly respectful of the whole person and does not pathologize parts of us that may be deemed "maladaptive" by some. Like Jungian approaches IFS tends to see the human being as a theatre of characters or "subpersonalities"; it recognizes a core "Self", the life of which all the "subpersonalities" protect and foster or at least seek to protect and foster. Like the other methods mentioned this approach (IFS) also allows or facilitates entering into a liminal space where dialogue, healing, greater integration, and transcendence can occur.
Working With Another:
Relating this to the Desert Fathers and Mothers:
Sometimes the healing or inner work required by faith and grace is significant; we cannot honor or truly glorify (manifest) God with only half our hearts, half our lives, half ourselves; as we go through life however, for any number of reasons we leave (and often must leave!) parts of ourselves behind --- neglected and for all intents and purposes abandoned; reclaiming these, reuniting and reconciling with them can take incredible energy and be painful beyond believing. Similarly, healing the distortions within us which have arisen precisely because we left parts of ourselves behind -- whether in defense against trauma, or in a number of other circumstances --- requires work as well as grace, and often, the assistance of competent persons. (In such instances the impulse and power to undertake the work IS an act of grace!) Only then can a long struggle end with God truly blessing us as we have deeply desired and needed and God has profoundly willed to do --- sometimes for many, many years. This "work" is a fundamental part of growth in wholeness and holiness in the desert. It is a necessary part of forming the heart of a hermit and an essential dimension of coming to true quies as a hesychast resting in the heart of God.
Inner Work as Penance in Service to Prayer and Obedience:
When canon 603 calls for a life of assiduous prayer and penance I think it calls first of all for a LIFE, and moreover, a life which is lived as both gift and task. In prayer I am loved by God and empowered to allow God to love his whole creation through me; in penance I deal with those things which prevent that from happening with my whole heart, and soul, and body (because sometimes the stuff we need to work through deprives us of energy, the capacity for appropriate bodily expression, and even the ability to care adequately for ourselves physically). For me penance has nothing to do with arbitrarily creating abnormal corporal practices, punishments, arcane disciplines, etc. Instead it involves doing all that is necessary to allow for prayer -- and for my becoming God's own prayer in the world; it therefore involves the freeing of the spirit so the body too might be as whole and free as possible in and with the grace of God.
|Romuald receives the gift of tears|
I am aware this may have raised more questions for you, so if that's the case please get back to me. Meanwhile I hope I have given you some sense of how rich are the sources and means of an inner work that serves one's journey with and within God.