” In 1996, people still read books and the city could support an extra branch of the legendary Strand in the Financial District, which is to say that stockbrokers, secretaries, government functionaries – everybody back then was expected to have some kind of inner life.” – (excerpt from Little Failure, by: A Memoir, by Gary Shteyngart
…hmmmm, an inner life. What does that mean today? Does the “inner life” in our present culture, still have a platform? Does it have room, space, the silence, the desire, for it to be cultivated and grown like a beautiful seedling…? My answer will always be yes. A resounding yes. For I believe that the interior life is, and ever will be, intrinsic to the human experience, to understanding what it means to live on our planet, within the walls and configurations of the societies in which we breathe. And Art – well, Art is one of the supreme mirrors that we hold up to ourselves to see with greater clarity – to understand with less limitation – and to behold our experiences with expanded depth and humanity. And indeed, art demands an interior life – to be created, and witnessed, alike.
Perhaps a year ago or so, I watched Martin Scorsese’s documentary called Public Speaking – a funny and smart look at New Yorker Fran Lebowitz, as she reflects and rants about our current culture. One of the most fascinating moments of the film for me, was the old television footage of Gore Vidal as he moderated a civic and intellectual discussion/debate between William F. Buckley, and James Baldwin. Their debate was rather vitriolic (and race centered), but the eloquence with which Baldwin spoke was so incredibly fine, so poignantly measured and eloquent – it was at once evident that Baldwin drew from a deep well of a vast and thoroughly examined inner life…enriched, I can only imagine, through literature, art, intellect, and internal exploration.
In my own life – the need for a well nourished inner life is perhaps, just after my family – the single most important, and tended to, aspect of my being. It is the fountain from which the spring flows. But I must say, I often feel…somewhat alone in this garden. I am lucky enough to have many dear, and talented, and amazing friends that create incredible art, and live their lives with artistry, which springs from their rich fertile inner soil…but on a whole, as a member of our current culture and society overall – this “inner life” seems to have taken a back seat to living the highly public, visible, exterior, external, image driven life that is sadly, and too often, void of depth or interiority. Indeed, we all remember the last two elections when being an “Intellect” was deemed a negative thing. To be an “intellect” was to be an elitist – as though taking the time to give thoughtful consideration to a topic of importance was self-indulgent, pompous, disdainful, or an act for which we should feel shame for showing off our intelligence and/or education. Not long ago, on prime time television, Gore Vidal entered people’s living rooms through the television screen, and moderated discussions between intellectuals on issues of the day – issues that polarized our nation, our society, and reflected where we stood as a nation, overall. The inner world was illuminated, was given the stage – and this was carried out respectfully, and with a certain modicum of dignity and respect.
The very meaning of Culture reflects the need for an inner life. Definition of Culture in Webster’s:
* the act of developing the intellectual and moral faculties, especially by education
* expert care and training <beauty culture>
* acquaintance with and taste in fine arts, and humanities
Everything we do, every act, every thought, every word, every creation that we make and share with others, creates the envelope in which we are contained. If this container is void of a cultivated inner life – void of self-reflection, void of cultural reflection, then it seems to me, we begin to live a Reactionary life, reacting to the maelstroms around us – rather than, taking a moment, giving pause, and reflecting long enough that we may respond with intention, reflection, and a guided expression that has been filtered through our inner sanctum.
An inner life is developed, it is grown – it requires our attention and intention, the time to examine and explore our world, to question, study, dig and develop our own unique, personal relationship with knowledge, beauty, intelligence, and the divine. We must take the time to Grow Ourselves, to Grow our Inner World. For that is where the riches are.