Thursday, June 16, 2011

Exploring the Inner Terrain

I have a lot of friends who love to travel. They have relentless curiosity and sense of adventure, and their yearly calendars are highlighted by trips to international, historic, exotic locales. They are exhilarated by world cultures and people.

I enjoy traveling as well, though the stamps on my passport aren't threatening the global ink trade. My wife and I spent an amazing two weeks in France last summer. One of my passions is wine and I dream of traveling to the great wine regions of the world - France, Italy, Australia, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand. Conveniently, I already live in the second greatest wine region in the world - California - so I've got that one covered.

I turned 35 last Saturday, which has provoked some introspection. Since I'm a writer by trade, I likely won't make it to my 40th birthday, so I need to make 35 count. I find myself reflecting on what I want for the rest of my life, and while many will dream of vacations they want to take, I can't escape my captivation with the inner life. I find myself regularly turning in, to explore the inner terrain.

No doubt some of this has to do with my introverted bent, but I do not think the inner adventure is one that should be restricted to certain personality types. It may be that in turning inward, we discover that the inner labyrinths are more complex, more profound, more confusing, and more inspiring than the diverse web of international cultures and the most rugged global footpaths.

American culture, generally speaking, is not an effective tour guide for this inner adventure. We are becoming increasingly outward oriented, and not coincidentally, more reactionary. Social media encourages us to trumpet our opinions on everything under the sun, and we so often end up embroiled in whatever theological or political topic has been raised by the big personality of the day. We're expected to have something to say about everything, which means we often have actually have very little to say about anything. We live in a cocktail-hour culture, and I'm convinced that Bilbo Baggins anticipated such a social-media lubricated world when he said "I feel thin, like butter scraped over too much bread." If we're honest, our technology sometimes takes from us more than it gives. And yet we fear that if we do not weigh in on the hot button topic of the hour then we are falling behind.

Exploring the inner terrain might involve sitting down with that fear and asking it a few questions. What will happen if I don't express my views? What impact might exuberant self-expression have on my soul? Why are people discussing this particular issue right now anyway, and why I do want to join the conversations?

This is why I find myself turning more and more to books - especially old books - and less and less to Twitter. While I learn new information from the books I read, I also find them to be a sounding board for the rhythms of my inner life. Books explore topics in depth, which resonates with my personal longing for spiritual, emotional, and intellectual depth.

In some circles this inner movement is part of what's called a spirituality of descent. We travel in to find the good and the bad, the life and the death, the groans of the Spirit and the whispers of temptation. Truth is, I don't know where this inner adventure is taking me - that's why it's an adventure - and I don't know what voices I will hear as I descend, but I am compelled to keep going.