Journey into the Interior
This post is dedicated to Sandor and Frederic for all your ongoing support. And to Astrid and Nicholas for being such deeply caring friends. Thank you !
What does it mean to exist ? You can answer this if you want but I suspect that the best response is to remain silent and to feel what it means.
We exist in this world as an entity that knows a sense of self and a sense of more than self.
For almost 10 years I’ve danced with the idea that my own body has a finite existence and come to accept that if I cannot heal, my tumours will kill me. And I’m OK with that. What remains invisible on the outside, is the journey into the interior that I’ve had to make, to get to that point.
We spend so much of our lives caught up in journeys through the exterior world – the journey from cradle to grave; the journey through education, work, retirement; the journey from family to relationships and through intimate relationships into families of our own; the journey through friendship, contact with endless strangers and belonging to one place, person, one group or another; the journey from one residence to another; countless journeys through our houses, workplaces, favourite places, communities, states, countries and across the face of the planet; journeys through the gases, liquids and solids of the body and the world; journeys through the stories we tell ourselves in biographies, oral stories, films, books, songs, plays, dances and performances of all kinds; and the journey of history within and between families, racial groups, religions, states, nations, continents and species. We are so absolutely engrossed in our journeys through the outer world. Constantly seeking to experience both directly and vicariously, the many different physical, psychological and emotional offerings that such journeys promise us. We seek so much out there, such that we can experience in here.
And yet, when do we really ever consciously set out to experience and share our journeys into the interior world ? Carl Jung in his Memories, Dreams, Reflections, wrote a book about his life, in which he valiantly attempted to describe his own journey into the interior world and reconcile it with his journey through the outer world. Although it is a difficult book in parts to enjoy (and the likes of which few have been able to replicate), it is a one of a kind book that is immensely rewarding and one that points us towards potential journeys that all of us can make. What Jung does so honestly, is to describe how he came to be himself. Most biographies become preoccupied with the arrow of success and failure and doing. But Jung’s biography meanders between interior and exterior journeys and explores how they influenced each another.
So what is this journey into the interior that so many people deprive themselves of, that is denied by biographies and stories and left out of all accounts of a person’s life ? It is this simple – the journey into the interior is the experience of all that takes place within the field of the body and the mind. It is a journey that on the one hand follows the course set by cradle to grave and on the other hand knows no boundaries. Your body is finite but life is eternal. And as such, the journey into the interior is also eternal.
While we have a body we have immense potential for inner exploration. Our bodies set for us a natural kind of boundary, in which we can define a singular sense of self and discover what it means to be a singular separate self and more than a singular separate self. We are the I, the many and the one.
So the journey into the interior begins with where ever we’re at. And where are we at ? Here right now in the body. Awake and breathing. Living in the physical experience of life.
How then can we begin to embark upon a journey into the interior ? We start by noticing the body. Think of the body as a multilayered thing – which of course it is. In the outer layer are the physical senses. In the inner layer are the layers of that fuzzy world that is your bones, organs, tendons, ligaments, muscles, various tissues and liquids. Tune your attention into each of the individual senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch. Sense by sense, notice what you are experiencing through each channel. And then turn your attention towards the experience of the inner layers of the body. See if you can feel the whole thing at once – just hold the sense of it all gently. Notice how it changes constantly. There is a flux of experience. And then bring your attention to the individual parts in whatever way that you wish – section by section (head to toe), tissue type to tissue type, organ to organ. Just notice how each part feels. Notice the flux. Nothing remains the same for very long. And then when you’ve experienced each part, bring it all together again into a totality of inner bodily experience. Notice the flux. Then bring your attention to your breath. Feel the journey of air from your nostrils to your lungs and the energy it brings from nostrils to the entire body. This is the one action that keeps you alive. You can live without food or water but you can’t live long without breath. The breath is the base rhythm that sets all the other rhythms of your body. Feel it’s preciousness. Then bring your attention to your heart beat. Feel it pounding away inside you. The voice of creation speaks through the chambers of your heart. Creation ignites a spark in the cells of your heart, that kick start the contractions and expansions of muscle that move blood through your entire body. Your entire physical existence depends on the relationship between the cycles of breathing in and out and your heart contracting and expanding. Feel how breathe and heart beat are related. Let your lungs and your heart speak to you in silence.
When you’re ready, add your senses back in, so that you are now aware of your whole body. Now let your body as a complete entity in itself, begin to notice everything. What is happening inside and outside. Notice the movement of sensation, the movement of energy, the perception of fields of energy. It’s all there, inside the perception of the body.
Now that you have some sense of the body, you recognise that everything is in constant flux. There is constant movement. The body is not a static entity. You are not a static entity. Your identity is always in flux.
When you are ready, bring your attention to your mind. Let the mind gaze back at it’s self. Notice each thought that arises. Follow it and see where it goes. Let it fade away. Notice new thoughts as they arise. If you can, notice any sensory experiences that accompany your thoughts – inner images or sounds etc. Notice if any emotions accompany your thoughts or sensory experiences. Notice if any memories arise as a result of your thoughts. Watch carefully and you’ll see how they influence each other. You’ll also be able to notice how each set of thoughts, emotions and memories comes with a felt experience in the body. There is a whole pictures that accompanies each moment of experience. Each moment has an entire constellation of thoughts, emotions, memories and bodily sensations associated with it. Now take any memory of some action you created. Look at the thoughts that preceded it, look at the sensory experience that accompanies it, look at the emotions you had about it and then look at how it translated into action. Notice how your action created an event and possible consequences. See if you can recognise the constellation associated with that memory.
And then when you see the constellations, bring your attention to the gaps between your thoughts. This is the stillness in activity that you recognise by silence. Know that the entire constellation of activity that is your experience, arises from this stillness/this silence. This is the void from which everything arises. See if you can allow it to exist. See if you can feel it’s ongoing presence inside you, whenever you let the mind sit still.
So, this is the experience of journeying into the mind during waking hours. What happens when we sleep ? Well, our body (and brain) goes through significant changes in electro-chemical activity and there are changes in the overall energy field of our body. Neuroscientists have documented many different patterns and stages in sleep and these are likely to change significantly with changes in technology and ideas about how to conceptualise and study the brain. In general, I think we can say that our perception moves from the outer world to the inner world. Our awareness of such perceptions waxes and wanes. We dream, we experience deep sleep, we move, we lay still, we contract, we relax, our cells work slightly differently, our organs work slightly differently, there are changes in the chemicals in our body, changes in electrical activity in our body, we lose our sense of I and we gain a different sense of I. Just like with the body, there is a journey though our inner world. Of which we are both aware and unaware.
So, when we are awake and when we are asleep, we experience a journey into the interior that takes place through both the body and the mind. Sometimes we’re aware of certain aspects of the experience and sometimes we are unaware of other elements of the experience. But both journeys are happening at the same time. These journeys are happening ALL THE TIME and so include other states – such as transition states (like the hypnagogic state) and so called altered states (be they under the influence of an internal agent – such as breath or sleep deprivation or an external agent – such as LSD or alcohol or a strong magnetic field). The real challenge for all of us to recognise that whatever state we are in – be it the waking state, sleeping state, a transition state or altered state – we have the opportunity to connect with a journey into the interior. A journey which ultimately maybe more satisfying and enriching than our journey into the exterior. But which is also a journey which is necessary to help us in our journey through the exterior. The two journeys create each other and support or undermine each other.
We as human beings assume that we are separate from everything else. We ignore that we are built by aggregates of smaller things and that we ourselves are part of larger aggregates. In other words, we forget that we are connected to everything and that separation is an illusion. An illusion that is both necessary for our very existence and destructive to the growth of our spirit.
There is no need for us to do anything or to seek anything. All we need to do is to be. But how can we be ? We be by being with what is. Not what we prefer. During the waking hours we have lots of opportunities to embrace being and in so doing we embark on a journey into the interior that we did not previously recognise. Here’s a couple of simple exercises you can practice :
- Sit with someone and just listen to whatever they have to say. Notice all that arises in the mind and let it go. Notice what arises in your body and let it go. Recognise the flux of inner experience that arises and changes, as you sit listening. See if the persons words can enter you more fully. Free of your judgement, free of ruminations, free of associations, free of aversions, free of desire. Let your mind and body reflect your capacity to truly listen by being in a totally receptive state. In being this way you will have opened your heart to their heart, your mind to their mind and taken a step on the journey into the interior.
- Notice what you’ve been drawn to in the last day, week or month. What are you reading, watching, listening to ? Why ? What is it in what you’ve been reading, watching or listening to that you need to connect with ? Perhaps there is a song that keeps playing in your head or your dreams or perhaps a song you keep singing or a set of lyrics that you keep turning over. When you notice what you’ve been drawn to and actually think about it or do it, what does it make you feel emotionally and physically ?
- Notice the people you’ve been drawn to online or in the physical world this last day, week or month. What is it that draws you to them ? What is it that is happening in your interactions with them ? What do you need from them or wish to share with them or give to them ? What is happening mentally, emotionally and in your body when you interact with them ?
- Sit outside in any place. Perhaps you are at work or at home, in the city or the country. Using one sense at a time, see if you can focus your full attention on some object. If it’s sight, see if you can bring your attention to some other living thing – like a blade of grass, an ant, a tree or a bird. What can you notice ? What can you feel emotionally and physically in relation to that thing ? What is happening to the flux in your mind and body ? What happens with your other senses when you are connected to this thing ? Switch senses and move each sense to a particular object – a smell, the wind, clothing you are wearing, a building, a spider, carpet, a car – anything. See what your senses can learn and what your senses can teach you. And as the experience is unfolding, see if it is possible to experience both curiosity and enjoyment. Don’t force them. Let them come naturally. Soon enough you will discover that everywhere is interesting and no place is boring. Because no matter what is outside you, the inner journey is always happening.
- Think about the last dream you had. See if you can remember it as best as possible, as if it is currently happening. What are you feeling emotionally and physically as it is happening ? How are you relating to other things in the dream ? What symbols (objects) appear in the dream ? What message does the dream seem to be sending you ? When you are finished remembering the dream, talk to the symbols (characters) in the dream and ask them some questions and if they have any messages for you. How do each of these characters make you feel emotionally and physically ? Do any of them challenge you or present you with knowledge or wisdom that you did not previously have ? Do any of them ask you to do something you have not had the courage to do ? What is the pattern or theme behind this dream ? If it was a movie script how would you describe it in 3 lines ? Can you see any kind of myth in the dream ? Is it a myth that can also be found in the human world ? Does it have a historical counterpart ? Hows does this dream and this kind of dream (theme &/or myth) fit into this stage of your life ? Is it a dream or kind of dream that has been repeated at other times in your life ? Why might it be here now ?
- Think about a series of dreams you have recently had or record a month of dreams. In looking at them, were there any repeating images, scenes, characters or themes ? Do they seem to relate to events in your external life ? Do your dreams suggest that you are ignoring anything that seems to need to be heard ? Have any of the symbols in your dreams occurred in your outer world – particularly those that are usually uncommon – e.g. a long snake, a sword, a UFO, a ghost, a yellow path etc. ?
Our journey into the interior is really a never ending journey that consists of countless smaller journeys into different aspects of the interior. It is a journey that restores the power of being – such that we can comfortably do nothing or participate in doing whatever it is we need to do. It is a journey that can occur in any state of consciousness, to any degree. The smallest journey taken even between waking and sleep, is potentially worth more than the largest journey taken in the outer world. If it is done with sincerity and commitment and done often enough, it is has more value than a thing that takes great effort, great ego, great desire and great sacrifice. If we can cultivate a habit of taking many small journeys into the interior on a daily basis, our great and never ending journey into the interior will be deepened in ways that are priceless and unfathomable. When combined with the many small journeys we make into the exterior (and the great but limited journey into our physical life), our small journeys into the interior become a road map to understanding and experiencing our true nature. Our true nature being that everything is in flux and impermanent and that there is a part of us that embraces the entire flux of existence and is the only thing that is eternal.
It won’t make the news headlines or be on any of the UN’s agendas for the 21st century or even be considered important enough to teach our children. But our journey into the interior matters more than anything. It inspires greatness and kindness of all kinds. It inspires imagination and wisdom. It inspires love and compassion. And above all, it helps us to overcome the many obstacles that we face in our journey from cradle to grave and beyond.
I believe it was Jesus who said, ‘Bring forth what is within you or what is within you will destroy you’. To this I would add, ‘Know what is within you and what is within you will free you from the prison you have created and take you beyond the shores of bondage’.
We are as free as we allow ourselves to be, no matter what the conditions imposed on our body. If we neglect our journeys into the interior, we neglect the full expression of who we are at our own peril and create an endless series of psychic prisons, from which escape becomes almost impossible. To take any journey into the interior and to embark on the great journey into the interior, requires strength and trust in how we are living. Take my own life as an example. I’ve had tumours for nigh on 10 years, have just started treatment, my sister died a month ago and outside of this I’ve experienced the darkest crisis of my life. I came to the edge of the abyss several times but always stepped back. I could have given up. I could have given in to feeling overwhelmed. But each day I looked inwards. Sometimes I saw a dark amorphous mess that threatened to ensnare me and sometimes I saw the great luminosity which reminded me of who I am really am. And now that some of that dark crisis is over, I am able to see the many small journeys into the interior in a much wider context, as part of my great journey into the exterior and my great journey into the interior. I’ve realised that people and reality are much stranger than I had imagined. I’ve learned that I actually know very little about anything. I’ve pushed my mind and body to some sort of limit that could have killed me but it didn’t. I’ve come to experience my body in times of great stress and in great joy. I’ve come to experience my psyche and my body through dreams, symbols, messages, themes, myths and so called synchronicities. I’ve come to understand that this spirit and mind are connected to many bodies as part of one self. Bodies which represent different incarnations and bodies that represent parallel lives that are an extension of this life (and this life an extension of them).
Our journeys into the interior provide us with inner resources and inner riches that not only influence and guide and support our physical life but our life beyond the life of the body. We can’t take take any external riches with us when we die. But we can take all of our internal riches with us into the after life. They provide us with the opportunity to nurture and enrich the spirit and deepen the well of experience – that is both physical and non physical.
Take a moment to look at your body and know that it is both living and dying. One day it will decay and become nothing more than dust. Take a journey into the interior of your body and experience everything it has to offer, while you can. Take a journey into the interior of your mind and experience everything it has to offer from within the boundaries of the body and beyond the boundaries of the body. Look at anything and let it wake you up. Listen to anything and let it wake you up. Waking up is merely the process of being aware that there is more to notice and more to experience and more to your being. It isn’t some mythical ascension up your arse wankathon, that only happens to people who believe in love and light or have discovered the great conspiracy behind everything. It is merely a shift from one state of mental functioning to another. Even a dog can wake up to the scent of piss on a street lamp or the smell of a sweet bitch on heat. We can all wake up to the reality that out interior is alive and worth discovering. Why put off the greatest journey of all ?