Many, me included, often use phrases like inner work, personal growth, spiritual evolution, etc. to describe what we do and the path we’re on. It occurred to me recently while watching a TED talk a friend sent me that these words are about a particular way of learning. We come to this world to have experiences as humans that assist in our soul’s learning and evolution. In this TED talk, the speaker talked about the emphasis in America on learning as an outside in process. In other words, filling the mind or the empty vessel with knowledge and calling it learning. He did say, and I agree, that there is a place for this. He went on to say that learning is actually an inside out process and this got me thinking about personal growth work. We have these human experiences in the outer world that give us the opportunity to bring forth our inner wisdom and tap into knowledge from a place beyond our five senses. The learning opportunity is triggered by an external event that we then use as a jumping off point to examine, evaluate and question from within until the answer reveals itself and leads to our transformation.
When it comes to personal growth, we have the outer teacher and the inner teacher. What do I mean by that? You have the teacher who shows up providing the external event that triggers you to go to your inner teacher to find the answers that you apply, thus creating evolution or growth and expansion. That outer teacher can be a person who triggers us or a circumstance or crisis we find ourselves in. Basically anything that causes us to begin searching for answers and that wakes us up to the realization that something needs addressing. So, we begin the process of inner work, of delving inward to examine our inner world of thoughts, beliefs, ego identifications, dark shadows, etc. We begin asking important questions and listening for answers from a deeper place. Answers that no one can provide for us in the outer world. These are answers only we can determine through self-reflection, honest appraisal, and appealing to the part of ourselves which is connected to all the wisdom there is.
We seek so often to get our answers from the outer world. We think the therapist, friend, parent, psychic, etc. is going to tell us what we need to know. I know I search this out as well and I’m not saying there isn’t a place for it because I definitely feel there is. I do think that any of these people can guide you through your own journey of self discovery and then the learning occurs most solidly when you find those answers for yourself. This type of guide can lead us through the process of inner work by giving us the understanding and the tools to navigate our inner world. When I was training as a graduate student in counseling, this was one of the main tenets of counseling taught to us. You don’t give your client the answer. You lead them to the answer by asking the right questions. You give them the examining tools and when they have the realization or come upon the understanding themselves it is far more powerful for their learning than if the answer were simply given to them.
Spiritual teachers, like our traditional school teachers, give us the tools to access our inner teacher, that’s why I would call them guides more than teachers. We are simultaneously student and teacher, or you might say there is the greater Teacher who speaks It’s answers/wisdom/knowledge through us. This part of ourselves connected to the greater consciousness is the part we seek to connect to in order to receive our answers. Once we understand the answer and we begin to apply this knowledge to ourselves and how we live our lives, our outer world and circumstances begin to change. That is inside out learning. We apply the teaching on an inner level and it becomes reflected on the outer level. This process doesn’t always happen quickly, and we may have to learn to be with the questions for some time until we are in full understanding of the answers. Sometimes the questions that are sparked by life’s trials (teachers) are tough ones like:
Where or against whom am I harboring resentment?
In what way am I like the person I am judging?
What am I not telling myself the truth about?
What quality is being called forth by this situation to be developed in me?
In what way have I contributed to this circumstance in thought, word, or deed?
What is this problem/challenge pointing to that needs to be healed and released within me?
Notice that none of these questions are about the situation or the other people involved. They are all questions that prompt us to go within and examine the only one in which we have any power to create change…ourselves. It is always so tempting to be externally focused to make sense of or find answers for that which we find upsetting or challenging in our lives. We want to blame others and say that is our answer, or we want someone to tell us how to fix our problems so that we don’t actually have to do the work.
Just this morning I had the opportunity to guide my daughter through this a bit as she shared with me that she feels none of the girls at school like her or want to be her friend. She told me the things they tell her about herself, and she had it made up in her mind that it was them and they just had it out for her. So, I attempted to take her inward to do some self-examination and begin a journey through the questions. She got some awareness through that process and I could see the learning happening, but she will have to sit with the questions more and we will go further with it still until she has gotten all the awareness she needs and can apply the learning. Now, she resisted (as a lot of people will at first) because she’s 9 and thinks she has everything figured out (a lot of us think this), and I got frustrated because, well, I’m her mother. We finally got to a place, though, where she was willing to let me guide and she was willing to do the looking inward that she needed to do.
My hope is that we all begin to use this process of inside out learning, not just in the educational setting, but within our own lives. I believe that inside out learning is really the only process of learning that will create lasting change and true transformation.