I like this phrase because I believe it is true. In fact, I think it is so true that I would claim no one can be happy or satisfied long-term without having some kind of interior life. That would be its value. Behind this claim lurks the initial question: just what is the interior life?
Doubtlessly, there are multiple answers to this question. Maybe there are as many answers as there are people. However, I do think there are some basic facets to the interior life that give value to any individual. And this interior life becomes valuable because of what results from having an interior life. So let me give you my definition.
In the first instance, I suggest the interior life necessarily is about the soul. I would follow the lead of psychiatrist, Gerald May, and say “soul” is the essence of the human being. Therefore if I know anything about my soul, I know something about the essence of myself. This sounds simplistic.
However, I actually doubt that very many people know much about their soul. If you are like me, I spend so much time in my life on the margins. I live too much of life as what Richard Rohr calls a ‘circumference person.” Too much of who I am at any given time is quite removed from the center of my being. Much of what concerns me---my looks, clothes, etc.---actually has little or nothing to do with the real “me” at the center of my being---my soul. Souls do not have hair to comb, fancy clothes to wear and so on.
So I am saying that the interior life has first of all to do with soul. The interior life is also a process. I don’t just get an interior life. I do not think babies are born with an interior life. We certainly are born with the potential for a rich and deep interior life. But it takes more than simply adding water---even baptismal water!---to make an interior life.
It takes time because it is a process. Initially, we have to come to be aware of our interior potential---our soulful possibilities. Most of us have experiences---often early experiences in life---that point to interiority. It might be a nature scene. It could be the beauty and clarity of the new moon in the sky. Rainbows do a fine job or even a good winter storm. Typically these experiences are arresting and centering.
Paradoxically, this centering of ourselves is also disruptive. It is disruptive of our normal living of life. Literally we “come to ourselves” from our normal marginal, circumference, often robotic, lives. In dramatic occasions we are given “wake up” calls.
With this awareness comes the possibility of paying attention. Paying attention is probably the currency of the interior life. Often paying attention happens because we take some time to reflect. I cannot imagine anyone living with a rich interior life without regular reflective time. Again reflective time interrupts. It interrupts the normal, ongoing running of our life-clocks. Most of our life-clocks are set for routine. That’s not bad, but normally it is not a life that automatically leads to a rich interior life. We are well served to take reflective time.
This is where the classical spiritual disciplines often come into play. Things like meditation, prayer, study, etc. interrupt the normalcy of most days. They afford me a chance to center---to seek my soul or, better, to allow my soul to find me. Most spiritual disciplines are not designed to render me a passive instrument of the Divine Being. To the contrary, spiritual disciplines should develop that interior life in such ways as to lead me not into temptation, but into the kind of discipleship that gives my life meaning and purpose.
And those last two ideas probably say best about the value of an interior life. To have an interior life should mean simultaneously a life with meaning and purpose. I am even tempted to say deep meaning and purpose. I suppose great wealth does serve a purpose. But I suspect many (or most?) really wealthy people find it hard not to be ego-protective. I know if I had a few million bucks, it would be hard for me not to think about that money. It would mean too much to me, I fear.
I am convinced deep meaning and purpose is spiritual. It means I come to be soulful and not egocentric. I know that my soul---not my ego---is at the center of “me.” And I know that to be soulful is to be transcendent---to transcend me. A deep interior life is always an interior life aimed outward---outward to God and to others.