Internal vs. External

internalWhat do you mean, I need to colour my legs?

While I do not necessarily have a reductionist bent, I believe that there is something universal about the dilemma of “internal versus external.”

Let me use an example from advertising:

Advertising people spend their days studying the human condition. Their goal is to discover a lack. No matter what they tell you in their commercials, the lack has to be an internal feeling in order for this to work.

For example,

  • “You own an old car. Buy a new one!” won’t work.
  • “You own an old car, and you are miserable, unsafe and unhappy. You will be happier, more content, and feel safer in a new car” will work.

They use backward reasoning—rather than finding a need and creating a product, mostly they have a product and then create a lack.

Example: I am selling pasta. Now, how do I link it to an internal lack?

  • What won’t work: our pasta cooks fast and tastes good. (All pasta cooks fast, and it all tastes the same.)
  • What will work:
    • First, the internal lack: people feel alone, isolated, and unloved.
    • Next, we move it to an external locus, so people won’t feel threatened: families are no longer warm and loving.
    • Then, we create a correcting external scenario. We’re in Italy, and the handsome 30-year-old man is singing a love song to his grandmother, while everyone digs into the pasta.
  • Subliminal Message: eat our pasta and you will be surrounded by a loving family enjoying a delicious meal together. You won’t feel so alone, isolated and unloved.
Poof! Pasta is no longer a food for hunger. It’s the glue (literally and figuratively) that holds loving families together.

Once you understand how this works, you can really enjoy watching commercials—you’ll notice how they manipulate not our minds but our emotions, by providing an external fix for an internal lack.

OK, so Into The Centre is not an advertising seminar. What is Uncle Wayne on about? It’s this:

  • we have all been conditioned to look outside for the cause of our internal dilemmas.
  • we have all been conditioned to look outside for the solution for our internal dilemmas.
  • we have all been conditioned to use manipulation to get the “outside” to take responsibility for finding the solution to our internal dilemmas.

And here is perhaps the most important point: (and I’ll do it first from the advertising perspective)—

The advertiser is not in the business of solving the lack. The advertiser is in the business of providing a solution that temporarily covers over the pain that the
lack has created. If their product removed the lack (which, from this point on, I’ll call “emptiness”) you’d never have to buy their product again.

So, all they really create is addiction to external fixes. When you next feel unloved, you think, “Pasta!”

From a personal perspective it goes like this:

I am empty inside. Because I have been conditioned to think that my emptiness is a sign that I am lacking something external, I go up into my head and start analyzing.
Example: I decide that my feeling of emptiness is the result of lack of love or loving with my family. Rather than internalize this and say, “Wow. Do I ever feel empty and unloved. What can I do to be more open, inclusive and loving?” I instead try to figure out why others are treating me bad.
Which is to say, I figure out whom to blame. “My mother always criticizes me. My sister judges me. My husband never does what I want him to do. If only all these people would do what I want them to do,
then I’d feel loved!”
This leads to a campaign to get the other person to admit their guilt and to start behaving properly, which is to say, to do what I want them to do. The chief method to get them to behave is manipulation.
Threatening—to leave, to withhold sex, to become cold and remote.
Bargaining—if you do this, I’ll do that.
Guilt-tripping—if you loved me, you would…
Lecturing—this one is especially hilarious, as it’s typically done as a response to the other person lecturing.

In each case, I am engaged in a head-trip designed to make my internal situation the fault of something or someone external to me, and to make the responsibility for fixing it “out there, somewhere.”

I was talking with a friend about the communication model. She said she had been studying communication for a year, and after taking a few more communication courses, she might be ready to communicate with her son. I said, “Hmm. You’re communicating right now. Taking more courses is a way to delay taking responsibility for doing what you can do, which is to communicate with someone in the here and now, right now.”

Another friend correctly identified her spiritual emptiness. She then said that she had returned to church, so she could learn more about spirituality.

While I have no problem with people learning about something, all this does is provide more data. It is an external process—I am in my head, analyzing concepts—I am not dealing directly with the lack.

In general, here’s the rule: if I am lacking something, then thinking about it, analyzing it, blaming others, making demands that other change, etc., will not change the key thing— my physical feeling of emptiness.
Only changing my behaviour will change the internal feeling of lack.


  • Spirituality—in my life, I’ve spent some time studying spirituality, as well as religion (remember, I was a Minister…) This is the external, head-trip part. I knew, but did not feel.
    My most profound spiritual experiences were:
    1. serving private Communion to people the week before Christmas, in a silent Communion.
    2. attending Taize worship, (A Christian resource. The community began in France. Link is to their music page. Listen to some of the music clips. You may just “feel” them!) where the emphasis is on amazing music and emotional release.
    3. Sitting in Zazen (Zen meditation) while being aware of the incense and silence.
  • Communication—being open, honest, vulnerable and clear with others about the only thing I can be open, honest, vulnerable and clear about – me and what is happening for me.
  • Feeling isolated—turning to friends and asking for a hug, for presence, for contact.
  • Feeling angry—pounding a block, yelling—not blaming or yelling at someone, but often doing this with someone present.
  • Feeling empty—acknowledging that this is the truth of life and the human condition—we are alone—and therefore breathing into and accepting the emptiness as a part of me.
  • Feeling unloved—I can act toward others in a loving, caring, compassionate manner.

In this way, I accept complete responsibility for who I am, where I am, how I feel, and what I choose to do, rather than waiting to be fixed, humoured, or obeyed.

Let’s briefly talk about what to do when others blame you. Here’s a hint: arguing, blaming back, explaining the error of their ways, sighing and rolling one’s eyes—none of these work. Being clear, honest and compassionate does.

Our instinct is to hit back—to get into a “you treat me worse than I treat you” dance. Not helpful. Nor is sanctimoniously pointing out “Well, that’s your responsibility. Your feelings are just you, mirroring you. It’s not about me.”

Clients trying self-responsibility on for the first time get a lot of resistance from loved ones, and are accused of being selfish. Others do this because they still believe that you are responsible for their happiness, and your refusal to do as you are told breaks the contract you previously had with that person. Rather than lecture, be compassionate:

“I understand that you want me to fix your pain, and I can’t do that for you. Only you can do that for you. I promise you this.
I’ll be here with you and listen to you and walk with you while you work through your pain. I won’t lecture or gripe or blame you. I’ll just sit here and give you feedback if you ask for it.
If you are interested, I’ll tell you how I’m doing. If we do this together, we have a good chance of working through this.
And even if you don’t want to, I promise that I will treat you with dignity, compassion, love and respect.”

This is the sound of self-responsible, compassionate living. Not easy, but worth the effort.

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