The Dharma I Learned From Inside Out 2

The Dharma I Learned From Inside Out 2 June 15, 2024

We see our “selves” as something real, something that is important and fixed.

The most important thing about anything that’s ever happened is that it happened to me. But the truth is it didn’t happen to me. My beliefs and my sense of self are fundamentally different from what they were 20 years ago. Am I the same person? I don’t know. I know I’ve changed a great deal over the course of my life. Things that used to be important to me have fallen away. Things that were never important before have become so.

Our sense of self and our beliefs are dynamic and adaptable. This is even true of the things we think are at our core. This is even true of those beliefs that we think are fundamental to our being. The nature of human life is change. Which then begs the question: What do we want to change into?

To me, that’s the most meaningful theme in the film Inside Out 2. And that’s what I’m writing about today.

If you’re not familiar with Inside Out, that’s okay, I will catch you up.

Inside Out is a Pixar film that came out in 2015. I’ll always remember it as the first movie I saw with another person after my divorce. BUT, that’s not important to talk about here.

In the first film we’re following this girl named Riley who is navigating the difficulties of moving to a new place. The conceit of the film is that we see the emotions inside her head and they have interactions and take turns leading her and making decisions on when to push her to do things.

If your my age or close to it you may remember a show that was on after the Simpsons called Herman’s Head. Maybe no one else remembers that show. But Inside Out is like that but better. Anyway, the emotions sort of look like monsters to me, but not scary. Her original emotions are Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear.


We’re reintroduced to Riley and these emotions and she’s a teenager now going to hockey camp. And she has developed a sense of self since the first film. She’s growing up, as we all must. And that identity includes a little voice that says “I’m a good person.”

In Buddhism we talk about a teaching called Bodhichitta, or Buddha Nature. That’s what Riley’s sense of identity made me think of. It’s the idea that at the core of our being, we’re all good. Your true nature is goodness. Sometimes we can believe that about ourselves and sometimes we can’t. But it’s a little harder to believe that about other people, especially that one person you really don’t like.



In the film, as Riley reaches puberty, new and more complicated emotions appear. They are Anxiety, Embarrassment, Ennui, and Envy. These emotions take over and cast out Riley’s original emotions. And they cast out Riley’s sense of identity. “I’m a good person” becomes replaced with essentially a sense that she has to do anything to win and that she needs to work hard to get the right people to like her.

These feelings are really relatable because we’ve all been teenagers.

One of my teachers, Lama Lena, said, “We’ve all been kicked in the heart because we’ve all had the experience of going to Middle School.” I think that’s true. Teenage years are hard for a lot of us.

Riley develops these new emotions that she’s unable to deal with effectively. She’s growing and changing and that’s hard.

Impermanence is a Buddhist teaching. It’s the concept that everything is always changing. Change is the nature of reality. We can understand this intellectually but at the same time it’s hard for us to grasp that we’re changing too. All our thoughts and feelings are impermanent. They come and go. Of course it’s hard to remember that when we’re feeling those feelings that we don’t want to feel. I think our words matter in this respect. We usually don’t say, “I’m experiencing anger,” we say, “I’m angry,” as though that emotion we’re experiencing is who we are. But it’s not. Our thoughts and feelings are like clouds passing through the sky. The sky is our true nature. And it’s good.



We don’t see our true nature because we have things in the way. Our self obsession. Our desire for things to be perfect. Our inability to see the world clearly. Those are things that get in our way.

The being called Anxiety throws away Riley’s sense of self, what I’m thinking of as her Buddha Nature. But it’s not gone. It’s still out there. It’s like when we’re anxious or angry or greedy and we stop doing the right thing. Riley is so anxious and afraid of not fitting in, afraid of the high school future that’s looming, that she puts aside being a good person. She lets all these other emotions get in the way.

We do that too.


In Buddhism there’s a story about a gold statue that’s covered in dirt. The dirt represents the things that hold us back from our well being and potential, our attachment, aversion, and ignorance. The point of the story is that the gold is still there underneath the dirt. It’s still the nature of the statue to be gold.

It’s still the nature of you and I (and Riley) to be good. We just have dirt in the way.

So, Riley’s original emotions go on an adventure to try to get back in control. It’s a very charming film as they try to navigate through Riley’s thoughts and emotions to get back to the tower where Anxiety is running things.



Ultimately the film has a happy ending. Joy leads her team of emotions and they get back in control and actually work with the new emotions to bring back Riley’s Sense of Self. The emotions have to work together to fix the chaos that Anxiety is creating. But they do. Joy and the others have to accept these new emotions. They have to accept that Riley is growing up and things aren’t going to be the way they were before.

In the end Riley’s Sense of Self is more complicated. She can have the self talk “I’m a good person” but also the self talk of “I’m not good enough”

This is important because it’s something we all struggle with. I definitely think I’m not good enough sometimes. I’d guess you do too. And sometimes my true nature as a good person is hard to see. Sometimes there’s a little dirt on my statue and sometimes there’s a lot. I have an Anxiety problem like Riley does.

We all have trouble accepting change. We all struggle with feelings of inadequacy.

Maybe this can bring us together.

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