The Purpose of Inner Work
Inner Work and the Solo System
The Process of Inner Composting
“Life is nothing but a long, painful process of creation.”Eric Maisel
In the 1980s a friend of mine was studying with Arnold Mindell in Zürich, Switzerland. — Arnold Mindell is an American physicist, Jungian psychologist, and founder of a type of psychotherapy then known as the Dreambody. Later his work became known as process oriented psychotherapy, and now it’s simply called Process Work.
One of the fundamental differences between Process Work and many psychotherapies is that it doesn’t view disease symptoms as pathological. This may sound confusing. In our minds the words disease, symptoms and pathology are synonyms, of course.
What if they aren’t? What if this wasn’t a fact, but a matter of perspective and interpretation?
Arnold Mindell observed parallels between physical symptoms and the images occurring in dreams. He recognised that both were expressing the same information.
This discovery in itself is not new. Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homoeopathy, made similar observations about 2 centuries earlier. Arnold Mindell found new ways to work with the ‘pathological information’ in constructive ways by what he calls ‘switching channels’.
The process of switching channels of information became a basic tool of Process Work. It is primarily an internal activity, even though it has external forms of expression.
Processes of inner work have been known since ancient times. One of them is Vipassana meditation – allegedly the original practice of the Buddha. Inner work can lead to spontaneous or surprisingly effortless changes in the outer world. This makes it seem like magic.
The Purpose of Inner Work
“He who breathes deepest lives the most.”Elizabeth Barrett Browning
In his essay The Inner Work of Spiritual Warriorship Processworker Stanford Siver writes: “Mindell clearly states that this way of working on one’s self isn’t for everybody. Some people are content the way they are and have no need to work on them self at all.”
Quoting from Arnold Mindell’s book Working on Yourself Alone he continues:
“Some of the greatest people are those who, with the brute strength of their primary process and the miraculousness of their human nature, overcome personal problems, struggle through impasses, become individuals, go against the judgment of their neighbors in becoming themselves, and do all of this without recognition and without ever meditating. The need to meditate arises when our primary identification, our normal way of living, no longer works well. Meditation arises spontaneously when our inner life can no longer remain still, when it begins to rumble and dream, revolt and excite us to awake.”
We usually get interested in inner work when things in the outer world aren’t working. There are many methods on offer, and we might experiment with whatever we happen to come across at the time. For me Arnold Mindell’s book Working on yourself Alone was a particularly influential module in my inner work training.
The primary purpose of Process Work is not to make changes but to raise awareness. Changes happen naturally in the process.
The main purpose of inner work in general is to engage more deeply with your own life. This has many exciting benefits; here are some of them:
◦ You develop a more authentic relationship with yourself, which leads to more authentic relationships with others.
◦ You activate dormant potential and discover gifts you didn’t know you had – getting a surprise gift is always exciting.
◦ You find out about your life’s purpose and receive guidance and resources to nurture it. This is one of the most fulfilling experiences.
Inner work isn’t easy. It can be very hard work. Therefore it helps to remind ourselves occasionally of the perks.
But here’s a paradox – if you do inner work with the explicit intention to get to a particular goal, you’re likely to fail. We have to remember that it’s about the process not the goal. The way is the destination, as the Taoists say.
Inner Work and the Solo System
“Feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy and fear, instead of being bad news… they’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck.”Pema Chödron
Some years after receiving the information for the Solo System I picked up Arnold Mindell’s book Working on Yourself Alone again. Despite many fundamental differences I was surprised to find some striking similarities.
One of the basic techniques of Process Work is called switching channels, as mentioned above. This means that information may be translated from a physical sensation into a physical movement, a visual image, a sound, or an interaction with others.
Imagine all channels on TV broadcasting essentially the same information, only they interpret it in different ways. Let’s say it’s all about war. One channel shows a war movie. On the next one dancers perform a war dance. Another one has musicians singing and playing war songs. And the news channel reports only news about… guess what!
This is a very simplified illustration of how our Consciousness works. The visual channel produces images, the emotional channel interprets the same information as feelings, the kinaesthetic channel translates it into physical sensations, the rational channel offers thoughts and rational explanations on the topic.
In the Solo System we work with 8 ‘channels’ of human Consciousness – we call them Faculties. The 8 Faculties of human Consciousness are: Will, Soul, Inspiration, Intuition, Imagination, Instinct, Intellect and Body. Here is an overview of what they do.
◦ The Will generates willpower and intentions.
◦ The Soul provides a sense of being and connection.
◦ The Inspiration inspires us with ideas, questions and insights.
◦ The Intuition knows all about hunches and issues of trust.
◦ The Imagination produces dreams and all the visual stuff.
◦ The Instinct instigates moods and emotions.
◦ The Intellect is the expert on rational analysis and thoughts.
◦ The Body makes all physical evidence happen.
The Solo System provides a structure for doing inner work alone. The purpose is to engage in the natural creative process of human Consciousness in everyday life. In this process we continuously transform negative subjective experiences into valuable resources.
When we do inner work – and outer changes happen ‘like magic’ – we may feel tempted to manipulate the outcome. This is based on a fundamental misunderstanding. The ‘magic’ that happens on the outside is ultimately the same as a plant emerging from a seed. Pulling at the shoots doesn’t make it grow any faster; nor does it help to try and twist it into a different plant.
The Process of Inner Composting
“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”Margaret Atwood
In the process of working with the Solo System over nearly 2 decades we have learned that all negative experiences can be turned into useful resources. The transformation happens by moving the information through the ‘channels’ of different Faculties in the light of your own awareness.
This process has many similarities to producing compost from organic waste. Under favourable conditions all the discarded rubbish from food preparation and food digestion can be turned into fertile and stable humus. The transformation is activated by micro-organisms and oxygen.
In real life we produce mental and emotional ‘organic waste’ on a daily basis. A lot of it is of a personal or interpersonal nature, and we don’t know what to do with it. We hope it sorts itself out spontaneously, and sometimes it does.
But often it doesn’t. The inner organic waste we produce can turn sour. It may become quite rotten, it doesn’t break down properly into a stable fertile matter. If it doesn’t break down naturally it tends to accumulate and can cause serious trouble.
Because all Faculties of human Consciousness are connected with one another – they are essentially different information channels of the same broadcasting station – they work together towards a common goal. Their main function is to ensure our well-being.
Therefore they do whatever they can to draw your attention to the organic waste pile within your inner world. They send out signals to let you know whenever something in your inner world wants to grow. And any healthy growth needs healthy stable humus.
Every time something ‘bad’ happens in your life, that’s what it generally means. It’s life saying to you, “will you please go and turn over the inner compost?!”
It means something good is ready to grow. As the quote from Pema Chödron says, “Feelings like disappointment, etcetera, instead of being bad news… they’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck.” Unfortunately we tend to dismiss the signals themselves as ‘bad’ and try to get rid of them. Then life turns the volume up to remind us.
The longer this goes on, the more ‘really bad’ things can grow in your inner soil. Turning over the compost becomes harder. Or the whole pile of accumulated organic waste may erupt in one big cathartic meltdown.
One way or another the process of inner transformation has to take its course. With our active participation it can be relatively gentle, pleasant and graceful; against our resistance it can be harsh, distressing and quite dreadful. The Roman stoic philosopher Seneca knew this when he said, “The Fates lead the willing, the reluctant they drag along.”
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