There is a story from long ago, from a time that the gods were discussing where to hide the secret of peace and joy. They did not want humanity to find it before they could appreciate it. They had a great debate about where they could hide it so that when it was found they would be content. One of the gods suggested “We should hide it at the peak of the highest mountain.” After some discussion it was determined that it would be found too fast, too simply, too driven by the elements of this world. They also discussed the deepest forest, the deepest sea, and the hottest desert, all with the same conclusion. Then, the wisest god, who had been mostly silent up to this point, stood up and proclaimed that he knew where to hide it. Everyone turned in expectant silence and curiosity. He spoke slowly and calmly, “Hide it in the human heart, that is the last place they will look.” All of the gods agreed and to this day it is the only place to find it.*
Someone once asked Christ where the kingdom of God would come from. He responded by saying “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”(Luke 17:20-21).
Earthly feats like mountaineering, sailing, and all of the other adventures we take are only preparation for the real journey. At best, they give us the courage to take the most courageous journey of all, the one we fear most, the one that leads to the inner world of the human heart. Here, we are faced with ourselves. Here, we are faced with the truth of our beliefs, thoughts, and feelings.
What if those places we fear, those parts that seem ugly, those memories and feelings that seem like they would devour us if we stood to face them were the first courageous step in finding peace and joy? Sometimes I think that the motto of modern society is “escape suffering, life should be pain free”. We are told (and often believe) that money, success, passion, drugs, alcohol, food, sex, cars, and clothes will take away the suffering. We are told that we deserve to feel good, all the time. This is a great deception.
What if the secret to peace and joy is to go through the storm of suffering by embracing struggle rather than condemning it, avoiding it, and ultimately denying its existence?
“Love your enemies,” Jesus said. What if that started with the enemies within; those memories, thoughts, beliefs, and feelings we fear to face? What if our nearest adversary was our fear of the truth, the fear of ourselves as we struggle to keep up with appearances?
Richard Schwartz, the founder of the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model of therapy calls those painful and scary parts of our inner-universe the “Exiles”. In a conference speaking to clinicians who work with bulimic patients he said that these exiled parts of us “are locked in the inner abysses and when they are unburdened they become the light playful child… the childlike parts that they originally were” (Schwartz, 32:54).
This reminds me of time Jesus’s disciples were debating who would be the greatest among them. Christ ushered over a small child and told them “with certainty, unless you change and become like little children, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).
We must become like children? Children are so weak, vulnerable, clumsy, and needy…
However, the inner child knows peace and joy. The child trusts, lives in the present, loves and forgives. Sadly, the inner-child is often locked away in the depths of our heart, beneath the layered sophistication of adulthood.
How do we become like children?
The last place we look for peace and joy, our heart, should be the first. The way to the child within is not in escaping the truth but in finding the courage to sit with the fear of our honest feelings, thoughts, and beliefs. However, we don’t have to walk this road alone. It is good when we find the courage to allow others into our journey.
May peace and joy find us on our way.
*Story adapted from Richard Schwartz’s book, “Introduction to the Internal Family Systems Model.”
Internal Family Systems: An Introduction & Live Clinical Demonstration [Video file]. (2011). PESI Inc. Retrieved November 6, 2015, from Academic Video Online: Premium.