Inward Change

Part book review (The Midnight Library by Matt Haig) part reflection on finding yourself in a new location.

When it comes to moving, I do have fair amount of experience: I think I moved 5 times before the age of 10, most of which were over thousands of miles and since we’ve been married we have lived in 9 different houses in 4 different locations but at least we have stayed in the UK

Elsewhere in this blog I have written about what mitigated the upheaval of these many moves. (see Living Well: is it all about place where I have put a podcast version of the blog as well)

But today I’ve been thinking the ‘baggage’ we move with us.

I don’t mean the physical stuff that does sometimes oppress us (see Do you hold your memories or do you memories hold you?) I mean the internal baggage: the attitudes, fears, expectations and limitations that we have of ourselves and other people.

I’ve realised that sometimes the reason people move job/house/school/friends/church/location is because they expect that the resulting change of location will automatically bring an inward change. It will help them move away from the negativity or stress or difficulties they were experiencing in their previous place.

And then they are surprised when the same negativity, stress or difficulties arise in the new house/job/location.

What they haven’t realised is that the source of the negativity stress and difficulty lies inside of themselves and not in their external circumstances.

This isn’t true of everyone of course, and I can hardly be an advocate for ‘not moving’ given my track record. But at least moving that many times, and changing jobs quite a few times as well, has helped me to see that making surface rearrangement of our lives can often bring only a temporary relief from what is actually an inward problem.

The problem might not be that we have a stressful job but that we have not learned any resilience to stress. So we will be just a stressed-out by the next job.

The problem might not be that the house is not big enough, rather that our identity is tied up somehow with the size of the house, and that we are not content with what we have.

The problem might not be (dare I say it?) that people in the old church are unloving or self obsessed, but may be that I have not yet learned to be loving, or to put other people’s needs above my own. So we will get the new church, and encounter exact the same problem.

Sometimes location REALLY does matter: I’m thinking of people needing to be in places of safety and put appropriate boundaries between them and abusers. And there are very very many good reasons for moving at different stages of life, I am not meaning to imply that anyone moving/changing jobs is doing so for poor reasons. All I’m saying is that people sometimes expect too much from a change of location/job/church, forgetting that they have carried within them the same internal baggage that might have driven them to change.

All of these thoughts came out of one sentence at the end of The Midnight Library Matt Haig’s recent highly acclaimed novel. The central character Nora starts in a desperate place, so desperate that she attempts to take her own life and she ends up in a mysterious place called the midnight library. None of this is as plot spoiler, as it is all on the back of the book. She then goes on to live a series of other lives which she might have lived. It is a very entertaining book and quite funny in places. It went on for perhaps a little bit too long, and the whole starting a different life and learning from it idea got a tiny bit tedious (but then Groundhog Day is my least favourite film – and David would watch it on repeat!)

Anyway, I won’t tell you how but the story finally resolves itself and she discovers that ‘the prison wasn’t the place, but the perspective’. In other words wherever you are and whatever life you are living, it is the inward perspective that you have about that life that matters the most. What you believe and think and feel about yourself, the world, other people and God will influence your sense of ‘being at home’ in wherever you are far more than the size of your house, the amount in your paycheck, or the challenge/disappointment of your job.

This is just a fancy way of saying that old truism: life is what you make it. But I do think when people hear that phrase, they still think about externals, life is about the job I may get, or the house I might buy, and so on.

Inward change is much more challenging and much harder work but eventually it leads us to be able to say with conviction about wherever we are: ‘we can make this work’. You may not be able to change the ‘this’, whatever the ‘this’ is in your life is, but you can change your own interior attitude and often this is enough.

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