Love really does make everything beautiful from the inside out. Jan Denise
To heal from the inside out is the key. Wynonna Judd
You have to grow from the inside out. None can teach you, none can make you spiritual. There is no other teacher but your own soul. Swami Vivekananda
There was no Pixar movie Inside Out when I was a little girl, no cartoon characters bringing emotions to life in lovable living color, no long and lanky, quivering-shivering Fear or squared-shouldered fury-red flame-headed Anger or green-bodied snotty-nose perfect-coiffed Disgust or droopy-eyed mopey-moving blue-colored Sadness or sprightly-dancing blue-haired pixie-glowing Joy. We had to wing it when I was a girl. We had to fly by the seat of our pants. And it wasn’t always easy. Our parents didn’t help matters much, didn’t say, “I see that you are angry and, I am, too, and it probably is my anger or my fear or my sadness that you are picking up on right now, but frankly I don’t have a label for it and I’m not even aware of it because I’ve stuffed it for so long.” We just did the best we could before the days of speaking freely of feelings, before the time of self-help books and cute animated emotions.
And, thankfully, even though I hadn’t seen her on the big screen yet in Inside Out, I was a little girl who knew intimately of Joy. She was my friend, and would often follow me — or maybe lead me — into the balsam-and- spruce-tree forest on our seaside property in Maine. Together we would head for the swampy patch by the granite rock where the moss grew thick and the wild grass shot up in sprightly sprigs and the frogs hopped around our feet, and we called this place Fairyland, Joy and I, and we would make up songs and sing them aloud as we danced on the squishy moss-covered forest floor. She tagged along on summertime boat rides, and afternoons on the beach, brought me a giggle while playing alone and with my siblings and friends. And I discovered early on that Joy was no highbrow snob, that goofball was her middle name and silly was her greatest cheerleading tactic. It was fun hanging out with Joy. It felt good.
But Joy isn’t the only player living in a little one’s control tower, and the others — Anger and Fear and Disgust and Sadness — sometimes, they, too, nudge their way to the pushbutton panel of power. It was brussel sprouts that made my face cringe in pure scrunched-up Disgust, and the Wicked Witch of the West on the Wizard of Oz that sent me flying behind the rumpus room couch in full-bodied shivers of Fear, and thinking about any animal dying — any animal at all, even the spiders who spun their webs outside our front door — brought Sadness to my sensitive heart. Yes, these three inner superhero action figures served me well with their emotional outbursts, protecting me from bitter cabbage-like vegetables and green-faced pointy-chinned witches — and softening my heart with salty tears to a world where our bodies and the bodies of the animals around us are mortal. I had some sort of a little girl handle on these three. It was Anger, flaming-red- pressure-cooker-exploding-everywhere Anger that sky-rocketed me out of control.
I was famous in my growing-up family for my temper tantrums. As a pre-schooler, more than once, I thrashed on the floor in a stormy sea of tears and screams. One time in particular, I remember lying on the rug in our first house’s dining room, facing upward, head almost under the table, legs flailing. It must have been winter, right after Christmas, because my present from my aunt and uncle, a science experiment where stalagmite-type formations were growing miraculously in a dish, sat on a buffet beside me. And I must have been three or four years old and I don’t know why I was so angry and I don’t think it had anything to do with my science experiment and I’m pretty sure that it did have something to do with my mother, with something she was ordering me to do that absolutely was not on my want-to-do radar.
Anger had its way with me back then, and when that square-bodied bully of an emotion had blown off his full head of steam, I was left flummoxed. What had just happened?!? I knew that I felt better in the aftermath of the storm. And I recognized that Joy was once again back at the control panel, and fun was once again the name of the game. But I didn’t know how I got there. I didn’t have a map tracing the road trip from that temper tantrum outbursts of Anger through those dark and mysterious inner streets back to the buoyant bounce of Joy. The journey from Anger or Sadness or even Disgust up the emotional scale to that most high vibe of emotional cartoon characters felt out of my little girl control. It was years later that I finally was able to connect the dots, to realize that it could be a conscious ride on that inner highway from emotion to emotion, that I indeed was at the steering wheel of what I was feeling, and could willfully make my way, my lit-up way, back up to Joy.
And what a gift it would be to discover this inner superpower journey of consciously moving from emotion to emotion at a much younger age, say at three-and-a-half, to realize that you are in charge of your own vessel, that you not only are able to recognize these animated emotions from the movie, Inside Out — which perhaps you have watched with your parents a multitude of times — but that you also are aware of them on the inside of yourself. And how powerful it would be to realize that it is possible to journey your way from a feeling of Anger to one as high-spaceship-flying as Joy in just a few moments. And how wonderful it would to be given the opportunity to put this whole emotional thing into practice with your grandmother, who you love very much, standing by as your cheerleading witness.
So that’s what happened. I, who had no clue how to pull myself together and recover from a fit of anger consciously at three-and-a-half, was the loving witness this past Thanksgiving weekend to my grandson’s grand journey. There was something he didn’t want to do, something that the adults around him wanted him to do. And he was upset. And I’m not sure who it was at his Inside Out control panel, whether it was Anger or Sadness, but one of them was pushing the buttons and my grandson was a puddle of tears and cries. And his cheerleading grandmother, she took him aside; she coaxed him along. “I think you can recover!” she whispered in his ear. “I think you can pull yourself together!” she added with a hug. And somehow he realized it, that he was in charge, that adults might make requests that seem unreasonable or don’t make sense, but he’s the one who can choose his attitude, can claim his feelings. “I’m pulling myself together!” he spoke through his tears. “I’m recovering,” he said with a hiccuppy breath. “I’m recovering!” he repeated with a little more strength. And cheerleading grandmother, she cheered even harder. “I knew you could do it! I knew you could!” And he straightened himself up, walked into that room of adults, and he said it, these exact words, “I’ve pulled myself together!” And indeed he had, in record time.
Bless the movie Inside Out. And bless the three-and-a-half-year-olds! May they be our teachers! May we realize, too, that it is an inside job, that is is up to each of us to own it, the emotion at the control panel, up to each us to take the emotional journey if we don’t like where we’re sitting, up to each of us to pull ourselves together and find our way to Joy — if it is Joy who is the one who is calling to us, the one who is beckoning us forward to a day of feel-good play.