Creating a Structure of Living that Supports an Inner Life

October 30, 2011 By: Michael Nagel Category: Daily Wisdom, Mind Body Spirit

In my work, I get to see the underbelly of our social order: the patterns of unhappiness and hardship which we suffer alone, but which are shared by others in epidemic proportions. These are the disorders of society which breed widespread personal unhappiness.

James Hillman, Jungian analyst, alludes to just such a societal disorder when he comments that one of the hardest things which he has to treat is his clients’ schedules. Hillman notes that their schedules are their defenses against change. Said another way, your personal organizer is your defense. Your to-do list is your personal tyrant. Your busyness is your soul’s captor. We haven’t the time to allow into our lives the changes that would be a salve to our souls.

Another expression of this societal disorder is a profoundly unhappy friend who regularly works 60 to 80 hour weeks. When asked why she doesn’t refuse to work such hours, she replies, “I can’t.” She’s is afraid of losing her job, although she is losing her soul. She notes her company’s informal motto is “excellence through anxiety.” I kid you not. It reminds me of another person who mentioned his company’s informal motto is “excellence through paranoia.”

How is it that corporations can presume the right to devour our own personal lives with impunity? How is it that we allow our busyness to smother our soul, rather than the cultivation of our soul to limit our busyness?

I suspect our culture’s materialism is the root cause of this inversion of values. Corporations do as they will, because you are not a person, you are an economic function. Individuals lose themselves in busyness because our secular culture offers no finer vision of life than engrossment in infinitude of self-assumed obligations, tasks, opportunities, engagements, entertainments, distractions, purchasing, etc.

Yet the pain which so many of us feel is evidence that our lives are more grand in potential than our society’s predilections. The soul chafes at being hobbled by such an impoverished vision of life, for in addition to our living outwards, there is living inwards. There is an interiority which revolts at being turned into a neglected wasteland. In contrast to our culture’s materialism is the view which suggests the cultivation of the supreme possibilities of our human nature is the chief endeavor of human life.

For those to whom it still matters, the challenge is to create a structure of daily life that supports the cultivation of the soul: ordering the day’s activities around time set aside to reflect, to inquire, even to just be. Some may consider such time as the foundation of their daily life, after which they set forth into the world. Others may schedule such inviolable time in their organizer. Still others may place such time on their daily to-do list as their highest priority.

To think such time is a luxury is symptomatic of the societal disorder which spawns such busyness. Rather than a luxury, it is a prerequisite of a deeply fulfilling life. Implemented one life at a time, we may remind the larger culture that the person is the measure of all things human.

Do you choose to let your busyness prevent you from having time for an inner life?

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3 Comments to “Creating a Structure of Living that Supports an Inner Life”


  1. I’ve recently cut back on my hours. I’ve learned to budget and do with less. I was becoming emotionally drained (I work in a hospice) and had to think of my health and emotional well-being. I’m a people pleaser so saying “No” is extremely difficult for me. I was working these log hours thinking the money would make things better, but I wound up feeling empty and exhausted.

    I love your blog! Its so inspiring and comforting. Thank You for what you do! :-)

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  2. That was a thought provoking article, especially for those that put work above all else. It reminds of the comparison . . . some people work to live, others live to work.

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