Our society focuses on the outer world, not the inner life.
Our inner life is a secret world of feelings, fears, anxieties, rage, fantasy and magical stories: stories which end “happy ever after”; or dark stories that end in catastrophe and humiliation; stories in which we are the hero or heroine; or the evil one – the world will find out who you really are, and the world will be ashamed, especially your mother/father.
We are so familiar and habituated with the stories of our own inner theatre that we hardly remember that we are the author, and that we can change the script.
Most people don’t bother to work out where the dark stories come from, and how to heal them, and how to fulfil the longing in their hearts, expressed in both the dark stories and in the super hero/heroine fantasies.
What are you longing for in your inner life? How do you build an outer reality closer to your inner longing?
First, let’s just remind ourselves that everybody has slightly weird fantasies and inner life! After all, nobody else can inspect inside your head, so you can do what the hell you want in there! When you start inspecting your inner world, you need to do so with sensitivity, tolerance and compassion. I have learnt to be sensitive, tolerant and compassionate about the weirdo that I am; and thus have learnt to be tolerant, sensitive and compassionate with other people who look very ‘proper’ from the outside, but who secretly are also weirdoes (i.e. you!). And if you don’t believe me, spend a few minutes looking with new eyes at your secret fantasies! And say yes, it is ok, everybody does this!
Second, we can divide our inner life into the two categories: there are the stories that end “happy ever after” usually as a result of our heroism. In Tolkien’s language, we may be just a Hobbit, but we are going to undertake the long journey to Mordor to destroy the evil ring, and the world will be saved, and we will get the chick/chap we have been longing for all along. There are also the opposite stories, where we are unloveable, disgusting, abandoned, destined to failure, everything is going to fall apart, and we are going to die, get tortured or something worse.
I have used the idea of “stories” but your own thoughts are so close to you that you may not recognise them as stories. I am talking about those mornings when you wake up full of anxiety, or angry at the whole world; or poignantly longing for someone you saw fleetingly on the train or at a party. Or those days when something goes wrong and a voice in your head which sounds remarkably like your mother says “I told you so”.
We are involved in the Shakespearian tragedy of our inner life. The thing is, if you don’t like the plot, you can re-write it. And if you do like a plot, you can get practical and find ways of getting a little more of what you love in your outer life.
Re-writing the tragedy
There are two approaches we can take with our own personal secret tragic movie: first we can use positive psychology habits to keep re-writing the script so we take practical actions in our life to change it.
Secondly, if our tragedy is a horror story, and we can hear the scraping foot of some monster in the basement of our house, and turning up the music doesn’t work, we can open the door to the staircase down to the basement, and go down and take a good look at the monster.
Even better, we can invite the monster up into the adult world of our living room, where we have psychological resources, and invite them for afternoon tea and cakes.
There are simple questions we can ask the monster such as “what do you really want?” or “if you could have anything, what would it be?”. You haven’t asked deeply enough if the monster cannot yet articulate a heart-felt longing that is positive. And it’s very inspiring when you do receive a heart-felt answer from one of your monsters.
This is the kind of work we do on the Personal Transformation Intensive and the Life Talent Programme: combining the two approaches of building new psychological resources to help change the script, and also going to meet the monster in the cellar for a heart-to-heart.
Making the “happy ever after” story come true
Just kidding. There is no “happy ever after”! Everything is impermanent. Even in the perfect marriage, one person will die first, leaving the other behind. What is more, the human condition has success and failure, good and bad days, ups and downs; transformation and reappearance of old patterns. Life is like a stock market graph: with some focused attention, the general trend may be upwards, but there are natural peaks and slumps along the way.
But we can learn to savour the “ups” and bounce back from “downs” more quickly. Life isn’t going to give us a Hollywood movie where the couple skip off into the sunset holding hands at the end; but life can give us a movie where the couple gives up being at war with each other and can say “I can see the best in you and the worst in you, and I love all of you”.
The fantasies we all have are simply signs of our longing to be loved, admired, noticed and paid attention to. (Ok, let’s throw in some great sex too).We want to be finally admired for who we are by our father and our mother. (Ok, let’s take the great sex back out again). These fantasies come from our more child-like emotional selves and to get a little bit more of it in the world, we need some help from our adult skills and intelligent minds.
Take a look at one of your fantasies. What is it you really really want in that fantasy? What does it say about what’s missing in your life? What is a practical way to get more of it?