Personal Growth from the Inside Out

Lu Ting ate at a Greek restaurant because Papadopoulos, the owner, made really good fried rice. Each evening he would come in and order “flied lice”. This always caused Papadopoulos to fall down with laughter. Sometimes he would have two or three friends standing nearby just to hear Lu Ting order his “flied lice.”

Eventually the Chinese’s pride was so hurt that he took a special diction lesson just to be able to say “fried rice” correctly.

The next time he went to the restaurant he said very plainly, “Fried rice, please.”

Unable to believe his ears, Papadopoulos asked, “What did you say?”

Lu Ting shouted, “You heard what I said, you Gleek plick!”

~ A story from Joy: The Happiness That Comes from Within

Why Inner Work?

A reader asked me once – why is this entire blog about inner work? What about changing from the outside? Even the series on changing behaviours focused on inner meditations, and nothing external.

In my experience, true change begins from within, from the consciousness that underlies everything else. There is a time for external work – for example, when one needs fast results – but otherwise, we are just covering up the real problem.

Who You Are Speaks Too Loudly

Perhaps an example would make it easier to see. Many popular books and workshops on social and dating skills teach external change. Touch creates bonding, they say, so strategically touch your target on the elbow as you speak. They teach structures of conversation, ways of listening, how to project your voice, proper body language, and on and on it goes.

Sometimes, this fools those around you long enough to “work”. But at best, the eager student has merely learnt to be a carbon copy of someone who has really “got it”. I remember meeting a woman once. Her perfectly practiced words and gestures told me she cared; her eyes revealed something else. She seemed cold, selfish, and manipulative, and that was all that mattered. Most around her saw right through her facade after a few days.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said – Who you are speaks so loudly I cant hear what you’re saying.

One Door Closes, Another Opens

I began personal development in a similar way. I was shy and lacked self-respect, and I was sick of it. So I tried developing confidence from the outside in. I tried a thousand and one things. I took on a teaching role in a small institution, I forced myself to meet strangers in a bar, and I forced myself to try public speaking. The first few times I was so nervous I nearly fell over. But eventually I became comfortable and was even having fun. Many of my new friends called me a social butterfly, impressed with how comfortable I made them feel, how easy I struck up a conversation.

Did that mean I was genuinely confident and secure? No. I had only changed superficially – I had learnt to say “fried rice”. I felt surprised and even a little confused at the compliments I received, for they were aimed at the facade I was hiding behind, not me, never for me.

Underneath it all, I was still the same little boy, playing dress-up in a superhero costume. Instead of becoming happier, I became stiffer, and more on guard. I was deathly afraid my mask will fall off, that my secret identity –together with all my fear, my bitterness, and my jealousy – would be exposed.

And so no real change occurred. These unresolved issues manifested in many ways, an irrational fear of intimacy, for example. So what if I was now charming and smooth? When a woman got close enough, this fear arose subconsciously and without even knowing why, I would immediately sabotage the relationship, sometimes just cutting it off without a word.

As Osho said – this is not the way of transformation. One door closes, another opens. Changing the outer is easy, but the real work consists in changing the underpinning of everything else – our inner consciousness.

Another Perspective

Nothing can change permanently without a corresponding shift in our consciousness. There was a point in time I used to smoke heavily, and this habit was driven by the same insecurities and fears I had struggled with for most of my adult life.

Before I realised this, I applied the usual quitting techniques. I forced myself to quit through sheer willpower, and succeeded – for a while. However, each time I was stressed, whenever I was reminded of my insecurities, I found myself reaching for another cigarette. Sometimes I used a substitute; in fact the cigarette habit was itself a replacement for something else. It took a lot of work, but when I finally freed myself of those insecurities, these habits fell away on their own, with no need for replacements. And surprisingly, so did most of my other vices.

This is why I dont agree with what many people shout about learning to love ourselves. Book a massage; treat yourself to a bubble bath; spend a day lounging in the sun. Find a new lover. Get more money, more possessions. Perhaps we are satisfied, relaxed, rejuvenated – but only for a while. But soon, very soon, everything comes rushing back, for who you are has not changed.

The Transformation of Consciousness

For some people, consciousness can change overnight. For most others, it is long, hard work. But it is the only work worth doing, for everything else falls into place. With a flowering consciousness, we develop courage to face the obstacles in any part of our life; we find a willingness to do what has to be done. We overcome the downwards pull of our pride, our anger, and our fears. Our consciousness determines our subjective experience of life – to a large extent, our very joy.

A Newcomer’s Guide

So how, exactly, do we do this? There are many approaches to inner work, and this blog covers my explorations of the best I’ve discovered, so go to the archives and start looking around!

I’m also preparing a newcomer’s guide to UrbanMonk.Net, so look for that next. Stay tuned!