Inner and outer world
Have you ever contemplated that you are living in two worlds? In the external, physical world of family, friends and work and in the inner world of thoughts, emotions, fantasies – a virtual world that can appear as real as the physical. Reality is that what you are experiencing, thinking and feeling have the same effect on your neural pathways as if it was happening in the outside world. By re-experiencing through memory your body brings you back to the original experience and the same neurons with thoughts, emotions and chemical reactions get stimulated.
Most of us put our attention on the external world most of the time and that is also where we measure ourselves as successful or satisfied. Your mind wants you to keep looking there and focus on external goals and changes. What your mind avoids to tell you is that this is an effective way to keep you busy your whole life chasing happiness without really experiencing feelings of happiness or satisfaction for any longer period of time.
When focusing on the external and lacking satisfaction, you might even adapt to the perception that happiness doesn’t really exist. Life simply is mostly suffering, struggling and boredom and you decide that people that say differently put on false and superficial smiling masks. Even if the last might be true in some cases it doesn’t mean that the your first conclusion is true.
Our minds are experts on giving explanations that will seem to match what we’re feeling. If we feel hopeless the mind will look around and point at something to give it a story. “All men in our family has been stubborn and so am I”, “I am too nice and can’t set boundaries”, “Life is hard”, “No-one has compassion anymore”. If you have a mind that is particularly self critical and punishing it can become so painful that you will protect yourself by even more firmly point at other people and situations. Now your mind is active building world views, finding explanations and point at everything except back at itself.
Back on topic. Your mind wants you to believe it is in the outside world you achieve success and therefor happiness. The idea of what will bring you happiness will look different for different people but often focuses around career, money, relationships, physical strength, intellect or other areas that will give you recognition from others. Most of us have heard at some point that money or other people can’t bring us happiness, that happiness comes from within. Few can describe the road there in a way that gives helpful, practical guidance.
Beliefs determine your experience
What your mind doesn’t want you to know is that these outer goals and measurements seldom lead to a lasting experience of happiness. You might notice it when you get that new job and it feels really good for a while. But after a while the thoughts are there. “I am not actually that good at what I do and don’t deserve to be here”. Now you’re afraid that someone’s going to find out what a big fraud you are and the joy about the new job is gone. Now you’re busy keeping the external mask of a successful professional, a mask that doesn’t match your inner feelings and an inner ongoing conflict that will use a lot of energy is created. Or maybe the high from getting the job simply fades over time and you need a new self esteem boost when the new and exciting has turned into routine.
Your mind’s image of you not being good enough is built on a belief in your unconscious. Outer circumstances will not change the emotions connected to that belief more than a short while. It is a number of underlying beliefs with accompanying emotions that will decide your experience in the world and with what filter you look at the world through.
So, your mind says you need to change and achieve things in the external world to be happy. When you achieve those goals you might feel a high of euphoria and satisfaction for a while but how long will it last? When the good feeling start to fade the mind will come up with the only solutions it knows – setting new and higher goals. The risk here is you spend your whole life hunting achievements you are convinced will make you happy but never will more than temporary. A new job. Renovating the bathroom. A romantic relationship! A house! Kids? What about going on a vacation, that’s what’s missing and we all need some rest and fun. Training for the marathon. A raise! A new hobby. New diet. Couples therapy. The mind runs in circles trying to find things you haven’t tried yet, new obsessions that will get you something you feel is missing. But still the underlying feeling of not being good, successful or beautiful enough won’t go away. Instead it ends up running your life, driving a majority of your decisions, without you being aware of it.
It is your inner world that will have a lasting effect on your experience of happiness. On the essential level of your emotions your happiness and satisfaction got very little to do with your achievements in the outer world.
Your mind doesn’t want you to know about your inner world’s effect on your happiness. It is it’s own creature with it’s own logic built on a structure of beliefs and agreements formed by past experiences. We can compare it with what we call an artificial intelligence, AI. A structure of opinions and conclusions that can learn new things within set conditions, in the case of a typical AI those conditions are ones and zeros. In the case of your mind it’s beliefs, formed by past experiences and your emotions and conclusions drawn from them.
Cognitive neuroscientists have proven that 5% of our daily thoughts are conscious, while 95% happens in our unconscious. Neural pathways that has been activated enough times or intensely enough to form a pattern and now run on autopilot. When one piece of the pattern gets triggered (an emotion, thought, place) the whole chain starts firing. We are not aware that we are thinking or feeling or the logical gaps that take place, it just feels true so we believe it’s true. Even thoughts where we reflect on our own behaviour is usually judging or in other ways part of an old automated pattern.
How you can change your inner world and therefore the outer world
There are more to you than your mind. You can train your awareness to become aware of your thoughts. This is how you can start take a more conscious role as the programmer of your mind. However, the program itself might have objections. If you start looking and change some of the automated systems the mind will start losing control over you which you probably experience it does not like a lot. It wants you to keep looking at where it’s pointing, not to look behind the curtain on who’s pointing and why. It will probably state that it’s a complete waste of time, that it’s too hard, to woo-woo or something else that has worked before and diverted previous attempts towards self-awareness. If you at this point start practicing a big amount of skepticism towards these thoughts you have a chance to change the landscape of your virtual world, step-by-step.
That does not mean it is easy. The mind is a living organism fighting for survival. If you have watched the show The Good Place – think of the AI Janet and her reaction to Chidi trying to reboot her. As a built in defence mechanism Janet starts pleading to Chidi’s emotional side as soon as he gets close to the reset button. She shows pictures of her children, cries for mercy, screams at him in anger – even though she does not have kids or emotions. It’s likely that your mind will react in a similar way. With every trick it’s got it will try to get you back in to well-known reactions and patterns. Not because it’s bad, but because it’s patterns has been built up for a reason over the years and letting go of them feels like a very bad idea to that logic.
Like a multi headed hydra, more heads will grow out when you cut one off. You are more likely to succeed if you hide out, observe it and track it’s behaviour than rushing in with your sword and start cutting everything that moves. I will leave the hydra for Hercules for now but if you are serious about changing how you react, feel and think and with that your experience of the world there are exercises that put together will build a working path.
Step one is to build self awareness. What thoughts are running, what perspectives do they exist in and how do you react and act on them? When you start getting a better picture of that you can practice shifting your attention between different perspectives. Slowly you will build a gap between yourself and your mind where you no longer identify with your thoughts and beliefs. Your mind is not you. Now you can start looking at the unconscious beliefs, release the emotions that has been stored with them and take your faith out of them – the glue that holds your beliefs together.
This is a process that is way more effective than positive affirmations on top of your critical inner voice or trying to replace one emotion with another. It is a journey for life that asks a lot of you and where you get a thousandfold back. Tha challenge right now is: what you have at your disposal to try and understand this journey is your minds version and understanding of it. And it does not know what it is talking about. But you can start walking, distance yourself from your mind’s opinions and new insights will unfold along the way.
When you realise how your experience of happiness depends on your inner patterns and beliefs it might lead to a shift in your priorities. To change your opinions, beliefs and fears becomes more important than chasing goals in the external reality. To create peace and calm of mind becomes more important than proving yourself to others or being right. Concepts you might know with your intellect but when you are completely honest with yourself you can see that the impulses and emotional reactions are there.
When you choose to start this journey and have a good guide in some form you will eventually discover a whole new world. The virtual world becomes more quiet and you get to experience without layers of judgements, fears, righteousness, opinions and even descriptions. This is a state of deep satisfaction, peace and joy and you will discover how the old state that your mind was saying was reality was nothing but a projection.
By taking a part the projections from your false beliefs you can experience happiness in all changes of life.