Our fleeting inner experience

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Good morning (it’s Thursday morning here in the north of Scotland)

I am a psychotherapist and every week I spend time with people who tell me a great deal about themselves. People don’t just share stories, facts, events. They share their mental activity. They tell me what goes on inside their heads, how they feel, what they think, what it ‘looks like’ in there. It is sometimes possible to get a glimpse of what it’s really like to be that person in that moment that they are describing, or in the moment we are sharing.

It’s not possible to come fully to someone else’s inner world. No one is really fully knowable. People do their best in therapy to invite me to see something of what goes on in their heads. It’s a great privilege and it’s an amazing experience. I realise too that often I am the only person who knows and will ever know those people in this way. A lot of the time no one else is privy to what my clients tell me.

Our inner world is so rich, so filled with activity. Even if we could come closer to people, and even if we all knew how to be present for others and properly attune to them, we would still not be able to see everything that is in there.

In one of Ursula Le Guin’s famous novels The Left Hand of Darkness

she tells about this planet where history is not studied by scholars the way we do it here. History is recorded through diaries. Every individual keeps a journal throughout their life and when they die their journal is deposited in the public archive in their community. On that planet, the stories that we call history are made of the personal stories that people told in their diaries, their feelings and impressions about things, their experience of reality, the best they can tell it.

In our way of recording and writing our history we often ignore the personal, subjective side of things. We do get something of the personal story of ‘famous’ people. But what about the ‘ordinary’ people? What about those who live and die and who no one remembers after the last person who had known them had died?

There is something really sad about this. Not only are we largely unknowable anyway, too many people are genuinely not known by anyone. I can tell you as a psychotherapist that the inner world of people is incredible. There are exquisite experiences in there, amazing images and feeling, impressions of the world, thoughts that people have when they experience something, sensations, hopes, wishes, imagination, dreams and fantasies. Some of these can be difficult to witness because there can be a lot of pain and suffering in people too. There can be ugliness and toxicity but it’s all beautiful, it’s all incredible. More importantly it is all as fleeting as a Buddhist sand mandala. None of it lasts. When that person is gone, even when the moment is gone, it’s all gone forever. Each individual experience of reality is entirely and utterly unique, and yet we know so little about it…

I think it’s a really sad world where so few people are known properly. Even very small children have an incredibly rich inner experience that most parents and most others have no access to at all. Children learn very quickly that adults don’t listen properly, that other things are more important than what they feel, think, sense or imagine. We tell parents they must work hard and do the best they can to be attuned to their children’s inner world. But the majority of children live a lonely life internally and they grow up into adolescents who are even lonelier.

In adolescence we become more self-aware and our inner experience becomes more intense because of the hormonal changes we go through. Yet, we already know from our previous experience that no one can know us, and that few really want to. This can feel intensely lonely. Even loving parents put other things ahead of their children’s inner worlds. Then we wonder why people feel lonely or depressed or why adolescents go a bit nuts… Most people survive the shock of adolescence that follows on from an already largely lonely childhood. They grow into adults who are already a bit disillusioned, who think that their own inner experience is not interesting or important or that it’s a bit crazy. They think no one really cares because that’s how it’s always been and the sad truth of it is that they are largely right…

We are so busy with the outside because our survival instinct tells us that we have to do all the things we do in order to survive. Of course we do. I don’t have a problem with that. What I do have a problem with is our priorities. People’s inner world is the most neglected aspect of human existence. That’s largely why I have a job in the first place. Therapists exist and the therapy space exists because there is little room for people’s inner world in our busy world out there.

We need to make room for our inner worlds and experience. We can’t tell everything that goes on inside us even if we wanted to, but we can tell more. If everyone’s inner world was made important in our collective existence, I have no doubt that mental health problems will decrease. I think social media has become so successful precisely because we neglect our inner world so much. It meets a real need. Social media suddenly gave a platform for ‘ordinary’ people to make themselves known, to share more of themselves with others.

And of course once we see people more properly we also see the ugly stuff. But it too is also a part of people’s inner reality. As I tell my clients, if it’s in there, it was put there by the environment, well, at least for most of us. What I mean is that whatever we feel and how we see the world is a product of how we are wired, and we are wired by our environment. If someone grew up in an ugly, toxic environment, they will have ugly and toxic stuff wired in there, which will impact on how they interact with the outside. It’s actually quite straight forward…

Showing what’s inside is not permission to abuse others. We can let someone else know what is going on inside us while being mindful of the other person’s integrity and safety. There are ways to say how we feel without attacking or abusing. If we abuse, all we do is pass on what was done to us. I digress a little here because I realise that some people confuse saying or feeling with acting, doing something. Saying to someone ‘I am very angry with you for your opinions and I really don’t like your politics’ is not the same as saying ‘you are a hateful disgusting whore and I hope you die’… (or worse). The first is an expression of the writer’s inner experience, the other is a toxic attack. Many people have no good ways of sharing what they really feel inside. (Why would they if they have never been taught?) So they can be abusive and social media is being used as a platform for verbal abuse because it’s easier to get away with it than it is in the non-digital world.

I want people to share their inner world. I want us all to learn to be good listeners and witnesses. I want us all to underdogs the difference between feeling and acting and for all of us to have good simple skills to express ourselves without hurting others.

I want us all to understand how incredibly precious and fleeting our inner activity is. Only a select few, artists, writers, ‘celebrities’, have a record of a few captured moments from their inner activity. The rest of the world don’t even have those. Blogging is a good way to share your inner experience. I guess that’s what I have started to do here. If I didn’t write all of this down this morning, it would still have been thought and felt but it would have vanished…

Wherever you are, I hope you have or had a good day today. I hope someone was present for you and honoured your inner experience, and hope that you are able to make yourself present to someone too. xxx

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