Our “Inner Core” is Real
– the central, innermost, or most essential part of anything
– the seat of one’s deepest thoughts and emotions
Most of us sense that we have an inner core, a deepest part of our personhood. We might think of that core as embodying classic virtues like character, courage, kindness and integrity. Perhaps we associate it with ‘having a gut feeling’ – a trusted, visceral sense of good and bad, right and wrong. If religiously or spiritually inclined, we may identify the core of our being as our soul or spirit. Many other words have been used to designate an innermost part of ourselves: center, ground, heart, self, source, essence, root, and more.
All these ways of referring to and regarding our vital center are valid and relevant. Of primary importance here is what they have in common: an implicit understanding that our inner core is a vibrant, attentive presence that radiates love and strength. We may not always feel connected to this vital center of potent goodness, but whether readily accessible or deeply buried we have an intuitive sense that this luminous core is in us.
This sense, indistinct and uncertain though it may be at times, is entirely justified. Because the core of our being is a genuine phenomenon that we can discover and become increasingly familiar with. And by doing so, we not only benefit personally and directly, we awaken to the existence of an inner core in all human beings. This enables us to create more healthy, loving relationships and advances our collective ability to effectively address our common problems.
This is the understanding that On Just Being is founded on and is dedicated to pursuing.
Taking It Seriously
A center of being has been posited, pursued and promulgated by wisdom traditions in all cultures from time immemorial. But in contemporary western society, declaring the existence of an inner core is a controversial claim. Indeed, to the physicalist mindset pervasive in intellectual circles the idea of having an invisible, non-material core is essentially a non-starter.
Certainly other voices in our culture passionately endorse the idea of seeking to know a center of our personal being. But in our predominantly secular, outwardly directed society, such inner development is not widely valued. No wonder our intuitive sense of having an inner core can be less than robust.
Our culture made a virtue of living only as extroverts. We discouraged the inner journey, the quest for a center.
– Anaïs Nin
Rejecting out-of-hand anything that sounds remotely “spiritual” – like the presence of an incorporeal essence at the root of our being – is pervasive in our culture. This is unfortunate, especially now when we are in a period of tremendous social upheaval and facing existential threats. When we need it most, we cut ourselves off from a treasure trove of wisdom, not only in the works of venerable sages and worthy teachers but even more important, from our own embodied knowing and deeply sensed connection to one another and all of nature. The journey to discover, connect to, and intimately know our common inner core partakes more of our physical sensing and emotional intelligence than our more typically lauded cerebral faculties. This is first and foremost an experiential undertaking, both within ourselves and in relation to other human beings and the natural world.
I am not suggesting that the intellect is unimportant in the quest to honor and connect to our inner core. To the contrary. Having a conceptual understanding of the nature and dynamics of our common inner core can provide an invaluable underpinning for the primary mission: experiencing and connecting to that core in ourselves and others.
What George Said
I will close with the words of celebrated author George Saunders. In this passage from a widely acclaimed commencement speech he gave to the 2013 graduates of Syracuse University, Saunders paints a vivid image of the space at the center of our being:
That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Teresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.
Taken literally and seriously, Saunders’ assertion that our inner core is “as bright and shining as any that has ever been” has two profound implications. The first is simply the enormous potency of the radiant goodness that lies in our “secret luminous place.” It is thrilling if not easy to envision that we have within us the capacity to be as creative and wise as William Shakespeare. As loving and compassionate as Mother Teresa. As committed to justice and non-violence as Mahatma Gandhi. Choose your own humanitarian heroes, and visualize having deep within yourself the same extraordinary potential that they manifested in their lives.
Now imagine that we all have this luminous inner core. This is the second momentous aspect of Saunders’ proclamation. This is not a one-on-one pep talk by a coach telling a gifted young athlete that they could be the next Pelé or Serena Williams. Indeed, Saunders is talking to an audience far beyond the throng of college graduates assembled on that day. He speaks to all of us, including you and me, urging us to believe that we all have this dazzling inner core and that we can “come to know it better” and share it with others.
In this rousing pearl of life advice, a mere 61 words, George Saunders eloquently expresses the vision and mission of On Just Being.