I use many metaphors in teaching spiritual work. One that works well with many people is the image of the temple, the field and the fence.
I imagine a temple in a field. Inside the temple there are steps that lead up into the world of spirit – observer mind, clarity, insight, truth, justice, beauty & love, even into the realm of the holy and the mind of the Divine.
There are steps leading lower into the realm of the soul. The soul is the place where meaning is created and purpose is shaped. It is a mute realm that yearns to express itself in metaphors, poetry, music, religion, faith, and all manners of art. The soul is where the structure of our personality resides, including all of the lost parts of the self, each with its forgotten prayers. Our gifts and core wounds are located there and much more. Our entry into the heart of the Divine is found there.
The realm in the middle of the temple that mediates the higher and lower worlds is the realm of practical wisdom: insight into the self and others, understanding the ways of the world and the ways of the human heart, knowing how to mediate the realms of spirit and soul.
Surrounding this temple is a field, where we are in contact with the world. This is the realm where the noble virtues can be activated, such as Courage, Resilience, Honor, Fidelity, Discipline, Hospitality, Self Reliance, Industriousness, Perseverance, Serenity and so forth. The wise person knows when and how each of these noble virtues must be applied.
Also in the field, however, are the pits of bad energy – anger, resentment, depression, hopelessness, guilt, irrational obligation and a morbid need for approval, irrational fear, anxiety, envy and so forth. The wise person works to keep our consciousness away from these pits, but also to release the sparks of virtue hidden deep within them.
Surrounding the field is a fence. The work of the fence is to let good energy in and out, but to keep our own bad energy in and the bad energy of others out. The ecosystem needs good energy – we all need love, admiration, to belong, to be cherished, to be seen and understood. In the same manner, our good energy belongs out in the world, bringing light to the hearts of those whom we love. We can bring that good energy into the most mundane of places. You know those people: they just seem to bring good energy into the room.
If the bad energy of others, flowing from their own pits, gets into our field, this almost always causes the negativity of our own pits to issue forth. If the bad energy, ours or someone else’s, gets too close to our temple, we typically feel awful, having felt that our inner core is being threatened.
Spiritual work must focus on the field and fence, not only in the temple. We have to cultivate noble virtues and make them strong. We can’t let the bad energy of others penetrate us, making us toxic within. We certainly should not allow our bad energy, when it flows for whatever reason, from reaching out toward others. We must metabolize our own waste, and not inflict it on others and the world. This is one of the core duties of a moral and spiritual person.
The skill is to stay engaged in the world, to be fully present, but not to absorb their bad energy, nor let ours out on to them. When we strengthen the fence and work the field, the work in the temple of rising into spirit and descending into soul can take place.
We must work and guard the field.