The Truth About Insides & Outsides


I was talking to a friend about stress management tools and workshops, and she said, “Those are great, but what if the circumstances never change? What if we don’t change the thing causing the stress?”

It’s a good question.

It’s common to think that we must change our outside circumstances in order to feel differently inside; to be happy, satisfied, and at peace. I always believe that if I were in Bali or Tahiti, I’d be happy all of the time.  

But wherever I go, there I am.

Without a doubt, I would find something to be grumpy about or bored with in Bali. Maybe the rain. Or there are too many flowers. Something.

True, sometimes we DO need to get out of the situation that’s causing the stress or there is something dreadfully wrong that needs fixing … but that’s not enough. Removing the stressor or leaving the stressful situation is only the first step. The problem is that we often stop there.

The rest of the work is internal. And we won’t be able to let go of the emotional stress until we do that work.

Here’s the deal. This may be the most important lesson I’ve shared, so pay attention.

I’ve spent a lifetime trying to fix my insides by changing my outsides. It’s not the real solution because it's not the real problem.

Changing my outsides is about trying to placate my ego and the inner critic in my head that never shuts up. But the ego is never satisfied. Never. It always wants something else, something more, something different.

Until I got sober, I had no idea that the hole I was trying to fill was spiritual. Yep, that’s what I said. Spiritual. Not religious. (I wonder how many people are going to unsubscribe now? Anyhoo.)

I had tried to make myself happy by never making a mistake, by trying to do everything the right way, by changing jobs, leaving my husband, trying yoga, practicing affirmations, exercising myself to chronic injury, moving across the country, journaling, dating, not dating, the list goes on and on. I had tried everything but having some sort of practice that feeds my spirit. Or a practice of connecting to that spirit.

If the hole you’re trying to fill is spiritual in nature, none of these other things or experiences will fill that hole. I’m NOT talking about religion. Far from it. I’m talking about the idea that there’s something bigger “out there” or underlying everything or within us. I’m talking about your soul, if that’s what you want to call it.

If you have a soul-sickness, then nothing man-made will ever fill it.

You can move. Or not.

You can get a new job. Or not.

You can find a partner or get rid of one.

You can make more money. Or not.

All of those actions (or inactions) produce information you can use to make decisions about what works for you. Certainly, some of those things work better for you than others. Maybe you’re in a job that’s completely wrong for you because you’re trying to prove your worth or you’re afraid that you’ll lose your self-worth if you do something that doesn’t make as much money. Those actions can get you closer to being the true you. The destination is less important than making the decision and taking action. That’s what can spur personal growth, if you let them. If you’re open to self-reflection and seeing what your patterns and blind spots are.

But none of these will fill your spiritual hole. That comes from the inside. Or from the connection of the inside to the bigger thing that’s “out there.” When we connect to the bigger thing, that’s when the angst stops and when we begin to experience peace of mind, whatever the circumstance. Because, finally, we get to a place of “I don’t got it and I don’t need to,” which is the place of humility, not ego.

The process of living a life of meaning and joy is a spiritual process, whether you call it that or not. It’s a process of tuning into what creates joy for you and being honest about it. The process of finding your way is spiritual. There’s no blueprint or map or formula that works the same for everyone.

I’ve been pretending that spirituality doesn’t matter.

But actually, I think it’s everything.

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Portland, OR

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