Before “Wayne’s World” was a movie with Mike Myers and Dana Carvey, it was a Saturday Night Live comedy staple. The sketches were frequently based on some daydream fantasy of the stars – things that did not, and perhaps could not, happen in the outer world but could happen in “Wayne’s World.”
Wayne is not the only person with his own world. People frequently say of a coworker or family member, “He is his own world,” usually in a disapproving tone. They’re implying their friend is escaping from the real world (and his responsibilities in it) for the less real world of his own thoughts or fears or fantasies.
But Wayne is not the only one with his own world – everyone has one. While the thoughts and fears and fantasies of the inner world might not correspond to what is happening in the outer world, they are nevertheless real thoughts and fears and fantasies – actual events in the inner world which are bound to influence the outer world.
So it’s not just “Wayne’s World.” It’s “Shayne’s World” too – and William’s and Jennifer’s and Michael’s and Emma’s. There are currently about seven billion such worlds within our shared world.
What takes place in the world inside a person has a profound impact on the world outside a person. Freud promoted this idea, but we didn’t need Freud to know it was true. We’ve all seen how what goes on within us affects the people around us.
All humans have an inner world in which “the inner person” (St. Paul’s terminology) spends his or her entire life. Our usefulness to family and society, as well as our happiness and sense of purpose, have more to do with this inner world than the outer one. People who understand this can be useful, happy and purposeful even when everything in the outer world is wrong – when disease strikes, relationships break and financial supports collapse.
People wrongly assume happiness and fulfillment result from a careful ordering of the outside world. If they can just get a high-paying job, a nice house, and an attractive spouse (and, with these things, people’s respect), happiness and fulfillment are guaranteed. But they’re not. The idea has been disproved about as many times as there are people on the face of the globe.
Yet people try. They sometimes kill themselves trying, kill themselves with stress and overwork. They go to ever greater lengths to control their outer world, sacrificing themselves and manipulating their friends, but the results for which they hope never last.
The truth is a person cannot ignore the inner world and still be happy in the outer one. There are wars to be waged in ordering one’s private world, battles to be won. And there is friendship to be gained with the God who alone can enter our inner world.
It might be argued that such an emphasis leads to an unhealthy introspection and a spiritualized self-absorption. These are dangers, but they are dangers for everyone, spiritual or not, because everyone has an inner world. It’s not attention to the inner world, but inattention – and the helter-skelter interior life that results – which leads to self-absorption. As John Ortberg put it, “The neglected soul doesn’t go away; it goes awry.”
There is a long border and a great deal of commerce between the inner world and the outer. The person who most benefits the outer world is the one whose inner world is peaceful and well-ordered. Hence, St. Seraphim of Sarov’s observation: “Acquire inward peace, and thousands around you will find their salvation.”
The evils we all bemoan in the outer world – greed, apathy, selfishness, bigotry, anger, sexual exploitation, and all the rest – didn’t originate in the outer world, in New York, L.A. or Kandahar, but in the inner world. Jesus was (as always) right on target when he said: “For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness.”
There will never be peace and prosperity in the outer world while there is envy, greed and deceit in the seven billion or so inner ones. Achieving peace in those inner worlds is an enormous task. God alone is big enough to accomplish it.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 4/22/2017