In my healing journey I have often come across the phrase, “do the work.” I am drawn by this guidance and equally perplexed by its instruction. What is ‘the work’? What does “doing the work” even mean? One of Brené Brown’s goals is “to define the gauzy words that are tossed around every day but rarely explained.” My goal with this “Do the Work” Series is to start defining what “the work” is in my life. I am hoping to do so in a way that helps us better understand what it means and inspire you to do the work.

“What all the iterations of ‘the work’ share is the pursuit of insight into the self and our place in community.” Nicole LePera

Getting to Know Who You Are

My understanding of ‘the work’ begins with showing up for yourself; it is about cultivating a deep awareness of your life and who you are in it (self-awareness). Getting to know yourself – who are you, how you respond, what you need, what drives you, are all open doors for the work. Glennon Doyle talks about trying to create a self, not a mother, not a daughter, a self. Yourself. Once you develop an awareness of who you are, you begin to inhabit your life & live in it as opposed to just construct or design it.

Delving / Self Inquiry / Introspection / Soul Searching / Innervism / Insight

In Braving the Wilderness, Brené Brown borrows a quote from Yoda saying, “In you must go.” And indeed, doing the work requires getting acquainted with our own hearts, minds, bodies, and spirits. In order to grasp the complexities of our world & purpose, we have to cultivate the wisdom of ourselves. You are the primary source for your life. Only you have direct access to your thoughts, perceptions, and experiences. And you are the only one required to show up, invest in, and take care of yourself day in and day out. Elizabeth Lesser calls this self-knowledge “innervism.” She says, “If activism is how you relate to the injustices of the world, innervism is how you interact with all the layers of who you are – your psychology, your wounding, your mystical bent, your nature, your nurture, all the different parts.” For her, innervism is an invitation to do the work of understanding who you are.

Showing up for yourself requires deep self-knowledge & awareness. This requires work that we often shy away from due to societal pressure, fear, and uncertainty. Showing up for ourselves and knowing who we are isn’t fast. It is slow moving, often uncomfortable, and unpopular in a world living in the fast lane. What does it really feel like to be in this body? How is it really to move your limbs? Who are you, really? Where do you experience emotions? When are you aware of your reality? This inquiry requires slowing down and listening for the answers.

“How in our daily lives are we connecting in every single respect with ourselves and everything around us? Because that’s where transcendence comes from.” Eve Ensler

Insight & Awareness

Insight is from the Middle English word meaning inner sight and wisdom; it is the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing. To gain any level of insight, the deep intuitive understanding of who we are, we have to be able to witness ourselves honestly; we have to be aware of how we function and why. The goal is to have the ability to intentionally respond to our lives instead of react. The fact is you cannot “do the work” on autopilot; how do you achieve self-knowledge without paying attention to what is actually happening moment to moment, without understanding the real time movements of your life?

Some people call this act of paying attention mindfulness; it is about experiencing your life from a conscious, intentional, and examined place as opposed to an automatic, unthinking, and unexamined way of being. Your body is designed to collect trillions of data points, constantly piecing together inputs from your external and internal worlds to build a life, your life. The question becomes: are you the architect of this life or the resident? Are you building this understanding to move along to the next project or are you here to live inside of it, to find vitality and aliveness?

Cynthia Bourgeault frames the concepts of awareness and intention as insight & mettle. Insight, literally inner sight. Mettle, your ability to face a demanding situation in a spirited and resilient way. She believes these qualities “must be crystallized in your own being.” They must be made definite and clear within you. Insight is the practice of awareness, the understanding of yourself and your world through purposefully working to understand the layers of both worlds.

Only when we are in our bodies and aware of our lives can we make larger connections to things like meaning and purpose. If you are on autopilot, then you are not really aware of the elements of your experience and therefore are not poised to really know who you are or the world you inhabit. Doing the work requires paying attention; it requires developing our ability to see ourselves and the world.

“God, I don’t want to live falsely in self-imposed prisons and fixed comfortable patterns that confine my soul and dimmish the truth in me… set free the daring in me – the willingness to go within, to see the self lies … make me brave. Lead me into the enormous spaces of becoming. Help me cease the small, tedious work of maintaining and protecting so that I can break the masks that observe your face shining in the night of my own soul.” Sue Monk Kidd