Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the process of doing internal work. What does it mean to do our “deeper, inner work”? Where do we begin? And how do we know we’re doing it well?
As I reflect, I’ve come to notice the many ways we avoid the internal work, not because it is in itself unreachable, but because what we’ve made it out to be is unreachable. Sometimes we avoid it because we’re scared of what may lie underneath. We tell ourselves that we’d rather find ways to accept our current reality, even if we’re not all that content, because it feels safer than trying to change things without knowing what’s on the other side of that change. Other times, we hyper-focus on self-help books and mentors and therapy because we feel safer in the knowledge than in the action. We get trapped in believing another certificate or another big, fancy piece of terminology will finally help us feel safe in our understanding. We feel like we’ve got it “figured out,” and that makes us feel competent. Meanwhile, though, we don’t muster up the courage to take any action from our understanding, maybe telling ourselves that once we learn just a little bit more about the subject that we’ll finally feel ready to make a change.
We often have an insatiable need to feel “ready,” and we’ve come to believe information will satisfy this hunger. In reality, the nourishment we need is self-trust, not more information.
The truth is, we will never be perfectly aligned with every value, action, or aspect of internal health at all times. To believe we can be perfectly aware of exactly what we need at all times ironically becomes another facet to hold us back from action. When we aren’t able to be “perfect” along the journey of doing our inner work, we can become convinced that this means we need more training and more knowledge or that we’re just “not cut out” for this inner work things, and decide to give up on the task altogether. But if we take a truly, honest look at what internal work demands of us, it isn’t asking for perfection. I don’t believe we ever reach the end of coming home to ourselves.
I love the phrase “love is a verb.” Each day, we can commit to turning inwards and saying, “Hey, friend, what do you need today?” But we will never get it right every single time. And it’s not even about that, though I have moments where I want to convince myself I can make the “right” choice every time if I just work hard enough.
Returning to ourselves is a lot more like swimming with the ocean tide than it is climbing a ladder. We jump into life and are constantly pulled away in tiny moments of distraction and pain, so small we sometimes don’t even notice. Once we look up, we see our home base on shore, of towels and books and snacks, much farther away than when we started.
The times we get caught up in avoidance or in achievement rather than inner work itself are the times we’re convinced that the journey is a ladder. For some, the climb seems too difficult, too steep; for others, so much time is spent researching the best ways to climb effectively, only to reach the top and realize there wasn’t anything up there. Time and energy spent only to be left feeling the same longing for inner peace that we had before we started the climb.
Our job, I think, is to notice more often when the tide takes us away. We check in with ourselves more often, take note of who we want to be and compare it with our current position. And, with grace and lightness, we get to throw our heads back and laugh as we swim back towards home base, saying, “Oops! I got lost for a second, but I’m heading back… Here I am.”
We are not meant to be perfect, robot-like people being 100% spiritual and emotionally healthy at all times. We are only meant to be silly humans checking in on ourselves, adjusting with the tide and loving ourselves actively as we float along.