People who enjoy themselves are my kind of people. When I see someone who seems to be at peace with life, or happy in their circumstance, it causes my own spirit to rise. As if to say, I see you, fellow traveler. We are one.
This sort of noticing now comes easy to me, because I know what I am looking for. I am looking for me in my day. If you had said to me, just a few years ago, that the secret to life is to be more you, or bring more you, I would have shrugged and then gone back to doing whatever it was I was scheduled to do that day. That’s what I thought being me meant: showing up and doing what was expected of me. It never, at that point in time, would have dawned on me to say, what do I want from this day? What emotions do I want to experience today? What kind of people do I want to encounter today?
Now I see those questions as the foundation for a life well-lived. Where each day, I ask myself what do I truly want, and then seek to look for that in my days. But I didn’t get here overnight. It took some work to re-align my thinking to my own true self.
I ask myself what do I truly want, and then seek to look for that in my days.
The work to re-align your thinking is something that I found as I sought to recover after a trauma. On an intuitive level, I knew that I needed my spirit — my essence — to guide me if I was going to recover. I needed my inner wisdom, and my inner strength, if I was going to find my way back to a state of equilibrium after the anxiety and fear I was in. I knew, on some level I can’t fully articulate, that I had to go within if I was going to survive.
When people say things like “go within” I am often annoyed by the vagueness of such directives. What does it mean exactly? Where do I start? And what are the corresponding next steps to this going within? This is how I do life, so my soul is used to these sorts of questions.
Going within is a process, I have found, of rebuilding trust with yourself. It often involves sitting quietly and allowing your thoughts to come forward to be seen. For me, it involves writing down my thoughts so that I can see what I think. For others, it could involve talking to someone, or to God, to allow all your thoughts pour out. So, interestingly, going within involves getting it all out.
Once you have it all out, now you can do the work of an investigator. Neutrally, and non-judgmentally, asking yourself, is this what I choose to think? Does this belief, or idea, serve me? Am I, and the world, a better place if I think this?
Once you do this work, you will invariably land on a belief that you want to change. That feels restrictive. That feels illogical. That feels like a bad idea. When you find these, celebrate. You have just harvested the benefit of a practice of going within.
If the first half of life is for learning, then the second half is for unlearning. I have found, as I do the work excavating my own mind, that much of the work involves undoing what I have learned, so that I can choose a more expansive belief. Most of the difficulties I encounter are due to my own limitations. And most of my own emotions are tied to my beliefs.
This is why many of us avoid going within: we think the purpose is go feel our feelings, which are often sensations we would rather avoid. I have found, however, that the feelings are not the purpose of a going within project. The feelings are the indicators of where we are most likely to benefit by emptying out our thoughts. In fact, the stronger the emotion, the more benefit you could receive from pouring out your thoughts, and then assessing them.
I am not here to tell you what to believe. I am here to say that life always seems to be delivering me experiences that bring my limiting beliefs into sharp focus, so that I could harvest the benefit of adopting a more expansive belief. Or, I could speed up the process by making it a point to go within, on a regular basis, to do the work proactively, rather than reactively.
Most of us don’t see our thinking, but we feel the impact of our emotions. Those emotions are perfectly proportional to what you believe. Once you understand this, you can take even your most difficult life experience, go into investigator mode, and then ask, what belief could I change and find relief? This process always yields me good results, and helps me unearth old ideas that I forgot I had.
A regular practice of going within could include any of the following. There is no right way to do this, so see this list as an open invitation to find your own way of getting the thoughts out of your head, so you can choose better ones to support you.
- Talk to God and pour out your heart. Let yourself say it all and then ask yourself, is that what I really believe?
- Go on a run or a walk and talk to yourself. Say directly, and clearly, what’s bothering you, on your mind, or in your heart. Conclude with a question: what idea could I change to help me?
- Journal on a regular basis. Make it a habit to free form write to get all your thoughts out on paper. For ideas that you feel are no longer true for you, cross them out. For others that you want to change, write out your new belief.
- For any story you tend to repeat or retell, sit and ask yourself, what is this story trying to show me? What could I learn about myself from the stories I retell?
- Drive alone and let yourself talk through a problem. Take both sides and air all your grievances. At the end, ask yourself, what’s the best path through for me?
- Keep tabs on any issue that seems to be an intrusive thought (an idea that seems to chase you down). If you are busy, simply make a note of the topic of the intrusive thought. When you have time, sit quietly and answer these questions. What is this thought pattern showing me? What am I afraid of? What thought can I change?
- Make time for a creative endeavor (art, cooking, gardening, etc) and allow your mind to wander. What does it naturally go to? Use this topic as the basis of your next excavation project.
- Treat yourself to a day alone. Bring a notebook and write down any thought you have. A memory. A worry. A feeling. Write it all down. At the end of the day, look for patterns. Notice where your mind goes and ask yourself why?
The irony of going within is that the more you do it, the less stuff you have to come out. It’s not that you are empty, but that you are freeing yourself of limiting beliefs and thus are less likely to be triggered. I like to see this process as a clearing, emptying out what is on the inside, so I can make better choices, now that I know who I am. And once I am clear, I easily see what I want, and what I need, in each day.