Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Living from the Inside Out

I’ve been thinking about life change a lot recently—what drives it, what directs it, what sustains it—and I keep coming back to a phrase I heard a friend use some time ago: “living from the inside out.” She meant she wanted to live her life as an expression of who she truly is instead of trying to be someone she was taught she was supposed to be. To be driving her life instead of just being a passenger. Sound familiar?

Almost without exception, we were raised to look outside ourselves for validation and approval. As adults, it’s no wonder then that so many of us don’t really know who we are or what we want. We are not used to being asked that question in a fundamental way. Even considering it can bring up fears of not surviving (psychologically if not physically) if we don’t conform to what we believe is expected of us. And yet …

Remember an event in your life where you were in the “flow,” where you felt happy, excited, peaceful, powerful. Where time expanded into a limitless Now. Close your eyes and revisit that experience. Notice what you are thinking, if you are thinking of anything. What sensations are present in your body? How would you describe your emotions? Is there a sense of connectedness, of rightness, of being home?

Want to spend more time in that place? Want to feel more alive? Of course you do. Me, too! So, why don’t we? One hindrance is what I call “Yes, but.” The tape goes something like this: “Yes, I want to live more fully, but if I do … I will let down the people who depend on me … the world would fall apart if everyone did that … that would be too selfish … people won’t like/love me … eventually I’ll end up under a bridge and die.” Fill in your own variation of this script. What’s significant here is the “either/or” (dualistic) thinking this represents. There’s the trap.

How do we know we can’t be true to ourselves and also be happy, loved, successful, prosperous and, yes, responsible? I have been telling people recently that I noticed my house started getting cleaner after I began taking regular afternoon naps. Now I know that when the house gets untidy I need to pay more attention to taking care of myself BEFORE I pull out the vacuum. Being “selfish” increases the likelihood I will be “responsible.” Hmmm.

Because other people have projected their own fears onto us and then withheld their love and approval when we did anything that triggered those fears, we have been inhibited from exploring past the DANGER! signs they posted. I’m not suggesting you blindly and reactively do everything you were told not to do. I AM inviting you to stop and look deeply to see what is TRUE for YOU and then, as best you can in this moment, to act upon that information.

This week’s experiment

For the next week, here’s something to play with: pay attention to how you feel—mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually—as you make decisions moment by moment on what you say yes or no to. Do you feel alert or dull, enthusiastic or resistant, energized or tired, clear and decisive or conflicted? Do you feel differently when you say yes or no to the same thing at different times? Just notice—don’t try to change anything yet. You may want to write your observations in a journal. This is a great first step toward drawing a map of who you really are and what you really want. We’ll explore facing the fears that hold us back in a future session.

As the proverb says, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with the next step.” Let’s get moving! As you embark on this expedition of discovery, may the road rise up to meet you.

copyright 2008  Eugene Y. Smith, III. All rights reserved.

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