The Inner Workings

The inner working of a human being
is like a jungle.  Sometimes wolves
dominate. Sometimes wild hogs.

Be wary when you breathe.
At one moment gentle, generous qualities,
pass from one nature to another.
The next moment

vicious qualities move in hidden ways.

In every instant a new species rises
in the chest–now a demon, now an angel,
now a wild animal, now a human friend.

There are also those in this amazing jungle
who can absorb you into their own surrender.
If you have to stalk and steal something,
steal from them.


The psyche, as illustrated in Rumi’s poem, is an unpredictable space of dynamic possibility. The mind is in a constant state of flux, and this flux is something that largely, we are not in full control of. The inner landscape is a place of richness and depth that constantly surprises, shocks, delights and sometimes terrorises!

We get into trouble when see seek to control or suppress these inner forces. What show’s up is not up to us. Our task is concerned with how we relate to these visitors that turn up on our doorstep. We have a natural tendency to turn away from darkness and disturbance, those desert places that show up within us as boredom or restlessness, uneasiness or despair. Much of our cultural narrative revolves around attempting to fix or change these parts of ourselves because of their unpleasant nature. We then unconsciously numb ourselves with drugs, distract ourselves with work or entertainment and exile these demons and wild animals that growl at us in the night-time of our minds. But what if these inner figures were not just scary and repulsive but held within them some inherent potential for beauty and goodness?

Rilke writes:

“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”

The wolves and wild hogs within us are just as worthy of being honoured as are the gentle and generous qualities. By learning to turn towards these experiences with openness and curiosity, kindness and care, we might see their energies transform in the light of our presence. It simply requires the courage to move into and inhabit this murky terrain. The ‘new species’ that is constantly arising within us what gives our inner life its vitality, richness and depth. The alternative is a flattened terrain of sameness and monotony. The beauty of our humanity lies in its diversity.

In turning away from these shadowy parts of ourselves we are actually inflicting greater damage upon ourselves as we cut ourselves off from our humanity. When we cut off from those parts of ourselves we dislike, we also become alienated from our higher potentialities. Angels and friends exist equally with the demons and dragons in these inner jungles but we must be willing to embrace the demons in order to harness the angels. Light and dark depend on each other – and if we try to banish the darkness we also put out the light.