Finding the Inner One: Advice from Saint Augustine of Hippo
As many of my readers may know I just spent the last eight weeks in relative seclusion in the high desert to finish up several pieces of writing and consider my next steps. My first novel, Capernaum, the story of a conflicted veteran who returns from Afghanistan to face both his own inner demons and the history of violence in his own family. All that being said, this piece was to be a way to communicate to the reader what I had learned while ten miles up a dirt road in 100 + degree heat.
There is no shortage of strange people in the desert. One morning a man pulled up on an old Bonneville motorcycle and said he had read one of my books, figured out through the landlord I was the author and decided to pay me an impromptu visit. He pulled a beaten up copy of my monographVague Apocalyptica from his satchel and proceeded to pick apart many of the things I offer therein. After a few coffees and a tequila or two (mind you this is at 09:30am), he told me in no uncertain terms, "I think you are a g*ddamn extrovert pretending to be an introvert!" I thought about his comment, his strange compulsion to basically stalk me and then responded calmly, "Thank you for your criticisms, now please get off the property before I shoot you in the ass." Luckily, he was gullible, and I can be very convincing. It is not true that I am an extrovert, however, but I must admit, my cantankerous visitor is a little right.My own interiority is a learned behavior from my upbringing in Augustinian spirituality.
“I searched for you outside myself, while all along you were within me. You were in me, but I was not in You… Do not go outside yourself, but enter into yourself, for truth dwells in the interior self.”
St. Augustine of Hippo
From the age of six all the way to age fourteen, I belonged to a parish, attended a church and school that all bore Saint Augustine of Hippo's name. So from quite an early age my own search for meaning, my encounters with the holy spirit, or divine (it really doesn't matter what you call it) had in them this training for what the nuns call interiority, and what is better know in certain philosophical circles as "the Inner me". A deeper realization of how I operate internally was just one of the things that occurred to me on this sabbatical. The work and discovery of the human heart or what we really feel is right is something we were expected to undertake during the frequently mandated silent moments of my childhood schooling. To the Augustinians, the entire interior journey is discovered through silence and solitude. I realized very quickly in the desert that what I had been missing in the city was the solitude and exterior silence that enables us to recognize the differences between the “noises” of our heart and the “busy-ness” of our mind. Interiority teaches us to recognize these obstacles and attempt to resolve our hearts and minds to loving oneness, which, in turn, can lead to an ever-deepening awe at the mystery of external creation and the workings of our own hearts-the Inner One.
In a time when there is an incredible amount of eastern teachings from Hinduism, Buddhism available to us in one form or another, Christian interiority can be differentiated. Interiority is not is not a psychological exercise that one does while lying on one's back in a yoga studio for five minutes. Rather, interiority is a spiritual attitude requiring an ever-deepening attentiveness both inner and outer silence that gradually opens us to the presence and encounter with both ourselves and whatever G-d renders itself as to us. This takes weeks, months, years even.
There are pratfalls along this journey, of course. A famously cryptic warning that some say is falsely attributed to St. Augustine reads:
Do not despair one of the thieves was saved.
Do not presume one of the thieves was damned.
I am thankful for Augustine's two thieves, even if they are not his. For in the nuance assigned to them, they mark the vague and hazy variance between the inner and the outer that we encounter every single day in life. The two thieves represent both internal and external pressures in all manner of human contrivance and represent the risk inherent in our choices, most especially one's that are spiritual or personal in nature. As one theologian puts it, the real choice is whether or not we will broaden the self to include other viewpoints, or if we choose a limited and narrow outlook.
My point is simple. I would estimate that about 75% of what we are exposed to has baked into it some obscuration of the whole truth--the ambiguity of the two thieves. It is sometimes astonishing to me how much rampant bullshit there is in the business world. Many people play petty mind games. There are far too many charlatans and false prophets operating in business for one to lose sight of caution, no matter what we hear from Silicon Valley and Wall Street. A wise man in Indonesia once advised me, "Don't keep company with fools, leave their presence like an elephant leaves an empty village; quietly and carefully." My friend's somewhat cryptic advice was meant to remind us that elephants are large, but shy creatures, whom, he cautioned, can easily crush things if they are startled. Saying “yes” too quickly without reflecting your choice can also be akin to the response of a raging elephant.
This may sound over-simplified, but I'm driving at what happens when we commit to a deeper, more profound interiority, to the Inner One. When our practice and understanding of our inner functioning and our outer role become conjoined as personal ethos. Nor is this how life decisions usually unfold; but it is how integrity works. If you say it, then do it. There is no wiggle room. People who wiggle on terms and agreements for too long are not making an innocent mistake; they are dodging you. Drop them. Run from them like the elephant.
We can feel better about ourselves by probing out own internal cues and then considering the greater overall utility or the outer function of. Here are some ideas about what one might consider when they encounter the "two thieves", who would push and pull us between what we may know internally, but not see or hear externally.
First the internal cues:
- First, what have we convinced ourselves is CERTAIN when indeed nothing is?
- Next, which negative outcomes are being glossed over, what negative or possibly disastrous outcomes are being ignored?
- What are our expectations—are they real, or biasing our decision?
- Have we stereotyped or underestimated anyone?
What information are we looking for or biased to listen for? What choices are wemaking—and which ones made you feel “good” versus those that made you feel “bad” and possible to ignore?
Then consider the external noise:
- What is being SOLD, or held up as the bright shiny object?
- What recent occurrence or factor biased you to forget about historical facts or problems?
- What’s the most obvious thing about the person you are ignoring?
- Which random events made you speculate as to potential outcomes?
- What are the REAL outcomes could actually harm or even affect you?
On a personal note, I have decided that I do no wish to return to my career in marketing and would rather entirely focus my efforts on writing and editing. To that end, I have started a new venture with an old colleague and new friend, called Snow Creek Press. We will feature literature, philosophy, and art publications and have already begun talks with different financial partners. This venture is in no small part a reaction to the dearth of philosophical, compelling and engaging content across social media, including LinkedIn, the editors of which I have had my share of disagreements as of late. That is neither here nor there, as I agree with my many detractors who claim this platform is inappropriate for probing conversations about life and meaning.
Louis D. Lo Praeste is a novelist, essayist, and journalist.
He is the author of five works of non-fiction, a collection of short stories entitled The Accidental Convert, a modern parable in the poetic form entitled, The Oath, and is working on his second novel, Latent Sonata; a dystopian, futurist tale of fraternal twins, separated at birth and reunited while the country crumbles into chaos. As of June 2016, he is editing a new collection of essays entitled: The Bungled and the Botched, Reflections on Paradox and the Spiritual Life. Louis was born in Boston and has lived on almost every continent, except Antarctica.
You can learn more about him or purchase his other books on www.bigthinker.com or follow @big_thought.