The Inner Journey (6-Minute Read)

The other day I was cutting up downed limbs left over from bad winter storms at the cabin. Afterwards, I was exhausted. I suppose I need to step up my aerobic exercise.

No big deal!

Sometimes, storms disturb our inner peace. When that occurs (and it always does), it is a big deal.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are on two journeys in life; the outer journey and the inner journey. The outer journey defines the what, where, when, and how of our lives. It’s where we spend most of our time. The inner journey concerns life’s relationships, meaning and purpose.  The inner journey is easy to neglect. It’s like dieting, i.e., not an issue until it is. 

Recent storms brought my inner journey out of remission. In a strange synchronicity of fate, at about the same time, friend and former colleague, Aviv, asked if I would participate on a recorded  Portals of Perception panel concerning “The Inner-geddon,” or, the battle within. 

He explained: 

“While there are many flashpoints with unbearable suffering all around the world, and very visibly now in Ukraine, my premise is that the bigger end-of-days and beginning-of-new-days struggle occurs inside the human. Thus, the Armageddon is Inner-geddon.” 

The bigger struggle is always on the inside. However, I suspect our inner battles precede the transition to a better world collectively as well!  

I agreed to join the event, and it turned out to be a fascinating discussion with an international panel of men and women who’ve made their inner journey a priority. 

What follows was stimulated by that discussion.

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The Inner Journey

As we age, we tend to reflect on life’s meaning and purpose more, probably because our outer journey is mostly set.

One of life’s fundamental paradoxes is that “Self” is self-constructed, yet we rarely delight in the result. This is often the starting point for an inner journey, a quest for something larger and more permanent than “Self.” 

Life circumstances define the outer journey, whereas relationships define our inner journey. 

Relationships contain spirit energy that naturally draws us together. Even though “Self” looms large, life is incomplete without “We.” One could say that “We” and “Me” are our lives’ yin and yang. Both need to be strong and balanced. When “Me” overtakes “We,” problems arise. This is true for institutions as well as individuals.

The modern world emphasizes the outer journey over the inner journey. Business, government, and religious institutions have lost their sense of a higher purpose beyond their advancement, power, and control. 

Modern society is out of balance!

I believe this is what Aviv was pointing towards. Institutions are out of balance because individually, we are out of balance. The outer journey has overtaken the inner journey. There is ample evidence of this. On an individual level, anxiety and depression are growing problems. Drug overdoses, violent crime, and automobile accidents have increased dramatically.

At an institutional level, federal governance has become dysfunctional. Businesses have narrowed their focus to shareholders, excluding broader stakeholder communities. Religious institutions struggle with leadership that fails its own moral standards. 

The modern world has delivered unprecedented physical comfort, yet we hurt inside.

Cycles of death and rebirth characterize history. Imbalance always leads to excess and collapse prior to renewal. Perhaps we are in the final throws of shedding our “old skin.”

Social demographer Neil Howe would agree; Twenty-five years ago, he co-authored an incredibly prescient book, “The Fourth Turning” (I’ve mentioned it before). Howe’s studies indicate that there’s nothing new under the sun. Cycles of collapse and renewal have characterized civilization over the past two millennia. Howe claims that each of these cycles lasts approximately a lifetime, containing four distinct eras of roughly a generation. The “4th turning” completes the long cycle. It is a period of broad-scale social conflict and institutional decay.

We are there. 

Fortunately, the “4th turning” is always followed by a “1st turning,” a time when a new generation takes the reins, and society begins to stabilize and prosper. The exact timing of this transition is imprecise, but history suggests a 1st Turning could get underway by the end of this decade.

How is such a transition made?

This, I believe, is where the “Inner-geddon” becomes significant. Balance will not be restored until our “inner journey” becomes more important. Each person plays a critical role. 

An old saying goes, “the popcorn doesn’t pop until the oil is hot!”

Well, the oil is getting hot!

Rather than passively waiting for better times, each of us can play a role in the transition of society to a better tomorrow. This requires a renewed focus on our inner journeys, which point away from separation and self-interest, and toward “We.” 

As I’ve gotten older, it’s become increasingly clear that life isn’t about me. The quest for bigger, better, faster, and more is unsustainable! Charging forward, oblivious of that fact, can only take us so far. Divisiveness rules today because we collectively value “Me” over “We!”

The inner journey is about listening and becoming “present” to the grand ecology of existence. 

There are signs that this is beginning to happen! 

With the birth of quantum physics, scientific discovery has progressed towards the viewpoint that everything is connected. Eastern philosophy has long intuited this. More recently, Western philosophers like Ken Wilber have articulated these views. 

Everything is connected, but to experience this directly, we must learn to let go of “Self.” A ground-swell of individuals from diverse academic disciplines are beginning to advocate this. The “Boomers” were the “Me” generation. We’ve seen how that worked out! “Me” is destined to recede, although I will admit that one must look carefully to see evidence of that today. Nonetheless, new practices will ultimately usher in a new era.

The new era will look and feel very different from the world we experience today. Decisions made from the perspective of “We” will differ from those made from “Me.” Progress towards that day will take time. How much time depends on each of us. 

The inner journey is unique for every person. Yet all true paths lead to the same destination, from “I” to “We” to “One.” The path each of us chooses is determined by what speaks to us. But first, we must learn to listen.

Mindfulness practice helps me. I explained that here

Whatever path is chosen, restoring the balance between the inner and outer journeys will be critical. Historically, things must break before “We” is chosen over “Me,” which is precisely what is happening. 

Thoughts matter. They turn into actions, which become habits. Internal peace leads to a more harmonious world. Each of us can help light the way!

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