Paying Attention Bill McDonald’s
July 2009 - Volume 09, No. 7
The Grass is Greener - or Living from the Inside Out
It seems a primary rule of human nature that we always want what we can’t have - and what we have we don’t want. This actually may be the functional basis of modern economic theory. We constantly strive for more, even though the more that we strive for never seems to satisfy. So we hunger and strive for more and more, while the economy provides more and more. Generally we refuse to consider that this increasingly unsteady tower might eventually collapse. This is a time of collapsing towers.
Many years ago I heard a quote from the visionary Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983), asserting that we already have, on this planet, enough resources to feed, educate, employ and maintain the health of every single world citizen. The only problem, he claimed, is distribution.
Well, current events have pointed out that more than the problem of distribution, there is the (increasingly obvious) background factor of human greed.
So what is it that actually prevents us from the experience of having enough - of not needing more and more? Surely it’s more than just the perverse creativity of marketing folks in corporation cubicles - designing more ways to tempt us with ever newer products or toys.
We live in an age of great anxiety. We’re almost at the centenary of the Great War of 1914-1918 (now called World War I), which many mark as the beginning of our great anxiety. That “war to end all wars” started out as bold and glorious, ended up in disillusionment and despair. And the world has never recovered, but rather seems condemned to recycle the same depressing outcome. (We can’t even finish our wars any more.) The processes of the world eventually betray us.
For a number of years now, the most popular psychiatric diagnoses have to do with depression and anxiety. And the most popular medications are always there to ‘fix’ it. Bypassing for the moment the question of organic or genetic predisposition, the bane of our anxiety and depression (they are really no longer separate) is revealed in the statement:
We can never get enough of what we don't really want.
Our built-in anxiety is manifested in that we aren’t even free to get enough of what would satisfy us. Like the Garden of Eden, the elusive gate to that fulfillment seems permanently blocked to us.
A common therapist question is “what is it that you really want?” - a deceptively simple question that is designed to reveal or break through our Sysiphusian belief that true happiness seems always just out of reach. What we want seems always out there, awaiting our struggle (or luck) to acquire it. One thing that might help is to convince a number of others that they want it too, so that together we can acquire better. It’s called marketing. For awhile this can work, but is soon turns into a false promise, and the forces of collapse are already mobilized.
So here I am, having spent almost half of my newsletter deploring the problem.
Here’s the turn-around.
The the source of what we really do want has already been inside us - in a sense, since we were born. (That’s the secret of Christian infant Baptism.)
The Native Americans call it our “medicine.” The Buddhists call it “dharma.” Here in our culture we sometimes call it “life purpose” - living inside out. (Hence the current phrase “the purpose driven life.”)
Consider this with me: What we really hunger for is as much inside as outside, and, waiting to emerge. It’s inside where we become the true person we were meant to be (sometimes we never knew anything about it). It’s from the inside that the love relationships of our lives mutually feed and nurture. It’s from inside that our caring for others is the most honest, and not dependent on getting ‘approval’ to be valid. It’s inside where the spiritual life becomes a feast - joy that wants to be shared.
I call it living from the inside out. (And it’s the primal purpose and promise of the psychotherapeutic art.)
It means relax, let go, become real - which can mean to become more vulnerable (human). But this is not the same as anxiety. Anxiety wants to hold on. This is letting go. And sometimes it’s only in the crises of life that we truly learn this. Mythologist Michael Meade reminds us of a saying that I’m sure comes from dreams, “when we get fired from our job, the soul throws a party.” (The inside can now finally come alive.)
Despite our childhood training, this is not “selfish” (with it’s negative context) - rather consider that the purpose of growing from the inside out is to bring richer gifts to a hungry world.
When we experience the “grass as greener” somewhere else, it’s best to consider that “somewhere else” is really a reflection of the resources and potential of our inner life. It’s not an illusion, it’s a mirror.
When it comes down to it, that’s the only way that works.
When I hear people answer the question about what they really want, or want to do, something begins to change. And when that change recalls or brings into focus the inner gifts that have always wanted to manifest, then the work of purposeful living can begin. Our own grass is quite green, and there’s plenty to share.
The true self is hungry to emerge. Some even call it dancing.
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