Written by Regina Gee of Wellspring Coaching
As I continue to spiral on in the processes of self-discovery, of transformation, of growth and contraction and expansion, I find myself walking through areas of greater depth and belonging. Most recently, I have been longing and musing on questions of community and the intersection of inner and outer work. I have moved through terrain getting to know who I am, learning to trust myself, belonging to myself, choosing myself, and practicing authenticity. This work has led me here: bringing my inner wholeness and sacredness into the life of the world.
“The inner journey, pursued faithfully and well always takes us back to the world of action.” – Parker Palmer
Metabolism: Change Necessary to Maintain Life
I think we have a ‘self,’ a semi-distinct collection of matter and energy (a body) in order to have a vessel capable of change. A metabolism is the chemical processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life. To metabolize means to change into a form that can be used by your body. In short, we need a body to be capable of change.
The work of the metabolism goes beyond food and is also applicable to healing, soul searching, and integration. We access our wholeness (the integrity that comes from being what we are) by processing the world and our experiences into a form that we can use. This is the work of insight, the wrestling, the living questions, the holding of tension. And metabolizing can only happen on the inside. We need our body for this work. Personal transformation and becoming doesn’t happen outside of our skin; it happens inside, particularly near the core.
In the Hebrew tradition, the task of tikkum olam is the quest to restore the innate wholeness of the world, and it is done by finding the scattered pieces of light that are deeply hidden in all events and all people and lifting them up and making this light visible once again.
I believe the way we make this light visible again is through metabolizing our lives, through looking inward, cultivating insight, and then working to bring out what we find at our center.
“The authentic is the soul made visible.” Sarah van Breathnach
We practice authenticity when we work to make our soul visible: to lift up the hidden light within us. This makes it possible to radiate ourselves into the world.
In order to be able to radiate ourselves into the world, we need to be capable of exploring different worlds. Doing the work means being able to navigate the inner world of self, psyche, and soul (the pursuit of insight, innervism). And being able to walk the outer world of relationship, community, and otherness. You cannot radiate fractured light. Doing the work is about seeking a weave that holds the inside and the outside together in love, trueness, and integrity; it is about finding that wholeness within and radiating it.
“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.” Elizabeth Lesser
Who am I & Whose Am I
“‘Who am I?’ leads inevitably to the equally important question ‘Whose am I?’ – for there is no selfhood outside of relationship.” Douglas Steere
“’Transform yourself to transform the world.’ This doesn’t mean to get lost in the self, but rather to see our own lives and work and relationships as a front line, a first place we can practice justice, liberation, and alignment with each other and the planet.” adrienne marie brown
A common critique of inner work is navel gazing. There is confusion about the difference between selfishness and self-care. How does one cultivate self awareness without becoming too self absorbed or narcissistic?
When you pursue inner work as a self-contained universe, of course you can get lost in self-indulgence. Worlds exist within us – the mystics’ conundrum is this: How does such immensity exist within? It is easy to get lost in such vastness when you are going it alone, without maps.
When you pursue inner work with a recognition of the responsibility we have toward being in a state of connection— in right relationship with all our relations — you are able to journey inward and understand who you are without losing sight of whose you are, of how you belong. You have to walk the path with your own two feet, but you do not have to do it in isolation. True belonging is about believing and belonging to yourself so deeply that you are able to be in authentic relationships – you are able to find sacredness both in being part of something and in being in solitude.
According to Parker Palmer, solitude isn’t living apart from others; it means never living apart from yourself.
Doing the work requires two major pieces of recognition: 1. Our wise inner teacher is more reliable than anything we can come by on the outside, and we need solitude to be able to access our souls. And 2. We need each other to invite, amplify, and help us discern the voice of our inner teacher. Through acknowledging we belong to ourselves and also to each other, we are saved from getting lost, weary, and fearful as we traverse the inner road while simultaneously continuing to go into the outer world.
“Whatever is inside us continually flows outward to help form, or deform, the world – and whatever is outside us continually flows inward to help form, or deform, our lives.” Parker Palmer
This attention to what is inside of us and how we are connected to bigger things (be it God(dess), ecosystems, food sheds, watersheds, communities, etc) is at the heart of spiritual journeys. We are fractal creatures, what is true at the smallest level of how we are with ourselves is in congruence with our connection to how we are connected to everything. Brené Brown defines spirituality as the recognition and celebration of the fact that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us and also that this connection is grounded in love and compassion. This recognition and celebration of our connection is pivotal when we are doing the work, accessing and radiating wholeness. The question is, how intentional are we about the confluence of what is flowing outward and what is flowing inward?
Woven, Integral, & Undivided Lives
Being able to bring what is sacred inside of me to the life of the world isn’t a beginner’s virtue; it is a culmination. It is the result of getting to know who I am, learning to trust myself, belonging to myself, choosing myself, and practicing authenticity (metabolizing). I would not be able to offer my gifts to the world if I didn’t first know them within myself.
Parker Palmer writes about how self-care is simply good stewardship of the gifts you have — the very same aliveness you were meant to offer to yourself and to the world. Inherent in this definition of self-care is the deep care for the internal gift in order to be able to offer it — to gift it — to the world.
To live an integral life, one where we have what is necessary to make the whole complete, we have to be able to metabolize our experiences (internally and externally). We have to be able to make sense of the world and be able to make the changes necessary not just to be alive, but to create a life.
Peter Block and John Mcknight write about how a citizen is a person, regardless of legal status, who chooses to create the life, the neighborhood, the world, from their own gifts and the gifts of others. For these authors, being a citizen means getting in touch with our own gifts to be able to link them to the gifts of others and create a greater whole. There is a deep integrity to living a life with connected (integrated) inner and outer worlds.
To live a woven life, one where our inner world and outer world are held together by and in truth, authenticity, and love, we have to be able to commute between two worlds. This culmination of being is a complex integration that spans the contradictions between inner and outer, and supports both personal integrity and the common good.
This is the tension of greater becoming and belonging – holding together the knowledge that our wholeness is within us, and that we need the connections around us in order to lift our wholeness up (tikkum olam). Maintaining the integrity of true belonging is how we are able to meet and be met by our hearts and the heart of the world at the confluence.
To live an undivided life, one where the truth on the inside reflects also on the outside, we have to be able to listen for the needs at the center. We are both puzzles and puzzle pieces. To be able to reach in towards my wholeness and out towards the world’s need, I have to listen for the truths and values at the heart of my identity, and I have to listen for what the world needs. Living an undivided life is to live a wholehearted life, one where our hearts are full and steadfast and un-fragmented, where we are living from our worthiness.
There is the inner world and the outer world, and there is the intersectionality at the point where they meet. This confluence can be a woven, integrated, undivided communion if we join it intentionally and as ourselves. In some religions, the place where two rivers meet is holy ground. It is a gift to be able to stand where the two rivers meet, to be able to bring what is sacred within us into the life of the world, it is a holy place.
“The soul is generous: it takes in the needs of the world. The soul is wise: it suffers without shutting down. The soul is hopeful: it engages the world in ways that keep opening our hearts. The soul is creative: it finds a path between realities that might defeat us and fantasies that are mere escapes. All we need to do is bring down the wall that separates us from our own souls and deprives the world of the soul’s regenerative powers.” Parker Palmer