Monday, July 4, 2011

Don't Be Afraid To Turn Inward

Yesterday while I was on the bus on the way home from the Sunday morning service at my spiritual centre, a question came to my mind, which was followed by several thoughts. The question: What are the things or thought patterns that cause us to be afraid of turning inward? Why are we so scared of being by ourselves and truly with ourselves?

I think that many of us at one time or another in our lives get caught up in living "from the outside in." We can become a series of reactions to everything and everyone around us, rather than living out our unique selves. This kind of living can become very frustrating, as we effectively become chameleons, people who change into someone else for each person or situation that we are surrounded by. We can become desperate for people or things around us to make us feel better, and that can make us feel, well, desperate!

I think that we need to learn more and more each day to instead turn inward and become comfortable in doing so. This is not loneliness or isolation that I'm talking about, this is not signing up for the priesthood. Rather, this is a sense of inner space that we can develop in the middle of our sometimes-busy everyday lives. But this means spending more time getting comfortable with ourselves, feeling at ease in our own skin - two things that we may have had awful difficulties with during our lives. And why is that? Two possibilities immediately jump out at me.

Firstly, I think many of us grew up with the belief that we can't rely on ourselves. Perhaps we've been told that we are born weak and needy (or even sinful) and therefore are in need of an outside source to "make us better." Relying on ourselves, our inner strength and wisdom, can be viewed as being prideful, which more often than not has been seen as a bad thing. To sum up this belief in a phrase: "You are not enough. There's something missing, you need to spend your life finding something or someone to make you complete." Maybe that is a a friend, a romantic partner, or perhaps a God who is far off in the sky.

Secondly, a common reason why people feel that they cannot turn inward for wisdom and strength is because they were never able to develop a strong individual sense of self. That development may have taken a back seat to simply trying to survive trauma - perhaps at school, at home, etc. Being alone was not something to look forward to; rather, it often meant pain. These emotions and thought patterns can stay with us for years. Even though we may not be in that traumatic situation anymore, we still don't handle being alone very well. Rather than face those emotions, we can start filling up our schedules so that we're always busy and distracting ourselves. Suppression and more suppression.

How then do we turn inward? How do we become more comfortable in our own skin?

Firstly, I think that the long-held belief that we are born weak and needy and even somehow flawed should be let go like a weight off our shoulders. I believe that we are not born incomplete and thus in need of something or someone to make us better. We are born with all that we need, and children should be taught how to discover their innate goodness from day one. Anytime that a child (or anyone for that matter) is told that they must find their worth in something or someone outside of themselves, there is a potential for bigtime problems. Friends, family members, religion, etc. should not serve to make us better people, rather they should be avenues by which we celebrate our innate beauty.

Secondly, we must find a way to let go of our trauma. "But you don't know the hell I've gone through Mark, you don't realize just how painful my life has been!"

Firstly, I hear you, my friend.

Secondly, I do know what it is like to experience great trauma. I won't go into detail here, but feel free to e-mail me if you like and perhaps we can talk further. Let's just say that I have experienced that hell that you're talking about. While I may not know your exact circumstance, I know those feelings. In this light, I say again, we must find a way to let go of our trauma. This often does not happen with the simple wave of a magic wand or even by sheer will-power sometimes. Dogs may be called man's best friend, but I say that therapists are a close second. (Haha, I hope that none of my former therapists are reading this right now, it sounds like I'm comparing them to a cocker spaniel!) But I'm serious, if you don't have a therapist now, I encourage you to start researching and find a suitable one. We often need help from an uninvolved third party in order to let go of the pain that is holding us back. This is often not a "one-visit-fixes-all" kind of thing. It could take quite a long time. But it's worth it.

Finally, the ultimate goal here is to become comfortable enough in our own skin that we can turn inward, trust ourselves, like ourselves, and stop needing the approval of others, which can be awfully exhausting. Whether we are on a silent retreat, driving to work, or in the middle of a packed shopping mall, we can always turn inward and find peace within.

Blessings to you today,

Mark Andrew