Watch my video message for the week!
NOTE: I have an updated version of this video I’m trying to upload from my hotel room, but the WiFi is not great. So if you hear references to a class conference call, it means I wasn’t successful in uploading the newer version of the video. Everything else in the video is up to date. Thanks for your understanding! (:
This week’s topic is The Road Inward and the materials are divided up into 3 parts:
- Week 2 Activities
- Week 2 Readings
You can read everything here online, or download the readings and activities as a PDF and read/work through them on paper. To download and print, just click this link: Week2online
Don’t forget to listen to the audio file here on the website! And have fun!
Here are our questions for this week:
- What does it mean to go inward?
- How do we go inward?
- What does going inward look like and feel like?
- What keeps us from going there?
We’re particularly going to look at the subtlety of going inward, the role of silence, and what hinders or helps that inward journey.
I don’t want to stay folded anywhere, for where I am folded, there I am a lie.
—Rainer Maria Rilke
WEEK ONE ACTIVITIES:
I. AWARENESS MEDITATION (Total time: 10-15 minutes)
The goal of this meditation is to begin to practice the subtle art of paying attention inwardly, first on the physical level, then the emotional, mental, and energetic.
Just listen and follow along:
Some questions for after the meditation (jot down your answers if possible):
- How was that? Easy? Difficult? What did you feel, see, or experience, if anything?
- How do you feel after the meditation—energetically, emotionally, mentally, and/or physically—compared to before? What state did the meditation put you in?
II. WRITING/REFLECTION EXERCISE:
We all spend a good portion of our lives focused externally, on work, responsibilities, loved ones, activities, etc. It can be challenging to find time to go inward, and sometimes we don’t even notice we’re not making space for that reflective time. Other times, we might be avoiding it for a variety of reasons, conscious or not.
Please consider the following questions by jotting down whatever comes to mind. This is just a thought experiment—there are NO right answers!
- What helps to bring YOU inward? What activities, circumstances, habits, or environments help you get quiet, tuned in, or connected to yourself?
- In what ways do you sometimes keep yourself distracted or outside of yourself? What activities, circumstances, habits, or environments do you use to stay outside of yourself?
- What are some reasons WHY you might avoid going inward? Why might you avoid it? What fears or prohibitions might keep you from making that space for yourself?
III. OPTIONAL for this week: Creating an Inner Self-portrait.
If you have time and feel like making some art, here’s a fun activity I like to do with my in-person groups. Using a piece of blank paper and some art supplies: crayons, pencils, markers, etc., spend a little time creating an “inner self-portrait.”
The idea is to explore your inner reality, and to let the activity itself be an open-ended exploration to see what emerges. Feel free to use words, pictures, colors, shapes—whatever occurs to you. Your drawing can be totally abstract, literal, whatever!
I’ve included an inner self-portrait I did last year here—but yours might look totally different! There’s no right way to do it.
WEEK 2 READINGS
Excerpt from the Guides:
When the soul has traveled every possible route toward fulfillment, through a countless number of human incarnations, the soul will finally realize there is only one way left: the inward way.
To venture into the self is to take the greatest journey. To know one’s heart is to know the heart of God.
When you turn inward—truly turn inward, with patience and forbearance for the turbulence that can arise at first—you will begin to hear the voice of God within.
It is through silence that we may become aware of the soul’s agenda and what it requires.
Mini-lecture from Thea: Going Inward
What does it mean to go inward?
It means taking our inner life seriously enough that we make time and space to honor it and to honor what we find there, even if it’s not always easy. It means finding our own way(s) of cultivating inner silence and actually making time to do them. Not letting our external lives and the demands on us be the only “truth” or reality, or the only thing that defines us.
What does going inward look and feel like?
Going within ourselves can look and feel all different ways. Messy. Unclear. Painful. Disorienting. Lonely. Scary. Frustrating. Pleasurable. Exciting. Confusing. Boring. Surprising. Uncomfortable without us quite knowing why. It might feel like nothing is happening, especially at first. Or, we might find ourselves crying without knowing why, or suddenly feeling angry, or depressed. Or we might feel suddenly exhausted for no apparent reason.
I have amazing stories from some of my former writing students about what happens when they start to write. Unexpected feelings surfacing: depression, anger, self-doubt, etc. My own experience with this kind of thing—in my twenties, my intense desire to write necessitated a going inward, which prompted a bunch of grief to come to the surface, which made me think I was doing it “wrong.” But actually, it was acknowledging the grief and working though it that led me deeper inward, to a clearer space from which I could create more easily and also discover a deeper source of wisdom. (I tell my story on my blog if you’re interested.)
We tend to feel we are “doing it wrong,” because it doesn’t feel the way we think it should. We often think we need to fix the “bad” emotions or get rid of them. We have romantic notions that are not particularly accurate in terms of how the inner life actually works.
Instead, if we can try to be brave and trust that WHATEVER we find when we go inward is OK and, in fact, meaningful and necessary and important, than we set in motion a really important and powerful process of self-discovery and openness to an even deeper level of awareness, knowing, receptivity, peace, etc. in the long run.
How do we prevent ourselves from going inward?
I’m guessing you came up with a bunch of examples in your writing exercise. Here are some I thought of: staying constantly busy and distracted. Staying focused on everyone else’s needs and problems. Staying constantly plugged in to phones, media, etc. Anything we use to “zone out,” particularly if it’s a habit that we rely on to manage our emotions or avoid pain (food, TV, drinking, etc.). Creating or participating in emotional drama, even if we don’t consciously want to. Not getting enough sleep, being constantly stressed, staying in “crisis mode” or “survival mode.”
For some, the fear of going inward is so great that they can spend a whole lifetime avoiding it, in all kinds of ways.
So HOW do we go inward?
What works is a bit different for everyone, but can include: sitting in silence. Doing nothing. Unplugging. Journaling. Making art. It can happen when you’re walking, doing yoga, meditation. It can happen while you’re getting a massage, or driving, or in the shower. It can mean taking the time to remember a dream. Listening to the body. Body work, energy work. Energy clearing techniques.
The importance of trusting the process/the path.
It’s normal that when we go inward, we might discover things we don’t like or don’t want to deal with within ourselves: anxiety, fear, sadness, anger, etc. We may discover that our mind is uncomfortably busy and may be jumping around all over the place. There may be neglected emotions we don’t want to feel. We may feel that in having those emotions, we are doing something wrong or need to shut it down again.
It is my experience that the way to the deeper self is often through emotional turbulence. It’s important to notice, acknowledge, and work through (to the extent we can) whatever emotions we find. The emotional body needs attention in its own right. There is value in emotional clearing as a practice: emotions have to be cleared before getting to the calm place of inner knowing. We can do this in lots of ways: letting it out in writing, emoting to a friend, making room for tears, etc.
Self-acceptance and self-love is key. Matt Kahn wrote a great book about the act of self-love in the moment called Whatever Arises, Love That.
Gradually, as we clear emotions (which is a process that we have to repeat again and again in my experience, and that we may need support with), we may notice a deeper kind of clearing within ourselves. We become more open and receptive, more “in tune” to what’s around us and inside of us. We may find ourselves noticing more creative ideas, urges, or hunches.
We might find ourselves repeatedly thinking about a certain person, or situation, or memory for whatever reason. Or a certain thought or impulse might arise out of nowhere.
Over time, there can be the sense that we are beginning to see or feel or sense tiny breadcrumbs, fragments, and we may not always know what they mean. The Guides describe this process of inner listening as “feeling our way in the dark,” and they make it clear that this is normal. That we find our way by finding our way.
Writer Walter Mosley used the phrase “gathering smoke.” He was talking about trying to find one’s way creatively, but it applies to inner listening, too.
As we “gather smoke” or “feel our way in the dark,” we may begin to get the sense that we are being led somewhere, that we are onto something, or that there are certain themes repeating themselves or a “pull” of some kind, something that wants our attention. That feeling, that subtle inner shift, reminds me of this poem by Juan Ramon Jimenez:
I have a feeling that my boat
has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.
—Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?
—“Oceans,” Juan Ramon Jimenez
Week 2 readings from the Guides: “Inner and Outer Silence”
[NOTE: Questions for the Guides in quotes are mine.]
In your culture it is considered a thing of value to have a “full plate.” A full life, a full calendar, a head full of thoughts and plans and ideas and even conflicts and debates and opinions that you cling to as though they were part of your Self, part of your identity.
Will it shock you to hear that they are not? That your identity has more to do with silence than with noise? Or your ability to Greet the Silence, to see it as a friend, a refuge, a solace, a place of discovery, a place of rest?
Outer silence is not necessary, though it may be helpful. Inner silence, that is the key, hugely difficult to achieve, but not impossible and definitely worth striving for.
What is inner silence? Inner silence is when it is quiet enough inside for you to hear yourself. Your own thoughts and feelings. [And underneath,] an absence of thought.
Do not hurry to fill the void. Do not reach for your phone, reach for food, reach for TV, another person, whatever takes away from the uncomfortable (to you) silence.
Why do you fear Silence?
Because whatever you have hidden, whatever you are hiding from, whatever you don’t want to know or don’t want to deal with is hiding there. Waiting, even. This sounds sinister, but it is not. It is simply true.
What are you hiding from? Tears? Anger? Disappointment? Disillusion? Fear? Guilt? Sorrow?
Your own tenderness?
Your own beauty?
Your own magnificence?
All of this can be true. Any of it. All at once.
There are no guideposts in silence, and that you are not used to. It is a boundary-less state, and you do not like this. You like to orient yourself in space, in time, in culture, in identity, in society, in content and context. A bounded existence is much more comfortable.
Silence is on the side of the eternal, the unknowable. The life beyond this one. The life before this one. The life and lives alongside this one to which we are largely oblivious, unaware.
Silence buzzes with life, but it is not the life we think we know, not the life we recognize. And so we can it “empty,” when it is anything but.
So in a sense, when we Enter the Silence, we begin to acknowledge what we don’t know, and what we can’t see. We reach out a hand into the other world. We say, in essence, “Teach me. I am here. I have shown up. I don’t know what I’m doing, but here I am.” And then we wait, and listen, and notice. Maybe there are feelings. Maybe there are words. Maybe there are sensations.
Maybe there is nothing, or what we think of as nothing, which is actually something we don’t recognize, have no words for, have little or no experience with.
It is called Being.
Which is not the same as Doing.
Doing we understand. We are experts at Doing.
Being, not so much.
Being, to the uninitiated, can feel boring. It can feel like “not much.” Or it can feel scary, that boundary-less room, a darkness where something might pop out and scare us.
And it might. But it doesn’t have to be so frightening. Not if we get used to the idea that our insides—our emotional and psychological and spiritual selves—are like a vast country of which we know only part.
“What if what comes up or comes forth in the silence is painful?”
This is not unusual, nor is it a problem. It only seems like a problem because in your culture, so-called negative emotions are considered just that, negative. From our perspective, emotions are neither positive nor negative. They simply ARE. Now, are some emotions more enjoyable than others? Yes, of course. Would you rather be filled with joy than sorrow in any particular moment? Absolutely. Does that mean that joy is more valuable than grief, or that anger is “wrong” while love is “right”? Not exactly.
The so-called negative emotions are engines for growth and change. They are a sign that something is not “right.” Something is happening on the inside that wants and needs your attention, or something has happened on the outside that must be contended with. The “negative” emotions are asking something of you: growth, or release, or acceptance, or change. The worst thing you can do is stuff them back inside, or ignore them, or devalue them as unimportant or “wrong.” Greet them as friends and listen to what they have to say. Not act on them, not necessarily. But understand that they have a message for you, and that that message is about you, and for you, and right on time.
“Are you saying that what we do in the outside world—the “externals” —doesn’t matter?”
I am saying—We are saying—that they, the externals, do not always matter, whereas the work done in Silence always does. Externals are externals. Some external acts are heroic. Some change people’s lives. Some external acts are destructive, and also change people’s lives. Some acts are merely “achievements,” a let-me-see-if-I-can-do-this sort of thing, which is not in itself bad, but neither is it in itself truly valuable.
The question is, what is the goal?
Externals may be directed by any part of the self: lower or upper; small (in every sense) or big. Or by a mix of the two, a confusing mélange of motivations: self-aggrandizement, selflessness, something in between.
Whereas inner work, when it is directed by the Self—to whom the domain of inner silence truly belongs—is always in service to what is greater. Why is that? Because the soul, unlike the ego, has a sense of direction, an unerring one. The soul knows the purpose of the person and of itself on earth. The soul is not confused. It has an agenda. Its agenda is to clear out the lower self and to make way for the upper Self to make itself known. The Godself.
And it is through silence that we may become aware of that agenda and what it requires. It is in silence that the soul talks to the personality, via anger or tears or whatever comes up emotionally, to show what must be healed, and through transcendent states or various “feelings” or sensations or senses that exist in silence and that, while not overtly transformative, have a subtle shifting effect on the self/Self, cueing it, if you will, that there is More, that you are More, that forces are at work beyond the force of the self, beyond the small ego.
So are externals always meaningless? Of course not. When someone acts with courage to enact some change or create a thing of beauty or help another or right a wrong or rectify an injustice, of course this has great meaning. But the striving to be known, to achieve for achievement’s sake, to distinguish oneself from among one’s fellows for the sake of the ego or the thrill of the chase, none of this has true meaning. It is separation, not Oneness. To the extent that someone “achieves” in order to please another, or prove something, or garner self worth where it is lacking, or worst of all, to distract oneself from the roiling inside, the “unknown country” of the self, this is not valuable, and may indeed be destructive or at least counterproductive.
Externals have value commensurate to their intention, to the intention with which they are carried out. They are a reflection of the inner state, and it is the inner state that has value: the awareness of the inner state, the cultivation of the inner state, the acceptance of the inner state, and the transformation of the inner state. The ability to RESIDE in the inner state and to BE and to BE ONE and to BE at PEACE—that is the endpoint.
All of which takes lifetimes. All of which involves turmoil, at some point. All of which requires courage, a great deal of it. Even more, in a sense, than the courage involved in climbing a mountain or exploring a deep cave, because the mountain in this case is You, the cave is You, and to recognize the darkness, the difficulty, the lack of control within the self is an unsettling journey indeed.
So, yes, externals “matter” as far as they go, but nothing like the way the “internals” do—the inner journey from the self to the Self.
Finally, another Kabir poem:
Are you looking for me? I am in the next seat.
My shoulder is against yours.
You will not find me in stupas, not in Indian shrine rooms, nor in synagogues, nor in cathedrals:
not in masses, nor kirtans, not in legs winding around your own neck, nor in eating nothing but vegetables.
When you really look for me, you will see me instantly—
you will find me in the tiniest house of time.
Kabir says: Student, tell me, what is God?
He is the breath inside the breath.
Next week’s topic: The Multi-Layered Self