Inner work is the very core and foundation of the spiritual path.
Without it, we’re wasting our time.
There can be no purging, healing, transformation, and awakening without inner work.
You want a life purpose, a path to follow? The most worthy path (in my opinion) is inner work. When you commit to inner work, you are both turning your pain into power like a true alchemist and you’re also positively influencing others and the world at large.
What could be better than healing, evolving, becoming happier, feeling free, stepping into your power, living in harmony with others, and sending beautiful ripples of change out into existence?
But here’s the thing. Although inner work is such a worthy path, it is also a path we are secretly horrified by. This subconscious disgust we have towards any form of inner exploration is something you’ll need to understand well if you’re a serious spiritual seeker intent on doing deep inner work.
First, some basics:
What is Inner Work?
Inner work is the psychological and spiritual practice of diving deep into your inner self for the purposes of self-exploration, self-understanding, healing, and transformation.
When we do inner work, we are shining the light of awareness onto our inner landscape which is composed of the various layers of our mind: the conscious, subconscious, and unconscious realms.
Your inner self consists of your hidden feelings, memories, thoughts, beliefs, prejudices, wounds, shadows, and other mental/emotional conditions that influence your ability to transform and feel Whole at a core level. By doing inner work, you’ll be able to move past fears, limitations, addictions, depressions, loneliness, and the feelings of unwholeness that tend to plague human beings.
25 Signs You Need to Practice Inner Work
Here are some notorious red-flags:
- You feel lost in life
- You don’t know who you are anymore
- You feel lonely and like an outsider looking in to the world
- You frequently get into fights with others
- You’re always people-pleasing
- You’re not confident being yourself
- You have low self-esteem
- Your thoughts are almost constantly negative and self-critical
- You feel constantly unmotivated and “flat”
- You suffer from chronic health issues
- You can’t sleep properly
- Life doesn’t feel real
- You feel a sense of hopelessness
- You feel a sense of emptiness
- You have fits of intense anger or sadness
- You believe that the world is against you
- You struggle to trust others (or yourself)
- You keep repeating the same mistakes
- You keep attracting the wrong people into your life
- You’re self-destructive and self-sabotaging
- You have a strong drive toward addiction
- You have many strong emotional triggers
- You easily get neurotic and obsessive
- You struggle with high levels of anxiety or panic
- You want to be alone all the time or around others all the time (to escape yourself)
The more signs you can relate to, the more you need to do inner work. We’ll explore some inner work paths below.
Of course, keep in mind that many of the above red-flags are symptoms of mental illness. By all means, seek out a professional therapist who can help if you suspect something is lopsided in your noggin. Inner work is not a replacement for any psychiatric/psychological targeted help. It is, however, a vital complementary practice that is just as essential as sleeping, exercising or anything that does you genuine good at a core level.
Why Most People Are Horrified By Inner Work
It may sound ridiculous. But the truth is that people feel repelled and horrified by inner work on an unconscious level.
Why and how is this the case?
Well just look at the world. We’ve explored the solar system and distant galaxies more than the depths of our own oceans. We know more about how things mechanically work rather than the life force that animates them. We know more about fighting and strategizing against the “enemies” outside of us than we know about facing the enemies looming within us.
As psychologist Carl Jung once wrote:
People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls.
The reality is that going deep terrifies us. We will more readily go to war and annihilate other people than look within ourselves for the source of our own suffering. We will more readily point the finger of blame at others, life, god or reality and adopt the victim mentality than dare to give ourselves a good honest look in the mirror. In some cases, we prefer to die in stubborn ignorance than admit we’re wrong, faulty, fooled, or responsible for our suffering and the pain of others.
Our egos are fragile, neurotic, and power-hungry little creatures. Inner work is like kryptonite to this fabricated self we carry around. Is it any wonder that we’re horrified by it deep down?
Of course, many seekers who have undergone a spiritual awakening would give a sly smile at this point and say, “well I am different.” Well no, no you’re not. Sorry to be frank. But you have an ego like everyone else.
The Unfathomable Power of Inner Work
Inner work may superficially look lavish, poetic, and mystical. But when you get into the heart of it, it’s a bone-crushing, gut-wrenching journey of blood, sweat, vomit, and tears.
You aren’t playing with crystals and singing cute mantras while doing inner work (although those things can be complementary and help in their own way). Inner work isn’t Instagram-worthy or something you can wear as an egotistical badge of superiority.
Inner work, in its very essence, is about placing truth and the desire for freedom (Love) above all else. It’s about allowing yourself to be called out, torn down, burned, and built back up a thousand times over. Inner work is a process of eternal death and rebirth. It never stops – even after having attained a higher level of consciousness – for when one believes one has “arrived” that is when stagnation occurs. That is when spiritual narcissism thrives and the shadow rears its ugly face.
Inner work is symbolized as the dance of Shiva and Shakti, the ouroboros snake that eats its own tale, the cycle of life and death, the yin and yang, the primordial dance of the void that is both everything and nothing at the same time.
When we give ourselves over to inner work we are on a quest to embrace the paradox of existence, to walk in the liminal spaces, to be both willing to die and be reborn in any moment, to step into all that we can become, to face our most gruesome shadows, to embody our most divine light, to experience Oneness.
To put it almost prosaically, it’s a hell of a ride!
And understandably, people fear that. It’s much easier to live a mediocre existence. It’s much easier to walk the path others have paved before us. It’s much easier to point the finger at others and neglect taking self-responsibility.
Walking the path less traveled is much more difficult, much less comfortable, and much more demanding. And most people are NOT ready or willing to make that choice. Mediocrity and complacency do provide a morsel of comfort, but it is this comfort that ironically leads to emptiness, soul loss, and the complete deprivation of anything truly real, truly worth living for.
In essence, the path of mediocrity and complacency = death.
The path of existential challenge = life.
Now, there are ways of making the existentially tumultuous path that is inner work more bearable. Connecting with your deeper source of power, your inner free spirit, and your wild Wolf essence, is the first. When you are able to follow your instinct and intuition, see clearly, make wise choices, and protect yourself from those who seek to prey on you, the path becomes more defined. Incidentally, this website is about helping you to reconnect with that wild essence (start here if you need a place to begin).
There are many other ways to empower your inner work path that are too numerous for this article, but your inner work doesn’t have to be a terrible ordeal. Remember that no matter how painful it feels, “the phoenix always emerges from the flames.” In other words, no matter how bad it feels, the pain is a catalyst for deep spiritual transformation.
Finally, I want you to understand that the nature of the ego means it will always be against inner work. It is your soul that drives you towards inner work, so you’d do well to learn how to distinguish between the voice of fear (the ego) and the voice of your intuition (the soul). See our article on How to Trust Your Intuition for more guidance.
3 Profound Inner Work Pathways
There are many inner work pathways in existence right now and I don’t profess to know all of them. I can only share with you those I have tried as well as those that have legitimately worked – meaning they have created deep and long-lasting change.
Here are the top three inner work pathways I recommend that have worked for me and countless others I have spoken to and observed:
Self-love is one of the more gentle and approachable inner work paths. But that doesn’t dilute or negate its importance.
Self-love can lend itself to being shallow or unnecessarily self-indulgent (in the wrong hands), but with the right training, self-love can go bone-deep and genuinely transform you at a core level.
For those starting off on the inner work journey, I always recommend self-love as the best starting place. Without building a good relationship with yourself, the other forms of inner work listed below may be too intimidating, too difficult, or plain old detrimental for your wellbeing.
One of my favorite forms of self-love is mirror work. Mirror work quite simply involves using a mirror to clearly see your insecurities and fears. It also connects you with the deeper essence of yourself that is full of unconditional compassion, forgiveness, and acceptance (your Soul).
2. Inner Child Work
One level deeper is inner child work, a form of inner work that involves examining your childhood wounds, fears, and beliefs.
To differing degrees, we all carry a wounded inner child. Our job as adults is to reconnect with this childlike part of ourselves, excavate old limiting childhood beliefs/fears, and integrate this delicate part of ourselves back into our personality structure.
Your inner child is a source of tremendous creativity, joy, spontaneity, love, and wisdom. However, at the same time, your inner child can be a source of illogical obsessions, unshakable fears, neurosis, self-sabotaging behaviors, and limiting self-beliefs.
Inner child work can rile up a lot of unfinished business. If you had an abusive childhood, you may feel a sense of disgust or looming fear towards this work (many do) or even toward your inner child. But as one who had an abusive childhood and who has done a lot of inner child work, I can tell you it is absolutely worth all of the pain, tears, and anger. You need to purge that shit and not let it control you!
- Feeling Safe: 25 Signs You Have a Wounded Inner Child
- Inner Child Work: 4 Healing Techniques to Rediscover Your Original Innocence
3. Shadow Work
At the deepest level of the inner work process is shadow work. This form of inner work is the most complex, elusive, and intimidating of all. With shadow work, we are literally exploring the shadowy places hidden within our psyches that we deliberately suppress, deny, and disown each and every day.
We all know what lurks in the shadows. (Yes, the spine-chilling stuff of nightmares.)
Shadow work is the practice of exploring your inner demons. Within your shadow lurks everything that has been outlawed, deemed ‘taboo,’ ‘bad,’ ugly, and unacceptable by your parents and society. Your shadow self contains all that you are secretly ashamed about and disgusted by within yourself.
Before attempting shadow work it is absolutely imperative that you practice self-love. You must have stable and healthy self-esteem before doing shadow work. Why you may wonder? Shadow work can easily make you feel a thousand times worse about yourself if you already have poor self-worth. For this reason, shadow work is an advanced form of inner work that is not for beginners.
If you’ve had some experience with inner work, I recommend approaching shadow work slowly. Oracle and Tarot cards are a great way to begin exploring your shadow.
Finally, practices such as meditation, mindfulness, self-inquiry, art therapy, dream analysis, pathworking, shamanic journeying, journaling, and introspection will all wonderfully supplement your inner work journey.
If you are wondering where to start, try self-love first and read the recommended resources. If you are bored with/have accomplished a certain level of self-love, try inner child work. And if you have done both, then move on to shadow work.
Ultimately, all three forms of inner work melt and morph naturally into each other. Inner child work involves a certain level of shadow work, shadow work is a form of inner child work, and self-love is involved in all forms of inner work. I hope, however, these distinctions have made things clear for you.
Hopefully, you now have a distinct path to follow to invest your time and energy into. And again, if you’re hesitant, let me say enthusiastically, YES it is worth it!!