What does it mean to live from the inside out? I hadn’t really thought about that before. In fact it wasn’t until I was describing my idea of a business to a friend that the phrase emerged. She said oh, you want to teach them how to live from the inside out. I looked at her, and said yes, that’s it exactly.

Life has a funny way of pushing and pulling us in directions  we don’t always want. Often we are left trying to find the meaning behind the seeming random events of our lives. We want to understand exactly what our purpose is, and even answer the age old question, who am I and what value do I bring to the world?

Living from the inside out, allows us to answer these questions, over and over again.

Recently I met a woman who reminded me of the value of inside out living. Our circumstances of meeting were ordinary. She had contacted my non profit workplace to offer a donation of items, but could we pick them up. Tasked with the pick up I arrived at her home ready to have the items loaded into my car and then depart for my next work related activity.

Things aren’t us

Karen* brought boxes out and loaded them into my car and we exchanged pleasantries. I commented that she must be moving out and how exhausting that can be. She looked at me, tears filling her eyes, “Yes” she replied. “This is my boyfriend’s place and I don’t have room for these things at my new place.  I have spent my life  accumulating these things and now I have to give them away. I am moving into smaller and smaller places and losing all my things”.

I stood looking at her, a stranger. Tears trickled down her face. I had a moment of choice, as we all do. I could have given a quick thank you and done a speedy retreat. Or, I could risk my own vulnerability and stay in the moment; lean into living from the inside and extend it out.

Ten feet apart.  I saw  a woman who was talking about things but expressing the loss of her self. I said, “I just met you, but I would like to give you a hug, would that be okay?” “Yes” she said quietly. I held her, we hugged and she cried some more, apologizing as she did so.

My humanity, my understanding of what it means to take the steps necessary to move one’s life forward gave me the words that were meant for that moment. “Things aren’t us. Our physical space might get smaller but the world opens up in unexpected ways. There is a much bigger life waiting for us than any we imagine right now.” We moved apart and I looked directly into her eyes. “You will be okay, everything you need is inside of you.”

As I moved to my car door, I smiled at her and gave her one last gift of myself, my time. With the loss of her relationship I knew she would have more time than what she wanted. I said, you have my number, if you’re interested we can get together for coffee.

Living from the inside – out

Our culture tells us that things are what hold and show the qualities of our lives, the success of it. How many of us hold onto things that no longer serve us?

Living from the inside out means that we are fostering the qualities that will always be with us and that indeed carry us through the difficult times in our own lives and enrich the good times. Compassion, empathy, kindness and love. Each must be applied to our own lives in order to effectively live them out in the world.

Once we do, once we truly believe we are enough, as is; quirks and flaws included, we find that things have less importance.

If we rely on the things of the world to define us and be the external validation of our worth, then we will forever be grasping for more. The markers of worldly success change. The timeless qualities of love, compassion, empathy and kindness exist through all ages and create internal markers from which we can gauge a life well lived. As you look to answer the questions of purpose, value and meaning, internal questions of the highest level, reflect also on the fundamental qualities. Then consider how you can live them. As you do, I suspect that you might begin to answer those questions.

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