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Inside Out - 5/17/2010

When I was a little boy, I heard that if you inadvertently put an article of clothing on inside out, it was lucky and you’d be in for a pleasant surprise that day.  Sometimes, I thought of deliberately putting an undershirt on inside out in order to ensure that surprise.  But a voice inside me said “No.  You’ve got to do it by accident” and I didn’t know how to do it that way.  

I hadn’t thought about that in years, until I saw a movie, “Everything is Illuminated”, which refreshed my memory.  In one scene of the movie, an American youth tells a young Ukranian man that his shirt is inside out.  Because of his limited knowledge of English, the Ukrainian youth couldn’t comprehend or translate “inside out”.  Initially, it seemed an irrelevant event because the movie dealt with a man who, after his grandparents’ deaths, went to Poland to discover their roots.  In the course of his travels, he not only discovered his own history, he helped those who accompanied him: a translator and a driver, to discover theirs.    

The message conveyed by the film struck a chord in me.  It was that, in order to fully understand where we are, we need to look at where we came from.  Not the geographic location, the social class, or the conditions in which we lived, although they’re all of importance, but, instead, the emotional forces that direct us throughout the course of our lives.   It suggested that too often, seemingly insignificant factors that contributed to where we are now are overlooked.  We never notice them, or fail to hold onto their memory.  Instead, we focus on what’s on the outside - the houses, people or their possessions..   In addition, the world we live in encourages us to pay more attention to what’s ahead and to where we want to go, rather than where we came from.   Because of these factors, many important insights remain hidden in our past.

The movie, however, strongly suggests that we need to hold onto old memories and to our histories in order to fully understand the emotional dynamics that contributed to who our parents were and what we have become.

Many of you will ask “Why dwell on the past or dig up old hurts?”  The answer is because avoiding the past is a form of denial, a way of running from you.  If your past includes sadness, misfortune, mistakes, shortcomings or hurts, so be it.  They add to the total picture of who you are.  Once they’re exposed, the energy and effort  you previously expended to build walls and hide from or obscure the real you from you and others is no longer necessary.  That energy can now be put to more positive use - constructing a new you on your old foundation.   If that foundation is weak or lacking, the knowledge you have gained from the past allows you to install reinforcements that can support you in the future.  With your newfound knowledge, you can build more constructively.  Without it, your energy is expended uselessly in defending against the insights you need to recognize and incorporate into your being.  It’s much like therapy, where, when you’re hurting, you open up  your emotional wounds.  You express your feelings. You give credence to your past and, by doing so, you neutralize its power to frighten or intimidate you.  

Despite these possible rewards, making yourself vulnerable is an abnormal behavior.  The normal reaction to pain is flight or fight.  It’s not to open old wounds or to reexamine past hurts.  But if you don’t, you never discover the good that may have come from those hurtful experiences.  Nor will you rid yourself of the pain.  Even more, it is the infusion of your past with the present that can create character and introduces a  richness to your life.  It comes from the understanding and acceptance of what contributed to making you the person you are.  Conversely, when you keep your past hidden inside, you lose the essence of what you and generations before you faced that helped to create who you are today.  

All of which causes me to think that, possibly, our lack of concern with our history contributes to the chaos, confusion and conflict that often permeates our emotional lives.  You see, when you are able to reconcile where you came from, your past becomes far more meaningful.  It helps to connect you with your roots and, as a result, you better understand why you are who you are.  These insights provide a profound understanding of self that mitigates the anxieties and stress underlying the conflicts, fears and anxieties so many people are plagued with.  They can also contribute to a serene peace of mind that most human beings never experience in their lifetime .  

Still another way to look at this is that, by exposing your past, you bring your inside out.  You allow others to genuinely know what you feel and think and, in the process, you let them know you.  The benefit you derive is that you no longer have to hide.   Thus, you can be sure that when others see you for who you are and still love you, their love is real.  In effect, you wear your feelings inside out.  They’re no longer obscured from the people who are important to you.  Similar to putting on a piece of clothing inside out, emotionally exposing yourself can lead to pleasant surprises in your life.  You will discover that others can like you for you and, more importantly, good things will occur because of your abundance of excess energy that can now be used to reach out to others and to provide them with an environment where they, too, can learn the value of living from the inside out.  In effect, your life will be illuminated.  You will no longer be in the dark with regard to your past and there will always be a light at the end of your tunnels.    

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