I was in a meeting recently where a man with considerable inner and outer mastery indicated that we mistake ourselves if we think we are going to go "up" in our inner work, as though there were some kind of staircase we were ascending.
There is some truth to this. But I think it glosses over an important point relative to inner work.
We do, over time, become more open to higher influences if we work. This doesn't mean that we raise ourselves from this level into another loftier one; it does mean that we become more available to the higher influences which are already around us. This doesn't involve a change in the level we occupy; but it does involve a change in the range of levels we can experience. We are, essentially, receivers; and the analogy is close enough to give the example of a radio, which, if it has a poor antenna, might only receive one station, and that one, not clearly; whereas, with more sensitivity, and better reception, the radio suddenly receives a broad range of channels with content on religion, philosophy, and the arts, whereas beforehand all it got was a car talk show run by two mechanics.
This aim to become more open is simple enough; life is what's complicated. If I examine the way I handle things in life, I see I complicate everything with a lot of thinking and re-thinking; whereas the experience has no mental thought in it; it's direct and simple. If it isn't burdened by my strategies and rationalizations, but instead buoyed by a certain organic sense of optimism and intelligence, I can allow things to be as they are and inhabit them — instead of wishing they were different and plotting to change them.
If one really gets a close look at the rational mind, one begins to see how much conniving and intrigue it approaches life with. Everyone in the mind is like that. One has to be willing to walk away from that and become simpler in order for something to open; and becoming more open inevitably involves a greater sense of generosity and — the elephant in the room — compassion.
The word compassion means to suffer with another; to take on the suffering of another. That is to say, I not only put myself in another's shoes; I am willing to suffer with them and for them. (And, by the way, I can't stress this word generosity enough.)
It may seem odd to say that an aim in spiritual work is to suffer for another; yet Christ himself said it. Not only did he say it; the allegory of his crucifixion demonstrated it in practical ways.
This brings us back, as so many things do, to the principle of inwardness versus outwardness. Rightly oriented outwardness, which is born of an open inwardness, ought to always manifest as support for the other, by generosity. Our own personal lives and our societies are broken because of a failure to understand this properly. We live in a world where professing compassion for others consistently outcompetes practicing it. This is because the practice is born inwardly; but the profession is born outwardly.
As I recently put it, personality understands the form of compassion; but essence understands its function.