“Jung observed that the Aboriginal people of Australia spend two-thirds of their waking lives in some form of inner work… We modern people can scarcely find a few hours free in an entire week to devote to the inner world.”
– Robert Johnson, Inner Work: Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth
The time comes when life as you’ve been living it is no longer working. Perhaps you’ve been taken down by illness. Perhaps insomnia is punctuating your sleep night after night, week after week, year after year. Perhaps you’ve reached your breaking point with the incessant barrage of worry and intrusive thoughts that parade across your brain every hour of the day. Perhaps you’re exhausted by your lifelong tendency to absorb other people’s lives and care so much about what others think.
Guided by an extroverted culture that teaches us to externally-reference our sense of Self, we habitually reach outside of ourselves for relief: a psychic, a guru, a relationship, a job, a city, a therapist, a pill. Please, can someone or something rescue me from my pain. Fueled by an addictive avoidance of our inner world and a habit of not trusting our own authority, we believe that if we keep going, searching, Googling, reading, Facebooking, working, advancing, climbing the ladder, we can stave off the discomfort of our inner world.
Yet somewhere inside we know there is another way. When we stop even for a moment we know what that way is. We pause. We breathe. We lie in bed one morning and sit with the gauzy dream that hangs on the edge of consciousness. We realize, in a rare moment of unwavering truth-telling and stillness, that the way we’ve been living is no longer working. And then we know that the time has come to turn inward.
Anxiety, intrusive thoughts, worry, insomnia: they are messengers from soul. What we call symptoms are actually little boats of wisdom paddling along the canals of our psyches bearing gifts. I know it’s hard to believe when you’re drowning in the frothy currents of anxiety, but that’s because we have bought into one of our culture’s greatest amnesias: We have forgotten how to tend to soul. We have forgotten how to turn inward and nourish the inner world, to get to know who we are, to engage with the symbols and characters that populate our inner landscapes. And when we don’t turn inward, the inner world will grab our attention in other ways. It grabs and yells and waves its red flags in the form of anxiety, intrusive thoughts, insomnia and other “neuroses” until we finally stop and ask: What is needed? What are the messages inside these symptoms?
We simply don’t realize that inside the darkness lives great wisdom. We don’t trust that we can be the guides along our own pathways of discovery. We learn early on to place our self-trust outside of ourselves, buying into the myth that everyone else knows better than us. Without self-trust, we are boats lost at sea, searching for the lighthouse of someone else’s wisdom.
The answers aren’t out there. Happiness doesn’t live in the perfect job or marriage or house or family (not to mention the fact that perfection itself is a fantasy). And yet we’re taught from nearly our first breath to externalize our sense of self, to believe that others know better than we do and if we can achieve just so, we will find the Holy Grail. When we hand our authority over to others, we lose touch with our inner, intrinsic compass that allows us to know ourselves and trust ourselves. When we buy into the insidious myth that well-being lives in the fantasy of external perfection, we stand little chance of finding true meaning and fulfillment.
The answers dwell within. And they aren’t answers so much as guideposts, inner experiences with which we must actively engage if we are to create a rich and meaningful life. By this I mean we take time each day to slow down, turn inward and ask, “What is happening inside my mind and body right now? What is it that wants to be known?” Again, we’re not looking for answers; that’s the linear, achievement-oriented way that believes that there is a single answer to the complexity of life and when we arrive at it we’ll hear the ding-ding-ding of the game show bell. Guided by curiosity and a genuine desire to know ourselves, we’re looking to encounter what lives underneath the surface of our lives.
Yet the habit is so strong to reach outward, not only to esteemed and perceived wise others, but now more than ever, because of our technological and fast-paced age, toward external distractions like a digital device or a sleeping aid or to internal distractions like ruminations and intrusive thoughts. We so desperately want to avoid the fundamental groundlessness of our being. Conditioned by a culture that pounds us with the belief that the answers are “out there” we naturally reach outward when we come face to face with our pain
But there is another way. When we find the courage to turn inward, to become curious about the labyrinths and tunnels that comprise our inner world, everything changes. We become our own lighthouse. We no longer care so much about what others think. We’re no longer consumed by the search for perfection. We have room to make mistakes – and recognize that it’s through mistakes that we learn. Living in the flow of self-trust and trust in life, life becomes more fun. We feel curious. We soften into compassion, both for ourselves and others. We connect to our intrinsic gifts and aren’t afraid to take the risk of sharing them with the world.
A library as big as the universe lives inside of you, waiting for you to sit down in some dimly lit, quiet corner so that you can discover its contents. Are you ready to learn? Is so, please join me for my next round of Trust Yourself: A 30-day program to help you overcome your fear of failure, caring what others think, perfectionism, difficulty making decisions, and self-doubt. The course is now open for registration and it will begin on August 1st, 2015.