The Importance of Inner Work
“If people skimp on their inner work, their outer work will suffer as well.”
— Parker Palmer
Ever seen a student film? They tend to be unusually dark and depressing. They often scream instead of suggest their point of view. The filmmaker doesn’t present you with an alternative way to view things, instead she tells you how it is. Sadly many of us don’t outgrow this phase.
You can usually recognize a piece of art in which it appears that the creator hasn’t done any kind of inner work. You end up leaving the piece feeling covered in their couch time. Rather than using their story as a conduit drawing you into yours, the artist (often unknowingly) drags you into their own past as some ugly form of collusion. Instead of inviting you to consider a different perspective, the artist, in an attempt to get you to see things their way, pulls and pulls until you say finally scream, “UNCLE!”
Let’s agree this is not good art and let’s hope for something more from ourselves and each other.
The only way you can achieve this kind of maturity as an artist is by entering your own story and doing inner work. What do I mean by “inner work?” I mostly mean some kind of psychological therapy combined with some form of prayer life.
I can already hear the outcry: “Knowing thyself is the ONLY way to true enlightenment!” “Therapists are hacks. If you want to uncover truth, the ONLY REAL WAY is prayer!” Before I get letters, let me tell you that I think it is both.
Psychology without spirituality is arid and ultimately meaningless, while spirituality without grounding in psychological work leads to vanity and illusions.
— Understanding the Enneagram
Both have informed my work and both are integral. You cannot have one without the other. In fact, if we’re really interested in what Parker Palmer has to say, all our work should be moving towards integration.
Psychology with spirituality. Spirituality with art.
I’m a Christian, I have faith in God. And it is my belief that God wants to redeem my story through my life’s work and my art, and I believe the same is true for you. I’ve always been fascinated by the intersection of art and faith and have always thought of all art as a spiritual experience. Art seeks to tell the truth in dark places (movie houses, theatres, sanctuaries, museums) and it seems to me that’s what faith in God seeks to do as well – tell the truth in dark places. We cannot hope to do this well unless we commit to a process of inner work and guidance from a higher power.
I have found that when I’m brave enough to venture into these arenas; when I’m able to offer my full self; when my inner self has been explored, I tell the most truth and I create the best work. (And you can too.)
Let’s say you agree with me that our insides are where our best work comes from. Then you must also agree that if our insides have not been properly dealt with, what we create will lack a certain authenticity and depth. If not, you’re just the student filmmaker telling us how it is.
But, if the aim of your art is to invite people into their own hearts and stories…well then…
…you must be willing to enter yours first.
As my good friend, Dan Allender, always says, “You have absolutely no business taking us to places you’re unwilling to go yourself.”
Having worked as a professional actor for 12 years, Blaine now acts as the creative director at Willow Creek Community Church. A graduate of The Seattle School, he lives just outside of Chicago with his wife, Margaret, and their daughter, Ruby. Learn more at blainehogan.com.