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The Inner Core — Tools of the Trade

The Inner Core front cover

The Inner Core

Robert L. Marshall

Chapter 5 — Tools of the Trade

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I’m excited! I know exactly what spiritual frontier I want to go after. I’m sure it’s what Spirit wants me to develop in my life. I’m not running off with stars in my eyes. I know it’s going to be a lot of work. But I’m going to make a breakthrough if I really put my whole self into it!” Then there is a long pause. “So the only question left is, ’How do I get started?”’

Right here is where many would-be spiritual explorers stumble. They do all the visionary preparation, reach a height of expectation, and then they become bewildered trying to switch gears from “seeing” to “doing.” Somehow, the distant glorious mountains appear so clear, they say, “Surely, I must already be there.”

It is a real shock to move attention from envisioning the view from the summit to measuring how to traverse the hundred miles of grueling trail and deep ravines that lie between here and there. That first pitiful step onto the dusty trail is almost disheartening. Hoping for a grand shortcut that will catapult us along the way, we hesitate, searching the horizon, and say, “What shall I do?”

The first step is rarely grand, and yet it is the most important. Inertia must be overcome, and often, forward motion is created by applying one of those seemingly mundane basic tools such as prayer or meditation that we can always fall back on.

The same tools used to create that grotesque junior high school woodworking project are used by the skilled carpenter to create a valuable masterpiece. The skilled artisan may have added more complicated gadgets to a toolbox, but more than likely, still picks up the saw, hammer, tape measure, and screwdriver to kick off the process.

The intent of this chapter is to remind you of the basic tools of the spiritual explorer and discuss how to adapt them to the process at hand, until more creative practices unfold. Please remember, the power of a tool is not in how complicated or basic it is, but in the skill of the one who wields it. The same basic tools that started you down your spiritual path are still appropriate, even effective, in the hands of the adept traveling on the cutting edge.

Whenever we become bogged down and are not sure how to get going again, we should be able to reach into our bag of tricks and adapt one of those basic universal practices to meet the need. Trailblazing involves cutting our own path, but we are expected to take an axe or machete.

Our first step, the one that creates forward motion, will probably employ an utterly basic spiritual practice. Nothing is more basic than prayer, so lets begin there.

The Power of Prayer

Many years ago George (a man who would later become one of my spiritual mentors) found himself confined to a bed in a veterans hospital. He had somehow contracted a rare terminal illness for which there was no known cure. He was told that he would not emerge from this hospital. He would slowly get more and more debilitated and finally die. The prognosis was depressing, and for a while he became lost in hopelessness.

George finally decided to take a stand for healing, though he wasn’t quite sure how to go about getting this healing. His options in terms of physical activities were quite limited. Ultimately, he decided he would tithe his time, committing six minutes out of each hour to praying for healing.

He prayed in all sorts of ways. Yet, no matter how he prayed, his commitment was to spend one-tenth of his day concentrating on healing in some manner. He would make up for the time he lost due to sleep by doubling up on his prayer work during waking hours.

George kept his prayer commitment, day in and day out, for weeks with no seeming results. After six or eight weeks, he started to feel a little stronger. Several months later, still tithing prayer time, he felt as healthy as he had ever felt. Surprisingly enough, X rays and lab results suggested a complete recovery. Since no one had ever made a comeback from this malady, George’s doctors determined that his perfect health had to be an illusion which would vaporize soon. They kept him for two more months, when, still mystified, they finally released him.

George’s training in healing was minimal, but he did have one simple tool in his arsenal: prayer. He used this tool with diligence and went right into the heart of that illusive spiritual energy we call healing. The experience deeply changed his life.

Along the way, George got creative. He varied his prayer activity through all kinds of approaches as ideas came to him. He started just by asking God to heal him. Later, he affirmed life and used imagery. All are simple, basic techniques. His intention was to find the source of life, a task worthy of the deepest mystic. Unrelenting prayer carried him all the way.

When you are ready to embark on your journey, while searching for the right in-depth practice to work with, start with prayer. Committed prayer time is the first tool in your box. It needs to be part of every search for spiritual breakthrough.

Ultimately, each spiritual practice you do could be labeled a form of prayer. When we break it down into “ways to pray,” the simplest form is called “asking for help.” It is often said that God is ready to come to your aid at any time if only you will ask.

In affirmative prayer, asking sounds like this: “Thank You, God, for my perfect healing.” The classical approach is more like “Please God, heal my body.” My experience has convinced me that either will work if the right feeling is put behind the words. After all, the real power behind a word is the energy one places in it.

The Power of Asking

The biblical suggestion “Ask, and ye shall receive” refers much more to a very special state of heart than to particular word groupings. Open your heart. Enter as sincere and humble a space as you can reach. Set ego completely aside. Image yourself having entered into the holy presence of the Almighty. Dropping all your walls, knowing you are in private audience with God, ask from the depths of your soul that God help you to attain your spiritual goal. Feel acceptance of God’s will and gratefulness, no matter the outcome. Repeat this practice at regular intervals until guidance leads you to your next step.

The power of asking was illustrated clearly to me in the experience of a friend, Wendy. She confided to me on the phone one day that she wanted to see Jesus’ face. This seemed a strange primary spiritual goal to me, but she was adamant. “I want to see Jesus’ face.” In spite of my own questions about the project, I was supportive and asked her to let me know if she really got somewhere with this.

I was assailed by a number of philosophical concerns about her quest. For instance, I asked myself: “If Jesus is functioning within his resurrected celestial body, does this emphasis on a physical face have any valid meaning? The disciples on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognize Jesus from his physical appearance. Couldn’t he express through any form that served the need?” I understood being in Jesus’ presence but had never experienced the presence as a face. Despite my own questioning, I hoped Wendy would get what she needed out of this search, and she did.

A couple of weeks later, Wendy called, excited: “I got the answer to my prayer! Jesus came to me in meditation last night.”

“You mean you actually saw a face and knew it was Jesus?” I responded.

“I didn’t actually see the whole face, but all of a sudden, two of the most loving, compassionate eyes came into focus. Waves of emotion rolled over me. Those eyes were captivating, and I knew it was Jesus. I could feel his presence all around me, and I knew I was his disciple. I’ll never forget those eyes.”

Intrigued, I asked, “What exactly did you do to bring this experience to you?”

Wendy replied, “Each evening as I started my meditation time, I would feel my deep desire to come face-to-face with Jesus and then I would ask to see Jesus’ face. I would wait a few moments and then go on with meditation, knowing someday my request would be granted.

“Last night I did the same thing. Then, partway through my normal meditation time, Jesus’ eyes unexpectedly came into focus. From there on, the experience was overwhelming and I felt a closeness to Jesus like I’d never felt before.”

The intellect immediately wants to tear Wendy’s experience apart. Did she really see Jesus’ eyes, or did her imagination just create a picture? And of course, were those eyes blue or brown? None of that really matters. Wendy experienced her connection with Jesus Christ as her spiritual teacher in such a deep way: she knew what it meant to be Jesus’ disciple on such a deep level that her life would never again be the same. She broke ground on the spiritual frontier. She accomplished it all by “asking” and continuing to ask.

Asking in prayer for the spiritual experience you seek is a standard practice that the explorer will use over and over to start his or her inward journey. It’s basic, but effective.

The Power of Affirmation

The next tool to employ is affirmation. Many of us began our inner spiritual quest with such affirmations as these: I live in the midst of abundance, God life is healing my body, divine order is established in all my life and affairs, God’s wisdom guides me, lam drawing my perfect mate, and God is in charge of my life. It is hard to imagine that such kindergarten practices will carry us to the cutting edge of spiritual discovery. Yet affirmation is one of the standbys for getting things rolling.

I used affirmation extensively during the early years of my spiritual awakening. Much later I realized I had shied away from the rote use of a simple statement over and over. It seemed that after years of study, I was more advanced than that. Affirmation was for beginners.

Farther down the path, I had to reassess this conclusion. After all, Eastern teachings were using mantras and wazifas to carry their disciples into the highest of spiritual experience. An affirmation is nothing more than a simple prayer statement used over and over. As such, it functions much as a mantra, except in English. Thus maybe there was a more skilled way to use this simple technique: something that went beyond an attempt to program the subconscious.

I remembered a retreat lecture given by Eric Butterworth. He had stated, “There are two types of affirmation: the programming statement and the power statement.” He explained that with the programming statement one is attempting to put an idea into the subconscious mind. Repetition is supposed to aid this process. Repeating the affirmation hundreds of times eventually works, but each statement alone has little impact because it begins in the outer and is aimed at changing the level of mind that controls habitual thinking.

The alternate use of affirmation is the power statement. Here the energy travels in the opposite direction. One takes the statement of Truth into the heart and feels it to the depth of his or her being. When the experience reaches fullness, the words rise to the surface and are spoken aloud with the power of inner realization. An affirmation spoken once in this fashion carries more energy than a thousand programming statements.

Using this concept dredged up from memory, I began anew to work with affirmation. Soon I discovered that this primary technique goes far beyond kindergarten. The hammer and chisel remain the same, but they produce different results when used by the novice and the adept.

The higher use of affirmation first surfaced for me on a road trip many years ago. I had just driven two and a half hours to a large city airport to drop off two close friends who were journeying to their new home. It was a wonderful adventure, and I was happy for them. Yet I mourned their leaving. It would leave a gap in my life, at least for a little while.

I had driven my old pickup truck in order to transport all of their earthly belongings. It had no radio, and I contemplated the different ways I could entertain myself on the trip back. I could indulge in a long, drawn-out “I’m-so-sad-over-the-loss-of-my-friends” party. (Isn’t it strange how we can actually enjoy an occasional side trip through misery?) I could let my mind run free, frolicking through TV sitcom plots, people encounters, imaginary happenings, and all sorts of meaningless tripe. Or a third possibility occurred to me: I could attempt to keep my mind centered on affirmations for two and a half hours, just to see if I could do it. I opted for the challenge of this third choice.

I selected the statement My life is filled with love and joy! and began the endurance test. My mind wandered shortly, and I dutifully brought it back to the task at hand. This happened several times before I considered that the problem lay in the fact that my affirmation, though spoken aloud enthusiastically, wasn’t stirring up much energy to keep centered upon.

Speaking the Word

Realizing that I had, thus far, used only repetition (the programming affirmation), I decided to change my approach. I slowed down the words, striving to feel the meaning of each word as I spoke it. I would stop, momentarily, following the word love and attempt to feel the energy this word represented rising from the depths of my being. Likewise, I would stop after the word joy, reaching for the experience of that energy.

The first few times I was relatively unsuccessful, but after several tries, I was able to feel love for a fraction of a second after I spoke the word, then joy for a fraction of a second after I spoke that word. Now the practice gained in excitement. With each cycle, I could feel the energies grow stronger and last for a longer time. Eventually, the experience began with the actual speaking of the word as well as following it. The result was electrifying.

I decided to strengthen the statement: I am filled with Love and Joy. The affirmation was evolving as I absorbed more of the divine energies and realized my declaration could ascend to a higher form.

After an hour of affirming in this expanded way, without my attention wavering once, I was saturated with love and joy. I could have gone another hour, but I became enthusiastic about adding another energy to my repertoire. I headed for an affirmation of confidence. Then an affirmation of my relationship as a child of God.

By the end of the journey, I had succeeded in affirming for two and a half hours straight. The experience of expanded affirmation was so compelling that success had not required great effort. This was a new way to use this basic tool that I intended never to forget. I emerged from my pickup floating on air and maintained this spiritual high for days.

Since that time, I have continually depended upon this form of affirmation to kick off spiritual exploration as well as to fall back on it when I get bogged down.

The key to powerful affirmation is to feel the most important words with special emphasis. Reach inward for the energy experience that these selected words are meant to convey. Each word is spoken as if you have called someone’s name and are listening attentively within yourself for the sound of approaching footsteps. Even if you have no idea what that spiritual energy will actually feel like, your vigilance will eventually be rewarded by the sense of “approaching footsteps” and, finally, the actual presence of the spiritual experience you are calling.

Choose a short, simple, direct statement about your objective. Select your primary word or words carefully. Often several words will describe the spiritual experience you seek. List them all. Try out the list to determine which is the strongest or piques the most feeling for you. Sometimes the classic word in the list feels overused or worn out. If this is the case, select a fresh one that has more spark.

The selected focus word should be surrounded by a sentence that clearly states the goal in full completion. Include an I am, me, or my life, my mind, my heart, my body, and so on, to pull it out of the abstract into personal experience. Use God, Divine, Spirit, the Almighty, the Christ, and so on, in your statement to connect your goal to its true source. You can also do this by using a God-word to modify the energy you seek, such as Divine Love, God’s love, or the love of the Almighty. A shortened version is to speak only the word for the spiritual energy you seek, such as Love, Joy, Life, and Abundance, realizing each time that this is truly another name for God.

Put the affirmation together in a succinct statement that ties you to God by way of the spiritual experience to which you aspire. Divide the affirmation into words or phrases that can be accompanied by separate inner experiences of what the words mean.

As you speak each phrase, reach inward to try to experience the energy you have named or the image of action created by the words. Pause to feel an experience accompanying the words. Then move to the next phrase and reach for the feeling experience that these new words describe. When you finish, start the cycle of words and feelings again. Strive for a more expanded inner experience each time you affirm.

Examples of how this process might be used could be as follows:

God’s love fills my heart. God’s love—feel the all encompassing warmth of God’s love as you speak these words. Fills my heart—allow that energy to funnel into your heart, concentrate, and then overflow into the world around you.

I am a fountain of Divine Life. I am—move to the very center of your being. A fountain—feel a flow opening and bubbling forth within you. Of Divine Life—feel that bubbling essence as pure life of God flowing throughout your whole being.

I live in the kingdom. I live—center your energies and draw your awareness of your life to this center. In the kingdom—let the sense of wealth in all things tangible and intangible burst into awareness within you and all around you. In this instance, the word kingdom is used as the name for God’s state of absolute abundance in all things.

Divine Will takes command of my will. Divine Will—sense the part of God that directs all creation toward the highest good of the whole. Takes command—feel it moving with absolute authority. Of my will—surrender before this movement of absolute authority. Feel your desire diminishing and a higher, nobler presence taking hold of your being to use it for God’s purposes.

I am at peace. I am—move to the center of your being. At peace—peace here is another name for God’s presence. Feel this divine energy state released in the midst of you, quieting all discord, and nurturing you on the deepest levels.

As you see, there are an infinite number of applications of this process. Make each repetition of the words an attempt to feel the energies involved and their movements through you. The more times you repeat the process, the greater depth of meaning each word or phrase will carry for you. There is far too much going on to get bored.

The Power of Imagery

The next most useful tool for awakening spiritual experience is imagery. Like its brother, affirmation, it can be approached from different depths.

One begins by steadily holding in mind a visual image that expresses the chosen area of spiritual realization. This becomes a prayer statement in picture form. Once again, power is instilled in the practice by adding the feeling aspect.

If your objective were to touch divine healing life, you would begin with affirmation and reach inward to feel the energies of the words. Then you would augment this with an image of that healing life filling your being. You might visualize divine life as a white light descending from the heights of Christ consciousness through the top of your head and flowing into every section of your body. You might further see this light of life flowing through your mind, infusing all of your thoughts.

If you have a hard time making these pictures appear in your mind’s eye, realize that imagery doesn’t have to be strictly visual. In fact, it needs to become much more than a picture to be effective. We have all manner of ways to perceive—seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling, tasting, sensing in that sixth-sense way, and ultimately, knowing that a thing is happening. Effective imagery uses all of these forms of perception to transport you into the experience. If a visual picture eludes you, concentrate on a level of perception that comes naturally to you.

Many years ago I learned the power of concentration through visualization when someone suggested I try the simple spiritual practice of seeing myself glowing in light. Actually, I thought the practice was oversimplified at first but changed my mind after using it. The entire instructions were to see yourself glowing in light and continue to do so for twenty minutes.

I decided to devote my nightly meditation to this. I began by visualizing my body glowing in light and the radiance reaching out a foot or two in all directions. The image was partly “visual,” partly “feeling” or “sensing” light around me, and a great deal of “knowing” that I was glowing in light.

At first it was quite a task to keep my attention on this inner image. I continually had to return my mind to the perception of body radiance. Success seemed to depend upon discipline and will.

After ten or fifteen minutes of sustained visualization, there was a shift in the character of the meditation. Suddenly, I was no longer trying to see myself glowing in light. I was no longer using will to keep an image in mind. I was experiencing the radiance of my being, naturally and effortlessly. I found myself joyously in the midst of realization of the divine Light, of my spiritual Self. What began as imagery opened the door to the real experience.

How do I know it wasn’t a momentary fantasy? I had a quiet, deep knowing that makes the experience more real than the physical world. Yet beyond this, the spiritual hangover lasted the whole next day. Everything flowed. I got ready in the morning with a half hour to spare. I accomplished all of my tasks that day in half the normal time. Everywhere I went, order prevailed and events seemed to coordinate almost miraculously.

The objective of imagery is not to create a spiritual fantasy world. It is to use the image held in mind as a point of concentration until we are able to embrace the real experience of a higher energy. This real experience will likely not be just as you visualized it. At the very least, the richness and character of the energy will be a pleasant surprise as it carries you far above your feeble attempt to capture it in an image. Realization changes your life. Anything short of that is fiction.

Many people are so eager for immediate success that they settle for fantasies of spiritual realization. Real results may come quickly, or they may demand years of striving. Question seeming success that doesn’t show results in your life. Continue with your practices until you break through fantasy to the real spiritual experience that lies beyond.

Up to now, we have described imagery as static concentration. In this usage, it is the equivalent of an affirmation in picture form. When this tool is extended into the state of meditation, called contemplation, it becomes fluid. It can carry the experience gained from affirmation to a deeper, more intense level.

In contemplation, the mind (having been disciplined through concentration) is given freedom to think about the spiritual objective and see what it can discover. If love were the focus, the creative side of mind would be allowed to contemplate the ways love could express in one’s life, the results a flow of love might create, what it would feel like to have this energy flowing through one on a constant basis, and so on.

Fluid imagery becomes the natural extension of mental contemplation as all manner of pictures and scenarios arise out of the creative part of mind. Pictures evolve into other pictures. Scenarios become imaginary journeys, leading to places we haven’t consciously planned to visit. Experiences evolve, changing along with the visual progression. Eventually, something triggers a breakthrough and the inner play dissolves under the onslaught of higher energies.

In practice, we would begin with an affirmation, concentrating on the flow of energy that the words describe. When we feel something, we would allow inner creativity to supply images or a journey that expresses the feeling we’ve been able to touch. Or we contemplate the possibilities surrounding the energy we’ve been striving for and create an imaginary scenario that helps us explore our mental perceptions in regard to this spiritual objective.

For example, a number of years ago I decided I wanted to isolate the spiritual energy that created abundance and integrate it firmly into my consciousness. The first step was to choose the main word and create an affirmation. I concluded that abundance was an overused and stale word for me. I finally settled on plenty because it felt fresh and carried a charge for me. My life is filled with plenty became my affirmation.

Each day I would crawl up on the roof of my house (where I was doing my meditation at that time) and begin by repeating this statement: My life is filled with plenty. I would stop to feel the energy of the word plenty with each declaration. Then I would move into a contemplation stage and consider what a life filled with plenty would mean and how it would feel. From the contemplated feeling of plenty, I evolved a vision which seemed to embody that feeling.

I would see myself walking down a road, the path of my life. This road stretched into the infinite future, winding around hills and going all manner of places I couldn’t see from where I walked. Yet I knew that around every bend, God had a wonderful surprise for me.

I could feel the gifts coming to me. As I walked down this path, I claimed each gift, though it didn’t necessarily take a certain form. I would keep sensing all the new surprises coming to me. I walked through this visualization for extended periods of time each day for six weeks.

One day, in the midst of this visualization journey, an overwhelming energy surged out of my heart and overwhelmed me with emotion. I realized: This is it! This is the energy of abundance.

The energy swept over me, shattered the visualization, and carried me upward of its own accord.

In the midst of my ecstasy, I thought, How will I describe this energy? I realized it was hauntingly familiar. It was almost like something I already knew. The word finally came into focus. It was gratefulness—overwhelming gratefulness. Weave that energy into your consciousness and you will know abundance.

It was the fluid image that had taken me to the doorway of realization and pushed me through . This tool has thousands of adaptations. As you reach for any of the heights, create an image that expresses where you want to go and let it evolve.

Like affirmation, the imaginary journey is repeated over and over. Each time, it etches a deeper experience. The same fluid image can be used repeatedly, or the journey can be unique and new each time. If the vision changes, the process that creates the journey remains constant. In this way, each imaginary experience still revolves around the same original objective. Eventually, enough energy gathers to allow you to break beyond imagery into the real spiritual experience.

I will briefly address one, last basic tool. It is abstract and difficult to capture in words. In subtle ways though, it carries tremendous power. I call it “the intent of your being.”

The Power of Intention

Intention is a powerful mind energy. It seems to override verbal meanings and even visual images as long as the underlying intent is clear and strongly held.

A Native-American medicine man once interviewed a potential patient. His most important question was “Why do you want to be healed?” The healer went on to explain that “I just want to feel better” would not be a good enough answer. The injured man explained what he wanted to do with his life, how he would serve if he were able to move freely again. The medicine man finally decided there was enough “purpose” in the man’s desire to be healed to warrant the efforts of his healing ceremony.

By first asking the aspirant to state clear intention, the Native-American healer set a precedent that all spiritual explorers should follow. When embarking upon a journey of spiritual awakening, we must ask ourselves two questions: “What purpose will this awakening serve?” and “How intent am I upon this goal?”

The first question reminds us of our commitment to serving the whole. If our purpose lies only in personal gratification, intent is attached to a weak objective and the odds favor failure. We need to be very clear about why we seek success and what we would do with it.

The second question deals with our level of commitment to the path when faced with increasing difficulties. Here again, we must know that we have an unswerving will to awaken this spiritual experience in our lives. We must connect the entire purpose of our existence to the spiritual awakening we seek. We must know that we will endure through seeming failure for as long as it takes to reach success.

To place the intent of your being upon a goal, first place your will on the objective. If healing life were your objective, you would declare to yourself, “My intention is to awaken healing life.” You would feel the energy of will pouring out of your forehead and attach it to “awakened healing life,” a goal that visually lies before you. That pathway of intention becomes like an unbreakable cord which now attaches you to the objective.

If the objective, healing life, is firmly attached to higher purpose, your cord of intent is attached to a mountain that cannot be moved. If your commitment is to stick with your task until achieved, no matter how long it takes, the cord cannot be broken. It acts like a tractor beam that slowly, yet unyieldingly, draws you toward the awakening experience.

Intention is more than will. Will can tire. Intention perseveres, even through extended periods of seeming failure. Feel the attachment of will to start the process. Then align desire from every level of your being along the cord of intent. Fix the intent of your whole being upon the spiritual goal and know that once you have done this, you will be moving toward the objective whether you are consciously thinking of it or not.

It is not your will trying to force an outcome. It is not your conscious thought or your subconscious patterns creating the result. It is not your desire alone drawing you forward. It is all of the above and much more. Your entire being has the quiet, easy, steadfast knowing of where you are going. Your purpose in living is fulfilled by achieving the goal. Thus all the spiritual forces in the world are drawing you toward awakening. God is leading you upon a path uniquely designed for this particular spiritual discovery.

Your individual efforts come from a different level entirely. The intent of your being, once attached to the objective, functions effortlessly, using everything in your life to lead you to the goal. You will remember your intention on a regular basis to reinforce your efforts. Yet once established, the intent of your being functions very much on its own, with or without your conscious concentration.

Events that seem to veer away from success mysteriously work together to draw you closer to awakening. Long periods of “hitting a blank wall” finally abate, leaving you on higher ground. It all becomes part of one flow, winding its way toward the goal and tied together by your overall intent.

Once you have reached out and embraced your spiritual aspiration with the intent of your being, success is ensured. All that is left is negotiation of time and effort. You gently know that everything you encounter in life will make a contribution toward your awakening. Often this will happen in ways you cannot fathom.

Any spiritual journey worth taking deserves your full cooperation by attaching to it the intent of your being. Total commitment is a tool to be used in all cutting-edge exploration.

© 2001, Robert L. Marshall
All rights reserved by the author.
Reprinted with permission.