Pay Attention To Your Inner Life

I’ve covered “attention” in a few forms in this series thus far — its value, its relation to intentions, how it is influenced by external systems through ontological design, and how we can accurately think in first principles to pull out of bad designs. To wrap up this series, I feel the most integral part that attention plays in an inside-out wellbeing journey is in our inner lives which communicate outward as a value system.

“Throughout the ages men have been intuitively aware of the existence of an inner center. Greeks: Daimon, Egypt: Ba-soul, Romans: Genius.” — Carl Jung

While pondering writing this article, I listened to a very thought-provoking episode of The Breakdown podcast by Shaun King a few weeks ago on my on-going listening quest to learn and understand more about racial injustice in the US. In this episode, he connected all of the current and past racial issues to one first principle — our internal value systems are the root of all of our actions.

This supported the relevance to anchor attention to something that truly connects to an inside-out wellbeing journey. Exclusively focusing on changing external systems will not change the results we are seeing in the world today. It never has and it never will, because no external system can fix the inner life.

Your inner life is the realm of your private thoughts and values. Your emotions, fantasies, spirituality, capacity to love, desires, and sense of purpose. In other words, your inner life is who you are on the inside. It is where you deal with your emotions, your degree of self-awareness, your sense of clarity about life, and your capacity for calm. Your inner life is where any resiliency resides to handle a frenetic and demanding outer life, which makes it the key for a healthy wellbeing journey.

If the concept of your inner life is foreign or uncomfortable to think about, you have most likely sacrificed your inner self for the demands of your outer self. This is sadly the case for many people today. I will focus more on the journey toward a healthy inner/outer life balance in another article. For the purpose of this attention series, I would like to focus on the influence of our inner human nature (particularly the difficult bits) in the development of value systems that dictate our relationship with the external world.

As I dip my toe in the shallow end of a very deep subject matter, I would like to first be vulnerable and honest enough to state that I know my heart is not a golden flower spreading blessings and love around the world. I have spent 37 years wrestling with the realities of my inner life and the mess that I know exists inside. Anger, envy, lies, pride, greed, judgment, and idolatry all run their course. On top of the existence of these evils, I have also battled the legalistic thought process that I needed to control them on my own accord through efforts and actions. I spent a lot of life working in a vain effort to surmount the inner heart issues by focusing on a destination to change external systems and behaviors only to learn it was all built on “manipulative goodness.” The inner life is messy, and it needs attention, not a glossy new cover.

“You may talk about the lofty virtues of human nature, but there is something in human nature that will mockingly laugh in the face of every principle you have. If you refuse to agree with the fact that there is wickedness and selfishness, something downright hateful and wrong, in human beings, when it attacks your life, instead of reconciling yourself to it, you will compromise with it and say that it is of no use to battle against it.” Oswald Chambers

Beyond my own inner battles, I look out at humanity and see the same issues seeping out, and I know I am not alone. We are all on the same spectrum — no one is any better off than anyone else. Some are just at a more extreme level of the same inner evils.

We’ve all watched public people who have destroyed their external lives with what is happening in their inner lives — billionaires arrested for indulging in ill-gotten gains, self-destructive celebrities overcome by their successes, political leaders whose hidden personal lives destroy their credibility, legalistic priests who abuse children in private. Would we really suggest that all of these extreme examples are solely victims of their environments or systemic issues? Or is there a nature that exists beneath all actions that has the ability to be stroked or flamed by the addition of corrupt external systems? What is fueling what?

There definitely are systemic issues to tackle and fight, but I believe we must individually pay attention to what lies inside as a first principle. After all, don’t all systemic issues come from the design of someone in history? Their value system was communicated externally to design something that we’re all still operating in. Outside of nature, systems don’t originate on their own.

Why does history repeat itself? Why do we see progress and then pain over and over again? If humans were capable of getting better and better over time, why are we still suffering from such oppression? If we’ve been here for so long, how do we explain Caligula, Genghis Khan, Vlad Dracula, Queen Mary I (Bloody Mary), slavery in the US, Hitler, Mao Zedong, and ongoing racial injustice happening across different time periods and different cultures? Human beings cannot learn sustainable lessons from history because the root of the problem comes from the inside.

We make decisions based on our value systems, and those value systems are built on what grows from our inner lives. What we lack inside will result in a devaluation of external life. We are constantly faced with external systems that support inequality and injustice, and these systems only justify and build upon what is already inside.

If the police officers in Minneapolis valued George Floyd’s life, they would never have knelt on him for nearly nine minutes while he begged for his life. Ask yourself whether you think they would have done the same in all other similar instances with someone from another race, sex, or class background. Whatever their value system was built on controlled their attention, connection, and action, which ended in the result of George Floyd’s death. Systemic racism has supported these actions throughout history, but I would argue it did not create the origin of the evil to allow for that result.

( If interested, here is a well laid out argument by Tim Keller on racism as a sin.)

If you recall from my last article, first principles are the fundamental concepts or assumptions on which a theory, system, or method is based. To be very clear, I am not stating that our individual inner lives and resulting value systems are foundational truths. I am stating that there is a first principle in that our value systems are the foundations to the formation of our intentions and the use of our attention, connections, and actions. However “wrong” or “right” our value system may be, it will dictate our entire journey. Much like a compass that guides our paths.

This made me reanalyze the Personal Funnel of Resources that I have been sharing in this attention series. I suggested the external systems that we operate in through ontological design act as a veil over our resources, and I would suggest that our inner lives and our resulting value systems are even more impactful. They are, rather than a veil, a foundation. These value systems are ingrained in us through our holistic environment since childhood: upbringing, family, birth order, friends, geography, nationality, education, experiences, trials, triumphs, and any other formative influence.

These experiences and deep personal realities can be isolated from the ontological designs we operate in that have been designed by someone else and, in turn, design our lives. These environments haven’t been “designed” by someone in history, they are formative environments that, once combined in an individual’s life, are completely unique to every single human experience. Each is like its own unique fingerprint. Our thoughts, feelings, memories, decisions, hopes, dreams, hurts, opinions, attitudes, sense of purpose and value all come from, as well as create, our life experience. Like a sort of a pump mechanism between our inner lives and the outside world, we absorb from our environment to either nurture or harm our inner lives, and we then push back out what has grown inside. Everything in our outer lives flows out of our inner lives.

“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts-murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.” Matthew 15:16–20

“What you seek is seeking you.” — Rumi

I have openly shared my faith as a Christian in my articles even though that is like putting a bullseye on my back when trying to share content for a global audience — especially with the divisiveness of the church today. I am not speaking to religious people. I am speaking to anyone who is searching for answers from the inside-out, anyone who can relate to these deep subject matters, and anyone who has a desire to connect with others who are also searching for a light in the darkness. I am attracted to people who don’t agree with me and people who think differently as long as there is an inner search. The common ground is an awareness of the inner life and a deep desire to find answers to heart questions.

“Questions are the tools of the explorer; they are the treasure maps and flashlights of the heart hunter. By them we find the trails and tunnels into the inner life of another human heart.” — Sam Williamson

Something I have learned is that I can’t fix myself, and I certainly can’t fix anyone else. I am not a guru with answers to life’s questions. Instead, I welcome the questions, I dig into them, I seek answers, and I have learned that there is unlimited grace in the search.

Here are a few questions to turn the wheels a bit:

  • Are you aware of your inner life?
  • Do you agree there is a system inside that dictates your resources?
  • Do you feel it is messy and full of things you wish weren’t there?
  • What are the foundations of your value system?
  • What drives it?
  • What fundamental truths do you hold yourself accountable to?
  • Why?

Now, let me suggest that questions without answers are ok and should be expected. Fighting for perfection is not the point of the journey. The goal is to try to seek and grow through the process. I’ve found that the more I learn, the more questions I have. I love the search and I love the relational aspect of living to that fullness where it is never solved, answered, done, or boring. Life is not a monologue — it is a dialogue with God and with all of those with whom He’s surrounded us. We should never expect to be done. Life is about living, and striving to be at an apex would be equivalent to death because there would be no more to live for.

Paying attention to our inner life is a fundamental step on a wellbeing journey. It is ongoing and it will never be perfect. It is like a garden that needs constant tending. I am writing about it because it has changed my life to understand more fully the importance as well as the inadequacy of my inner life. To be so brutally honest about what exists inside has freed me from being a prisoner of it. I know my inner life is a mess, and yet I know that I am loved, which gives me the ability to love. I have received grace upon grace, and when this hit my heart I realized I shouldn’t have the ability to reflect anything else.

It has also humbled me to understand that I am on the same spectrum of evil as every other person in the world. Nothing separates me from someone who has committed murder as far as what I am capable of inside. The only separation is the environment that may fuel or feed that human nature toward one end of the spectrum or the other. My only hope is that in anchoring my value system to my faith as my first principle, my resources can be used for love and not hate, for light and not darkness, for hope and not hopelessness, for truth and not lies, for freedom and not oppression.

As the world grapples with systemic issues, I encourage everyone to begin by taking a look inside and see what is running your inner life and communicating outward as a value system. Never cease to seek with all of your heart, and the changes that ensue will inevitably change your external life.

(I look forward to continuing the deep discussion of the inner life and focusing on the beauty that has the potential to exist as well.)

Originally published at https://www.alexismaida.com on June 29, 2020.

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