Inner & Outer Life Balance

“Today I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it because it was within me, in my own perceptions, not outside.”

Marcus Aurelius

I just finished a series of articles focused on attention. Each article was framed to help us view our attention as a valuable resource that should be ours to control and manage. Whether it be in relation to our intentions, systemic issues, first principles, or our inner life, the direction we put our attention is the direction our lives will follow.

Many of today’s discussions, concerns, and events are rightfully taking our attention and influencing our lives in extreme and unparalleled ways. It is clear we need to change systemic issues to fix major realities including (but not limited to) racial injustice and the results of an ongoing global pandemic. These large-scale issues are peeling away the blinders many people have been wearing, and attention is required so we can make the right connections and take the right actions to create change. It feels as though the world is falling apart all around us, yet, in reality, the underbelly of existing systems and subcultures that have been affecting some are now being revealed to many.

Of course, it makes me question:

How do we pay proper attention to our external environments and not completely swallow a balanced inside-out wellbeing journey? How do we ensure we have an inner life to handle an outer life that seems unjust, impossible, chaotic, and heavy?

PROBLEM

OFF-BALANCE

The world was built on many dysfunctional, irrelevant, or outdated systems that were designed by people in the past which now influence how we operate today. It can be stressful to gain awareness, to make a conscious effort to learn more and to consider the breadth and depth of the systems creating today’s issues. I have caught myself feeling stressed many times over the past few months. As I have learned to practice the search for truth and first principles, I now pause and question what is really happening internally and externally as opposed to just sitting under the weight of the stress.

What separates me from these systems? The only reason I can state that they are putting stress on me is because they are outside of me. They are affecting my outer life, which in turn, is negatively affecting my inner life.

Just as I mentioned in Pay Attention To Your Inner Life, the inner life works as a foundation and a compass in the midst of everything we see all around us. The same applies here. The typical narrative has been framed to make us pay attention to everything that is happening around us with no discussion about what is happening inside of us. When we feel off balance, many times we try to control our external environment. We feel as though there is a scale that is off balance due to the immense stresses we think are happening to us, but this is only focusing on one area of the true balancing act. The only way to balance everything happening in our outer life is to have a stronger inner life to hold the weight.

You know the never-ending discussion around “work/life balance?” I would like to suggest that both of these existences are part of our outer life. Our work and what is primarily included in the term “life” in this context (marriage, children, home, etc.) are both external realities that add pressure in our outer life and weigh on our inner life. I don’t see the balancing act as a focus on equaling out the weight of these pressures. I would argue it is impossible to always be trying to balance these worlds because they’re weighing on us in the same place — our inner life.

The only thing that can help “balance” these realities that always seem at odds with one another is to not have an inner/outer life balance that operates like a seesaw. A seesaw will always feel like a balancing act. Instead, build a foundation. If you build a house without a foundation, it will not be able to withstand every storm.

If our inner life is built like the foundation of a home, it can carry what is put on top. If the foundation is not sturdy enough, there is work to be done from the inside-out. Something is “off balance” — not in a left to right side comparison, but in a “there’s too much on top for what is built below” comparison.

In time, energy, and awareness, do you spend an equal amount of time building your inner life as you do your outer life? Would you consider your inner life to be as robust, strong, and developed as your outer life?

SACRIFICE OF INNER LIFE FOR OUTER LIFE

The hardest person to let go of is the person you spent your life becoming.

Many of us know what it is like to identify our “self” almost exclusively with who we are in our outer identity. Next time you introduce yourself to someone, notice what details you choose to share. Or notice the first questions you ask someone else. It is so engrained in society today that asking more personalized, meaningful, or internal questions may seem odd or invasive.

Many people sacrifice their inner life for the demands of their outer life. We have become so adjusted to the outside-in lifestyle that we have no concept of how to find balance or peace in the midst of unrest and turmoil. We have become so depleted and stretched by dealing with our outer lives that there’s little to no time to tend to our minds, spirits, or bodies.

To be clear, our outer lives are not frivolous. It is where we deal with the external, tangible, and essential things in life. Our outer life is where we deal with all of life’s complex logistics — bills, career, family, people, government, social issues, homes, e-mails, errands, phone calls, to-do lists, responsibilities, and so on. Our outer lives hit us a million times a day, and it doesn’t help that we’re attached and connected to our iPhones and smart devices to make it even more incessant.

We each need to function well in our outer life to be a successful human. The danger is when our outer life has sacrificed our inner life to the point of non-existence. This will perpetuate all of the potential negative aspects and pressures of what has been created through ontological design, society, and external environments. Without a well-developed inner life, we lose the capacity to internally understand and discern the consequences and value of what we should pursue in our outer life.

PHYSICAL EFFECTS

When our inner lives are not a solid foundation, it is no wonder that the outer life pressures make us unbalanced, unhappy and often sick. These pressures weigh us down and make us vulnerable to stress. Research shows that heart attacks, strokes, hypertension, diabetes, inflammation, a weakened immune system, asthma, and migraines are all linked to stress.

Unbalanced inner and outer lives can also make us revert to subconscious behaviors (many from childhood) that can damage our lives and relationships. Feelings of fear, anger, insecurity, greed, envy, etc. as well as default characteristics such as indecisiveness, submissiveness, rebellion, and self-undermining behaviors can all keep us at their mercy without clear understanding of what is truly happening underneath. Many times, this can lead to vulnerability to other outer life sources of relief such as addictions, obsessions, and false identity anchors. These can pull us completely off balance with potentially no point of return.

SOLUTION

So, how do we begin to build a foundational inner life?

REFRAME

Begin by reframing the concept of “balance” in your mind. Rather than trying to balance all of the outer life influences, seek balance between your outer life and inner life. Understand that your private self and your public self must be in harmony to have the ability to deal with all that the outer world will entail.

REDEFINE

Redefine what an inner life means. It is not just yoga mats, candles, and green juice — these are methods, not first principles. It is a moral core that informs your other resources — intentions, attention, connections, and actions. Consider your inner life for its proper importance in life functionality. It is the foundation and the compass for the rest of your life. It will help you define who you are and what you’re alive to do. As you build it, you will find that you are building a state of heightened self-awareness and seeing life from a more holistic vantage point.

So give your servant a discerning heart

1 Kings 3:9

FIND THE GAPS

In many instances, there is a simple question to ask yourself: Which choice would you be more likely to feel good about at the end of your life? This will reveal gaps between your inner self and your outer self. It will reveal who you are versus what you do.

Here is an exercise to work on shrinking your gaps:

  1. Make a list of 5 to 10 of your core, internal values. (Focus on your spiritual life, emotional intelligence, empathy, gratitude, vulnerability, love, kindness, forgiveness, contributions to others, helping the oppressed, raising children with intact inner lives, a strong marriage, etc.)
  2. Make a parallel list for each item on your list describing your daily actions toward those values. (How much time and energy do you spend on them in real time? What are your specific behaviors regarding each? Be detailed in your answers — note the last time you took an action aimed at nurturing those values. Don’t be surprised or ashamed if you find that very few of your daily activities reflect those key values.)
  3. Assign a number from 1 to 5 measuring the gap between each value and your behavior. (1 representing a minimal gap; 5, the maximum)
  4. Identify the largest gaps. Now think about how your inner values could redirect your outer life choices in those areas. What would you have to do to bring the inner you in synch with the outer you? What can you commit yourself to do?
  5. Write it all down and set a reasonable time frame for reducing your gaps.

UNDERSTAND WE ARE A COMPLEX SYSTEM

“I never made one of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking.”

Albert Einstein

Our rational minds tend to dismiss what’s going on inside of ourselves. By trying to solely focus on reason and logic, it quiets our most profound heartfelt desires, our imaginations, and our deepest fears. As in any system, we are a complex, interdependent network of processes. We are not simply a “left brain” system. By understanding that our minds alone are a complex mix of logical and creative thinking, we should know that we shouldn’t neglect one part. If we don’t pay attention to our holistic system, we will miss the totality of who we were designed to be.

The rational mind can only comprehend that which is tangible. Imagine all that would be lost if we continued to only focus on the tangible aspects of life!

Using the Inside-Out System, we can see that our outer life is dependent upon our inner life, and, then, the mechanism is open both ways. But our inner life is similar to our heart; we can’t live without it. Your outer life can only be as healthy as your inner life. There is no exceeding your inner life with a plentiful outer life.

DON’T REQUIRE A TRAGEDY

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Viktor E. Frankl

Have you ever had to face a sudden illness or has someone you love become ill or died? The first thing that boils to the surface is the existence or the lack thereof an inner life. Failing health is a fast test to reveal what has been built inside. No matter what your outer life has amounted to, it can never redeem or replace the misfortune of losing your life or the life of someone you love. It is out of your control, so you can’t use money, a career, material possessions, or social standing to fix it.

It is wise to be able to see the value of your inner life before hitting a wall. But sometimes that is what is necessary to truly see beyond what the world offers our outer lives.

THE TIME IS NOW

Since our inner life is intangible and less measurable or visibly profitable, we often think of it as a luxury that can be indulged in at a future time. We tell ourselves we wish we had time for “self-care” such as sleep, exercise, eating healthy, prayer, etc., but those things are only available when we have more money, freedom, and time.

Let me suggest that there may be things operating in your outer life that are taking your resources from your inner life. My attention series hopefully shines a light on the value and possibilities of shifting your attention to what will truly advance your inner life as opposed to feeding the systems we are operating in. It also helps to focus on a more minimalistic lifestyle to find freedom through the release of the influence of “things” controlling your life.

The value of a healthy and robust inner life should dominate all other priorities and distractions. The time is now.

SEEK WISE INPUT

When you prioritize your inner life, you understand that you have a relationship with yourself, you have some knowledge of who you are and some knowledge of what you need in order to contribute to your greatest capacity. Through vulnerable and honest self-examination, you can grow in awareness of your strengths and weaknesses and have a foundational knowledge to build upon.

An inside-out journey opens your life to input from others, and rightfully so. We are not islands on these journeys. We need one another, and we need the stories, learnings, wisdom, and community of others to build upon. My caution is to understand that God created you and your unique journey to be your own blueprint. None of us are carbon copies of others. The right and the left turn of someone else’s path may not work for your journey to build a healthy inner life.

There are also many “gurus” who are not seeking your benefit. If you connect with a teacher, be sure that your relationship is built on a non-profitable desire for your development and respect for your individual journey. Just as a good doctor listens to you speak about your body or a good therapist listens more than they speak, someone who is trying to help someone else on an inside-out journey should be humble, loving, respectful, and cautious with their input. If money is a key factor in your relationship or if there is any sense that they require you to submit your will to their way of thinking, I would recommend walking (or running) the other way.

I have read dozens of books, I have been close to some of the most respected “self-help” gurus in the world, and I have worked with corporate cultures that sold a concern for people, and I have learned that these sources could never be “the source” for my inner life or anyone else’s.

Going back to first principle thinking, I would recommend seeking a much deeper source as a foundation for your input. For me, Jesus is my source for what my inner life should resemble. Outside of religion and any human representation of his character, the Bible reveals His character perfectly and clearly. There are a few pastors who I have found to show a deep dedication to Jesus’ teaching: Tim Keller has been a constant source for me and I love his podcast. There are many, many other amazing pastors and teachers. I encourage everyone to seek input that feeds your inner life. I am happy to also provide more suggestions!

SUMMATION

I hope this content hasn’t overwhelmed but has inspired you to consider exploring your inner life. It is a practice. It is a journey. It is never-ending, but it also brings so much joy.

Just begin.

I guarantee that once you begin to focus on your inner life, your outer life will gain clarity that you may have never had before. Priorities will shift and relationships will alter, but the one thing that will be constant is change. Growth requires change. Stay the path!

“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.”

John C. Maxwell

This topic could be expounded upon in many directions. I already have a couple of new articles that started through the process of writing this, and I look forward to sharing them soon!

Originally published at https://www.alexismaida.com on July 9, 2020.

Alexis is an experienced executive with 15+ years of expertise in strategy, communications, branding, marketing and wellness.