Why Inward Is The Only Way Forward
Like many, I like to travel – and I relocated quite a lot. At first, between houses, then cities, then countries, and ultimately, between continents too. But by far the most life-altering direction I ever moved in, is inward. If you want to move forward with anything in life, I discovered, it’s not outward traveling you need; the real journey is inward.
With all of my travels and moving around, I found that no matter where I am in the world at any given moment, you are exactly in the same place.
What I’m referring to here is not the place where you consider yourself to be physically located though. I am talking about the place where you’re experiencing your external environment from; inside.
The only place you, me, and everyone else can ever be, is inside. And this is more significant than we tend to think. Because it determines our experience of every single thing that happens on the outside. Our day-to-day. Our relationships. Our work. Our well-being. Everything. Without exception.
And yet, when our internal experience at any given moment is not of our liking, our first response tends to be: let’s change the outside environment or the external situation we find ourselves in. We break up with that person. Find a new job. Or relocate, again and again. If we even progress to change anything at all.
But if you truly want forward movement in the experience of your life, inward, I have found, is the only way to go.
inward definition: 1. on or towards the inside: 2. inside your mind and not expressed to other people.
[attributive] Directed or proceeding towards the inside; coming in from outside.
‘a graceful inward movement of her wrist’
1.1 Existing within the mind, soul, or spirit, and often not expressed.
‘she felt an inward sense of release’
The only way is in
Think about it: when you see things or hear something, when you feel, smell and taste – where is this experienced? When you think, where is your thought? And a moment later, where is it now?
You are where I am because there’s really only one place where any of us can go.
If you have never really pondered this on a deeper level before, I’d like to invite you to join me on this little exploration here today. As the journey inward is such a highly rewarding one, that I am not afraid to state that it is the most profound one we can ever undertake. And the only one that leads to significant positive forward movement in our outer realities.
“A man who as a physical being is always turned toward the outside, thinking that his happiness lies outside him, finally turns inward and discovers that the source is within him.”
– Soren Kierkegaard
How my own challenge arose from the inside out
Over the course of my life, I have encountered many obstacles that seemed insurmountable at the time. Like a big love lost through a painful break-up for instance. Or another love lost before it ever was truly “obtained.” I’ve experienced heartbreak upon heartbreak and setback upon setback when it came to men. And in these moments, I often asked myself: why? Why does this have to happen to me? And why does it have to happen again and again? Why does love have to be so hard?
The explanations my mind came up with weren’t exactly pretty either. They weren’t kind or gentle. They were relentless. The thoughts entering my mind told me that I was not worthy of being loved. That I wasn’t good enough. Not interesting. Not beautiful. Simply not a loveable person in any kind of way.
If only I were more pretty, those men would have stayed, I’d think. If only I were more kind, they would have liked me better. Or maybe I should be less kind. I should probably be way more of “this.” And less of “that.” Basically, I believed that if I were just anyone but me, maybe, just maybe, I’d be worthy then.
But the truth was: love never had to be this hard. Love was never even the problem, to begin with.
The problem I was facing here, time and time again, were my own beliefs, my own thoughts, and my own ideas about love. The only thing that needed attention were those.
I needed attention. Inside. I needed to heal myself from the damage that I had been imposing upon myself. I needed to see – inside – how totally and utterly worthy and loveable I am. Just like everyone else.
To choose or not to choose, that is the question
How would you like to experience yourself, and the world we live in? Imagine for a minute: if you would have the total liberty to change anything about the way in which you are being right now, what it would be? Would you be happy? Would you be kind? Would you be generous? Would you be well?
Think about it and then decide. For you may not be able to control all that happens in your physical surroundings or social environment. But what happens inside of you, you do get to choose.
Yes, choose. Read it again if you will. Because you really can choose to be in whatever state you’d like to be in.
When I first heard a friend tell me this, I was flabbergasted (too). My first responses: but what about authenticity? What about being real with the difficult situations that you encounter in your life? What about honesty? Not everything is great, right? Some experiences aren’t positive. If we just choose to be positive all the time, where then lies the truth about who we are?
Find the storyteller inside and tell it a new story
It took me some time to come to this understanding, but the truth about who we are is not accurately told by the stories we tend to tell ourselves about who we are. Question those. Vigorously. Especially the stories you may tell yourself that limit your perspective on what you’re capable or worthy of.
Narrate your life story deliberately
Deliberately choosing states, I’ve discovered, also does not mean negative emotions or feelings will not arise anymore. They do and they will. And that’s perfectly fine. So, you might wonder, what changes then upon your decision to be a certain way?
Less time for BS
Well, firstly, the amount of time you spend being with any of the emotions or feelings that you don’t like. How often, for instance, do you experience stress or feelings of anger or frustration? Every now and then? Every (week) day? Every night? Every hour?
Whatever your honest answer is, it’s nothing to worry about. In fact, rejoice however often you get to experience these feelings.
“Wait, wut?”, you might say,”Rejoice negative feelings? Why?”
Because – and here’s the second thing that changes once you start choosing the state you want to be in – negative emotions are opportunities now. Opportunities to reflect on what it is you may like to consider changing.
Rejoice and reflect
It may be a thought pattern, a belief, a relationship, a job, a house, whatever it is. It could be anything. But something surely is demanding your attention on the inside when negativity comes up.
Now, instead of dwelling on these negative energies and forces, you can use them to your benefit. And that’s the third very noticeable change: no more melodrama you’ll drown in. Unless, of course, you choose to.
Negativity becomes your guide away from that which you would like to experience less of and will help you move towards that which you would like to experience more of in your life. It’s really that simple.
All emotions, the “good” and the “bad,” offer you a great guiding system. They provide you with the perfect guidance to select which thoughts you’d like to entertain more, which people you’d like to see more often, which type of work you’d like to do, which activities you’d like to undertake, and which of any of these you could honestly do better without.
“But wait,” you may say, “just knowing what does or doesn’t feel good doesn’t change the external circumstances that are causing me to feel such and such way. Right?” And I’d say: “True!”
“And,” you might add, “just knowing that something makes me feel bad, doesn’t give me the power to change it. Right?” But see, that’s where I’d say: “Wrong.” Because actually yes, we do have that power. But we may have forgotten.
Let the rewiring begin
Our lovely but very primal reptilian brains have been wired in such a way that we are largely focused on “survival.” Hence, we’ve been blessed with a negativity bias that is meant to protect us from dangerous situations like tigers in the jungle. This bias, however, no longer serves us very well in our new environment. In fact, it often keeps us strenuously focused on that which we perceive as bad, painful or undesired.
And that what we focus on, grows.
We all create our own fears. We use statistics sometimes to reason ourselves in or out of our fears, but we still create them within ourselves. And fear, like everything else, can also only be experienced in that one place where you and I both are right now.
What we chose to fear is different for everyone. For some it may be speaking in public, for others, it may be meeting new people, or falling love, or losing money, or getting ill. But whatever we chose to fear will then become the self-created determinant of our life experience. We go about our days actively trying to prevent certain scenarios, limiting ourselves along the way.
This, of course, does not mean we should not run from a tiger when we encounter one. But there is no need to be on the lookout for one of those when they’re nowhere near to begin with, or when there’s no eminent reason to be on the lookout for this type or any type of danger.
We need to do some rewiring.
Fear, however, is not the only thing that often comes as a bad counselor. There are many other things we believe about ourselves and our lives that we consider to be true, that actually may not be true at all (anymore). Or maybe just partially true.
It‘s certainly true that we cannot control the things, people, circumstances or events happening to us (or better: “for us”) in the instantaneous way we may sometimes desire. But we can change the internal environment where we experience it from.
If you’re hungry for instance, your food doesn’t cook itself. Is that a cause for frustration then, or a call for action? You get to choose. And if you have a crush on someone, you cannot simply “make them” fall for you if they’re not interested too. Would that be a cause for frustration then? Again, you choose.
We can, always, in each and every single moment, again and again, change the only one place where we ever reside. The place where you and I both are right now and always will be: inside.
Even in the face of adversity. Even in times of trouble.
So how come then – you might wonder – does it seem to be utterly impossible to choose to be happy, satisfied, grateful, or any other positive way of being, when dealing with obstacles, emotional pain or physical ailments?
This story is not coming from someone who didn’t face her “fair” share of stressors and pain. I, too, have dealt with major setbacks, disappointments, losses, depressions, break-ups, diseases, meltdowns, and near burnouts. I know the experience of feeling stuck. Of facing things or situations that seem “impossible” to overcome. But were they, really?
However long some cases may have taken me, all of these so-called “bad” experiences have been the perfect guides to turn into the only direction where one can ever turn to make a difference in one’s life: inward.
Wherever you go, there you are
Keep your focus on what’s happening outside of yourself if you please. But here you will find, again and again, you cannot control or change people, circumstances, outcomes or results as you see fit. At least not all of the time. The stress or feelings of frustration that may come with that, are the gentle – and sometimes not so gentle – invitation to look at what’s inside.
Becoming aware of this has changed everything for me. Do I still encounter stress, sadness or feelings of discomfort? Absolutely. But do I know where to go when I do? I guess by now, you’d know my answer.
This incredibly important, powerful and determining part of our entire experience of life here on earth – our mind, heart, spirit, and soul – so many of us don’t take the conscious and deliberate time to explore.
Most of us don’t like to spend time alone. We like to distract ourselves. We’d rather watch tv, scroll through our Facebook feeds, meet people, and go out to do things than face some of the discomfort we haven’t allowed ourselves to feel in the past.
We don’t like to just sit with ourselves and experience the emotions that are coming up. We’d much rather turn outward for solutions and relief.
But if we want any, and I mean truly ANY part of our life experience to change, inward is the way to go. Because everything that shows up in your external environment can only be experienced on the inside. And once you truly understand this and change your experience there, that what shows up on the outside, changes too.
Are you ready to “travel” or “relocate” to where you most long to be?
Then check out this amazing talk from one of my favorite spiritual teachers Tara Brach (it includes some very helpful daily exercises).
Moving forward, how do you choose to be?