The Need to Return Home to Our Inner Life: Lessons from the Pandemic
“The more a man’s life is shaped by the collective norm, the greater is his individual immorality.” ~Carl Jung
I’m not alone in reeling from the fragmentation we are feeling and witnessing in our country. How did we lose our kindness and our connection to one another and accept beliefs as facts? How did we let our external identities separate us? What has happened to us?
As a physician, my focus is often to uncover the underlying cause of illness, its seed, for me to find a cure. This requires me to sift through many layers of history to uncover where it lies. This process of unraveling always leads me to the root cause. It is only then that I can recommend the medicine that has the greatest ability to heal. Unlike traditional medicine where palliation prevails over all else, I work my forensic skills to dig deep, sometimes even deeper than the body into the history surrounding the causal seed where the illness first took hold. The best chance of a cure depends on uncovering the level of this seed or, as Robert Johnson states, “The right medicine at the wrong level is ineffective.” Illness, in fact, can be seen as a stage in wholeness. Many who have lived beyond their prognoses recognize how their journey through illness evoked a deeper level of meaning. As a society we are clearly ill, but how do we move towards wholeness? Maybe these ideas can shed some light on where to begin.
“Society needs to put out the fires but it also needs people to scan the terrain and see where the trouble spots are and how each one is related or dependent upon another. “ ~June Singer.
Our medical system is addicted to only putting out fires, and has lost touch with where the trouble spots are, and is not interested in where the illness comes from. Trouble spots are important to identify so bigger fires don’t start. But you and I both know that physicians aren’t paid to identify these. Our assembly line corporate model has become a profit-generating machine, one that has lost sight of its core vision — its responsibility to guide, heal and make whole again. It has conditioned us to ignore the big picture, dig deep, to go within to make needed changes. It no longer guides us in how to promote health. It does not encourage authenticity. Its goal of symptom management is not interested in our relationship with ourselves. It does not teach us to find the seeds of our illness. In fact, it discourages this.
Over the past year during the COVID Pandemic, I have heard my patients speak of their disillusionment, hopelessness, fear, anguish, and grief. I have wiped many tears and held space for much sorrow. Many have lost loved ones. Many have gotten sick. Many have felt desolation, loneliness, and isolation like never before. Anxiety has reached an all-time high. Many who pushed their feelings aside for decades have finally had to acknowledge them. What is suppressed rises up. What is suppressed for long gets amplified. When separated from the outside, we are thrust back inside, not by choice, but by necessity. This is the discomfort a lockdown can evoke, but maybe, just maybe this is what our inner life requires.
Lockdowns are necessary for controlling viral spread. So are masks and social distancing. This being said, we had to quickly adjust to a new way of life, one we were not prepared for. We were separated from our jobs, our colleagues, our friends, our families, and our familiar way of living. We found ourselves separated like never before. External norms no longer provided comfort. We tried them but they were fleeting. This made us vulnerable. Vulnerability opened us to our inner life.
The COVID pandemic has forced us to look within. Not only are we vulnerable to infection, but we are also vulnerable to uncertainty, to an unknown future, to not seeing an end in sight, to the loss of predictability and of control. Even our goals and dreams are interrupted. Most days we find ourselves standing on shifting sands.
Vulnerability is not a feeling we like. In fact, we have been taught to avoid it, to cover it up, put on a brave front, and pull up our bootstraps to keep going forward. This way of being is normalized by the collective. 2020 changed this. Vulnerability rose up and made itself known. It brought us in contact with our unacknowledged feelings. Our society does not honor feelings. Separation from the outside has forced us inside. In a culture where our life is shaped from the outside, going inside can be unbearable.
An illness in our culture is a disconnection from true feeling, from authenticity, the inner life, the inner world. The corporatization of our society is a symptom of this. We do sentimentality well, but true feeling, not so much. If the feeling is natural to being human, then why do we avoid it?
Our culture devalues inner life. When our inner life is not of value, we get out of alignment with our deep Self, our True Nature, the authentic ground of our being. Being out of alignment creates an emptiness, avoid. We fill this with distractions. These distractions are normalized, in fact, our economy relies on them. The collective encourages us to distract ourselves. It encourages it over the inner pursuit. For a time, it palliates vulnerability, but over time it leads us away from our inner life.
Our inner life is where our energy, creativity, and sanctity lie. It is the true ground of our being. It is here where we connect with our instincts, our authentic Self. As Jung says, “Most of our difficulties come from losing contact with our instincts with the age-old forgotten wisdom stored up in us.”
When our instincts rise up, they can offer us clarity, but only if we value them. Some part of us knows where our inner life is, but the dreaded distractions prevent us from listening. If we rely on the external world for assurance and self-worth, we project our feelings on the outside, onto others. We become dependent on the outer world, the outer sway, and become vulnerable to losing sight of who we are. Society places value on money, power, and status. If we are externally defined, these become our values, and we let society do our thinking for us. Its goals become our goals.
But our inner world has no interest in external values. They are not sacred to it, on the contrary. Our inner world values authenticity, kindness, love, and connection. Most of all, it values our relationship with ourselves. For it, money and power have no intrinsic value. The inner life is the abundant life. This is where our true meaning lies.
The external world separates, the internal integrates and makes us whole. In order to feel whole, we must cultivate a relationship with our inner life. Like any relationship, this requires practice and nourishment. But most of all, we must value it.
So, the Pandemic through paradox has connected us with our inner life, one that has suffered from neglect for a very long time. We must learn to feel, to listen, and to validate what we carry inside. We must learn to find meaning in our suffering and be dedicated to our necessity for growth. We must begin to value what is authentic and real. Only then, can we transform the external, and reorient its focus to what really matters.
This is our individual and collective work. We have to be in contact with the inner ground of our being to shift our perceptions, to see life as sacred, once again. I believe it is the only real solution for finding meaning in our times, to evoke kindness and care, equanimity, and love. In fact, our relationship with our inner life shapes our humanity. In the final analysis, an authentic life is the only life worth living.
I leave you with a reflection by Laurence Van der Post who advised POW in the Second World War with the following sage advice: “Don’t think the continuity of what you are has been broken. It is still there. It simply needs to be discovered in a new way, and together we can live our lives in a way that maybe we should have lived it before.”