The Inner Landscape

By clearing corridors between the world we show others, and the world inside of us, perhaps we open a life of greater authenticity. We make it easier to move freely between all parts of us that wish to have a voice.
— Ruth in The Nature Letters

Truth be told, I'm hesitant to begin again. This will be my third layer of effort cast over this project, The Coffee Journals. The place I've tried to make my online refuge. The place where I can comfortably, though sometimes uncomfortably given how many times I've deleted posts through an inevitable fear of "not getting it right", speak my mind about the things that bother me. And this does seem to be the initial inspiration. When I am unraveling with anxiety I question the idea, then I go through a period of depression and uncertainty before I'm so bothered by myself I decide to give it another try. I suppose that is what I'm doing now. Starting over. Though it may look as though I'm wanting to pretend none of the other things ever happened, that I never got caught off guard and derailed. But I did. I'm just particular. I want everything to look aesthetically thematic. Think of it as taking in an oversized jacket, stripping out unnecessary material and re-stitching the edges. That is what I'm doing—re-stitching myself.

One night a few weeks ago, I found White Peak Wellbeing through a vacuum of Instagram browsing. Someone I follow mentioned Ruth's account and her weekly newsletter, The Nature Letters. Intrigued, I subscribed to the newsletter and over the next few weeks watched as they landed quietly in my inbox with all of my other weekly spirit-inducing emails. One that came in last Monday caught my eye this morning as I was eating breakfast. It was titled, "On the business of Inner Landscapes and how to find and understand them." Being a person very taken with ideas that appeal not only to the ethereal inner life in conjunction with the external living experience and nature as a means of both physical and mental exploration, I was of course given special cause to read it when I would have otherwise been defending my sock-cushioned toes from a teething puppy. This morning, however, she lay in her bed completely disinterested in my presence, only concerned enough with me that I was there preventing her from isolation and loneliness while she continued to snooze.

I took this opportunity to read through the article. One paragraph in particular resonated with me in a way that I had been allowing myself to feel over the past few months but never setting aside time to put into words for myself.

In an age of social and mass media-induced status anxiety, fragmented social units and rampant consumerism, more than ever we continue to prioritise the outer landscape at the expense of our inners. Great attention is given to how the outer landscape looks and behaves, ensuring that more and more people see what we have and what we’re doing. Nurturing of the internal landscape has often become an after-thought or secondary priority. Perhaps because we erroneously think that only we will see it. As if others won’t notice or benefit from time spent developing a stable and fulfilled inner environment. Sure enough, the outer environment is where we survive in an immediate sense, but it’s my conviction that only through building corridors between our inner and outer environments that we truly become familiar with our full selves and realise how we wish to live. What is important to us. Our values. Who we really are. It’s easy to neglect our inner landscapes in the belief that they are too messy and too flawed to be known, let alone enjoyed, but by creating an inner landscape that we’re comfortable in, we might be able to create for ourselves a sanctuary where we can retreat from a noisy world.

Just last week I was telling my friend, Ashley, that I desperately needed a lifestyle change, that I had created a routine for myself that stifled rather than fertilized my existence. I'd stopped reading, I'd stopped writing, I'd stopped doing yoga. These practices I'd made into my own personal trinity of wellbeing. In addition to neglecting it, I was also not getting enough sleep. Some of it was due to our furry addition, but the crux was that I failed to find a routine that complemented the puppy's schedule. A girl from my workplace, whose son turned one last month, said that having a puppy is a lot like having a baby, now being a caretaker to both human and canine. Being that I'd still like to check 1) get married 2) have baby/ies off of my life goals list within the next ten years, it concerned me that I was taking myself so off-course with a nubile creature much more independent than a baby would be. I wondered how much of myself would even matter in those first few months. American culture teaches us that new motherhood is tolerated at best, though there are writers, such as Anne Lamott and Amanda Palmer, shattering the tortured climes in the relationship between artist and mother.

But I'm getting off topic. I've tortured myself enough. As Ruth discusses in her essay, I am not the only person affected by the undeveloped terrain of my inner landscape nor will I be the only person affected should I harvest it. In fact, the former will only serve to affect people badly if I continue to neglect myself. I shy away from the phrase "self-love" or "self-care." It's arguable that I should be less concerned with understanding myself and more concerned with understanding, say, Jesus, from a Christian perspective. I can always hear that juke in the back of my mind. But what I really think is that, yes, knowing Christ can help us understand ourselves more efficiently as Christians, but that doesn't mean we should work less at knowing who we are. If anything, the two should work in tandem. But this is the reason why I don't like using the word "self" too much. I don't want the scale to dip too heavily on either side. Weight is a relationship of balance and effort. Too much focus on one over the other leads either to extremism or narcissism. That is my personal perspective. Spirituality, regardless of faith, is inherent to the human, who must be tempered by whatever means from imploding into outright chaos.

This is also where the snag is. Because this is also how dictators think. The dictator wants complete control over his constituents rather than giving them the liberty to think for themselves. And we are terrible sometimes at assigning dictators to our lives. I'm not necessarily speaking of government. A dictator can be anything that exercises absolute power over our existence. Sometimes we are in control of this figure, sometimes not. That is the difference, though, between our inner and outer landscapes. The outer one we can influence to an extent, but the inner one will determine the legitimacy of that influence. That is why it is so crucial we nurture it. Because what we do with our interior existence converses daily with our external existence, the more obscure experience it can be hard for us to truly see and interpret. That it is so dependent upon our interior world means we must do what we can to nourish that inner landscape. It requires maintenance the way any garden or home would.

It is possible for us to grow into chaos. This is why I used the word "temper." Gardens become unwieldy, houses become dirty. They must be managed. I think, in the past, I've confused this idea with suppression. I did exactly what Ruth suggested we do when it feels like we're outgrowing or overwhelming ourselves. There were times when I thought I was too messy to bother cleaning up. But this idea in itself was suppressing. We have to do the work of tending our body, our mind, our spirit. The alternative would be to suffocate the life force out of our resolve. Resolve is the foundation on which we act. Without that conviction we have nothing by which to live. I build resolve through writing. Without writing I wouldn't know what I think. This is the first suggestion Ruth gives in order to identify our inner landscape, but it could be painting for you or taking a walk.

If I had to identify one purpose for The Coffee Journals it would be to utilize my writing here as a way to establish this abstract idea of myself as something visible and concrete. The person I've always envisioned when I think of myself doesn't have to be some fantastical, unreachable interpretation. She can be a whole, functioning human being. Last night, I was reading Lincoln in the Bardo, and there was a chapter in which the ghosts in the graveyard are tempted to relinquish their status among the in-between. One of the narrating spirits, Mr. Vollman says, "Our path is not for everyone. Many people—I do not mean to disparage them? Lack the necessary resolve." To which another narrating spirit, Mr. Bevins replies, "Nothing matters sufficiently to them, that is the thing." I think I've forgotten, or maybe never wholly understood, that which matters sufficiently to me. I don't know that I've ever had a clean, concise understanding of myself, and it has caused me to be tempted. Maybe not irredeemably, but enough that, like Willie Lincoln, I felt shrunken afterward. It's humbling when you realize you, as much as you wanted to think so highly of yourself, are not immune to downfall. It is ingrained in your DNA, your very species. The fact that you are human practically demands a leveling of ego.

Sometimes I have ego. Funnily enough, being human requires a certain amount of it. It takes ego, for instance, to think I have something worth writing publically about. It takes even more ego to actually publish the writing. Still more to share it with people, assuming it may help them. If that's the case, even Jesus had it. In fact, that's why the government hated him. Who was he? He was nobody. Except that he was everyone. In Lincoln, it mattered to the spirits that they were understood—not only in their deaths, but in their lives—and this book allows them to convey themselves in a way they've never before been offered. (I'm wondering now if the story will end with their departure.) I could be wrong, or at least projecting my current experiences onto George Saunders' intention for the book, but the spirits seem to symbolize the pieces of ourselves we want to leave behind for those who come after. The way a person would leave their mark through writing a book, composing a song, or painting an artwork. What we create becomes a ghost in itself. Even if the creation is intangible. It could be a feeling or a piece of knowledge or hope. We reverberate through others, you see. That's why this inner landscape business is so essential. No one is left untouched.