Lately I have been paying attention to how much I quote other authors on this blog. I could attribute this behavior to my academic training, during which we learned both to avoid plagiarism and to honor our forebears and contemporaries by citing their work. I do like to give credit where credit is due, but I would be leaving out a large chunk of the story if I ended it there. A fuller picture of my quotation devotion involves self-doubt. My own healing has sprung from acknowledging and investigating, with tenderness and patience, a tendency (a compulsion, really) to live from the outside in. From early childhood to the present, I have taken in countless messages, from multiple individuals and contexts, that the external world decides the value of my being. These external missives have infiltrated a lot of inner space and, after enough time, have started to feel like my own voice. The unsolicited advice and commentary include statements like,
"You can do better. I'm disappointed with your performance."
"Don't look, dress, or talk that way. What will other people think?"
"Your way of thinking doesn't make any sense. There's no room for it here."
"Don't get too big for your britches!" (Old school, I know, but I love the saying.)
"If you would just follow our rules, your life would be easier."
I am going to venture a guess--without quoting a published author, mind you--that I am not alone in having doubted my ability to look inward for validation, insight, and clarity. The problem with living from the outside in is that we leave our sense of well-being to whichever way the wind is blowing, thereby creating opportunities for that wind to knock us right off our feet. We give up our power to nourish ourselves and determine our own sense of accomplishment and happiness.
Searching my outer landscape for answers has become such an automatic, unconscious habit that unlearning it has required disciplined practice and, more importantly, kindness. Although I now have internal and external resources to interrupt the taking in of messages that are not helpful to me, I did not start out that way. So when I think of the four year old who learned that defeating her peers in musical chairs won her a delicious individual-sized cake, I do not want to beat her upside the head for taking away from that experience the following lessons: the quality of her performance before an outside audience determined her worth, and there was simply not enough cake for everyone to have some. I do want to tell her that who she is matters more than what she does and that definitions of success can include more than winning prizes and approval from the people in charge. I also want to relay to her that despite the scarcity model all around her, she is sufficient as she is and can encourage others to believe in their own sufficiency, too.
Things get a little more dicey when I look back on an older self, but compassion remains more helpful to realizing an aspiration of living from the inside out than criticism, disappointment, or blame. In the realm of my quoteaholism, for example, I can choose to listen inwardly and find that below the shame I feel about my ongoing urge to prove I know enough to publish written words lies piles of self-doubt. Intimately studying their contours, I come to understand that I did not emerge from the womb this way. I learned to master self-doubt as I focused my attention on the workings of the external world and tried to belong to it, with little access to outside voices reinforcing a message about the intrinsic value we all share. Taking in this bigger picture, I can recommit to the aspiration to remember others' and my own inherent preciousness. I can then practice going inward for answers, having decided not to reject my own experience, and seek counsel from others who share the intention to honor everyone's dignity, including our own. Slowly by slowly, I can become less reliant on external "experts" as I carve a life's path, trusting my body's insights, the ability to pause, and learned skillfulness as guides. Replacing old beliefs with new ones, I can determine that the words sought from within are worthy of sharing with the outside world. We are interconnected after all, so the authenticity of the words turns out to matter more than the source.