My interest in social responsibility started about six or seven years ago. I’d been doing internal work, i.e. meditation, for a few years before, and I think there’s a correlation between doing such work and becoming aware of social responsibility. Internal work is a process through which a person explores their dysfunctions, baggage, issues, etc. It is done in order to work through such issues and release them–emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically–so that the person can grow. It’s hard work that involves facing demons, traumas, and memories that you’ve buried away, but it’s also rewarding because developing a conscious relationship with your issues allows you to gradually change them. As I did this work and cleared up my internal landscape, I began to do a lot more thinking about not just myself, but also my relationship to the world around me.
Doing internal work is the first step to becoming socially responsible, which echoes a saying I’m fond of: “As within, so without, as above, so below.” If you want to change the world, first work on changing yourself; and first and foremost, changing yourself involves being able to take responsibility for yourself. I have a saying I tell my students sometimes: “You can’t take care of other people or other things until you can take care of yourself.” So often people who are called to serve are so focused on serving others that they neglect themselves and their own needs and eventually hit burnout. Avoiding that outcome involves the necessary action of self-care. Internal work is part of how you take care of yourself. It is done in order to help you understand how your issues come up in your life so that you can work through them. But what internal work also does is help you become more aware of your connection to other people and to the world at large.
When I began to do internal work, I started looking at my relationships with other people and how I interacted with them. I started questioning my own behavior and my motivation for various actions I took. Then I started to ask myself what my responsibilities to other people were. I also started to consider what my responsibility to the world was. Doing internal work helped me recognize that my contribution to the world isn’t just me, but extends across the lifetimes of my ancestors. As a result I asked myself what I could change in myself that would also change my contribution to the world.
Doing internal work is where the change you want to bring to the world starts. What’s within you is brought out into reality. Your behaviors, your actions: all of it originates from within you, and if you want to be responsible, first and foremost you need to be responsible for yourself. Doing internal work gives you a chance to explore your beliefs, values, and issues and bring them out into the light. You make changes to them and how you live your life, and in the process of doing that, you start to examine what else you’d like to do, what other changes you’d like to bring about… but you do it from a place of self-awareness that allows you to balance the causes you believe in with the self-care needed to help you consistently focus on what’s important.
A Meditation for Doing Internal Work
I use a Taoist meditation technique to do internal work. This technique is helpful because it allows you to discover the emotional and physical tensions in your body that contain the issues you need to work through. It can create an internal dialogue that you can use to understand and release the issues, and it can also be used to understand how you connect to others, as well as how you’d like to change those connections.
You can do this exercise sitting, standing, or laying down. Touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth and breathe in and out through your nose. Touching the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth completes the circuit of internal energy. With this technique, when you breathe in, you draw your internal energy (chi) up to the crown of your head. When you exhale, you release that energy from the crown of your head. Let it flow down your head and into your body. When the energy flows into your body, it will encounter physical and emotional tension. Let the energy dissolve the tension in a way that’s similar to water dissolving an ice cube. In other words, don’t force the dissolution of the tension. Instead, it should be something that gradually occurs. When the tension is dissolved, don’t be surprised if you feel some emotions or experience some memories.
The feeling of emotions or experience of memories allows you to work through issues and tensions. As you do this meditation, take it slow and allow yourself to experience whatever comes up at a pace that doesn’t overwhelm you. This is a process, so don’t focus on a quick resolution. Allow yourself the time to experience it and use it as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and your place in the world.