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Living From the Inside-Out:
The Cycle of Self-Renewal

Copyright Eric Klein 1998-2000

All life moves in cycles.

Look outside a window - whether you are looking at a tree, a cactus, or a mountain, nature in all its forms follows a cyclic rhythm. Nature is the great teacher of self-renewal.

But in our busy-ness we have neglected or forgotten the lessons of this great teacher. We have turned away from the rhythms of nature and in so doing lost touch with the fact that our life also moves in cycles.

Swept up in the whirl of activities, we no longer experience our life as a cycle of self-renewal. The purpose of this article is to re-acquaint you with the deep rhythm of your life - the cycle of self-renewal - and to give you the tools you need to live harmoniously in accord with that cycle.

Making Timeless Truths Practical

These teachings of self-renewal are eloquently revealed in the leaves of a maple tree and the breeze against your cheek. The principles and practices of self-renewal are "open secrets". They are all around us; and within us. These principles have been well articulated in the wisdom literature of every culture. We don't need to re-invent the wheel - the cycle of self-renewal is a timeless truth. But we do need to re-express timeless truth in a way that can be understood and applied today.

Timeless truths are great. But, unless we have a way of translating the timeless truth into the particulars of our lives at this moment, it is basically useless.

That is the question for many of us who want live a more spiritual or soulful life. How can we apply timeless truth to the realities of car seats, expense reports, and bad hair days?

We have had moments where we glimpsed the possibility of a richer, more soul-fulfilling life. We know it is possible. But having this memory can cause us to wonder - particularly when we're are stuck in rush hour traffic or over loaded with demands - how can we move from our current level of experience to a way of living that embodies and expresses the truth that our moments of soul awareness have revealed?

The problem is that we have become so distracted by the content of our lives - the tasks, the errands, the people - that we have lost touch with our purpose. We have forgotten how to use our experiences as opportunities for self-renewal.

From Scattered to Sacred Living

Take a look around. A thousand things capture and fragment our awareness. The to-do lists run on and on. New demands, expectations, and enticements pop up around every corner. Living in this scattered state we forget to call forth our inner resources and meet the situations of our life creatively.

Yet, it is possible to live in another way.

It is possible to ground your life, not in reactive impulses, but in creative clarity. It is possible to live in the cycle of self-renewal - in a way that is energizing and consistently meaningful.

Please remember, to live in accord with the cycle of self-renewal does not guarantee that you will always find a parking space. To live with energy and purpose doesn't mean that everything will go as you planned, despite the claims of many self-help authors.

Living in the cycle of self-renewal is much more about letting go of fantasies than fulfilling them. Of course as we let go, we find something far more valuable than a parking space.

What we find radically transforms and enriches our current view of what it means to be successful. We find our rhythm, our values, our gifts, and our purpose. With these discoveries in hand we begin to live from the inside-out.

Living from the Inside-out

Inside-out living is self-renewing. By living from the inside-out every life condition that we experience becomes an occasion for expressing our values, developing our gifts, and leaving a meaningful legacy.

The alternative is to live from the outside-in; to let success (even happiness) be defined by others; to build our life according to a blue print that we have inherited but that does not fit the requirements of our soul. This sets up a way of living that is perpetually off-balance.

Outside-in living differs from Inside-out living in many ways:

TIME Cyclic Linear
STANDARDS Owned Imposed
STRATEGY Creative Formula
LEARNING Follow the deep questions Find the right answer
SOLUTIONS Address the cause Address the symptoms
FULFILLMENT In bringing vision to life In reaching the goal line

In choosing to live from the inside-out, we do not need to judge the outside-in approach. We just need to see, without blame, the consequences of that strategy. Outside-in living produces results without engaging the soul. It leads to the condition termed, by the ancients, "loss of soul". The symptoms of loss of soul are numerous but always involve a diminishment of energy, focus, direction. Meaning evaporates from our life when soul is absent. At work our activities become routine, lifeless. In relationships interactions become mechanical. Life loses it's sparkle. Everything leaves an after taste of falseness in our mouths.

Why We Hesitate

There can be some fear in making the change to inside-out living. We may worry that we will lose our edge; that we will begin drifting in a hazy, direction-less fog. Without the rigor of external constraints, we may wonder, where will the necessary discipline for action come from?

But when we shift to the inside-out approach to living we discover that the soul is more creative than we imagined. In living from the inside-out we retain the sharp focused, effective skills of our past. Now these skills are enlivened by a sense of purpose and expanded by the incorporation of gifts that we had left sleeping. We are able to do more, not because we have to, but from an overflow of soul inspiration.

Following the Cycle

The Cycle of Self-Renewal model describes the structure of the cycle as it unfolds through time. Let's examine the cycle.

Cycle of Renewal Illustrated

Looking at the outside of the cycle we see the primary rhythm of self- renewal - things take form and things come apart. The movement of this dual rhythm produces the Cycle of Self-renewal. In order for things to come apart they must first take form. In order for things to take form they must first comes apart. Both sides of the cycle are needed for self-renewal to occur. They support each other and cannot be separated.

When viewed in terms of self-renewal, every aspect of our life is either in the things take form or the things come apart half of the cycle.

This dual rhythm can be further refined into a four-fold pattern - from germinating, to emerging, to thriving, to harvesting, and back to germinating again.

Every aspect of our life follows this four-fold pattern. That is how it actually is. Unfortunately, we do not always relate to our experience in a cyclic way. In fact, most of our training and education has reinforced the outside-in approach to experience which states "Keep your focus on the goal; follow the approved formula; get the right answer; then you will be successful." With this mindset we tend to ignore the actual rhythm of self-renewal.

If our career is in the Harvesting phase, we may not acknowledge this and treat it as though it were in the Emerging phase by setting goals and getting organized. But different phases of the cycle call for different tasks to be accomplished. Treating a career or relationship or project that is in the Harvesting phase as though it were in the Emerging phase is both ineffective and frustrating.

When our actions are not in synch with the phase of the cycle that we are experiencing, we stop renewing. We may be engaged in actions but they are not aligned with the natural cycle of renewal. To use the appropriate approach for the current phase is the art of self-renewal. To act in accord with the cycle moves us efficiently and harmoniously through the cycle.

How one person renewed his work:

Let's examine how following the cycle of self-renewal has allowed David, a dentist, to shift his career into a completely new direction. Because we can pick up the cycle at any point, lets join David when his career as a dentist was in the Thriving phase.


Expand and Grow: David's practice is doing well. He is married with three children. He has a beautiful home and a comfortable lifestyle. Then managed care shows up. Remember - being on the cycle of renewal is not about controlling the world. Unexpected and unwelcome changes will come to everyone. Being on the cycle of renewal means we respond creatively to the changes that occur.

Sustain Momentum: For a while David tries to adapt. He works longer hours, does more paper work, in an attempt to sustain his level of income.


Evaluate: It becomes obvious that the old way was no more. Now, it is time for David to determine whether or not he still wants to work as a dentist given the current realities of health care. There are things about his work that David loves and there are things about the work that he now hates. There are no easy answers when making major changes. As part of his reevaluation process David enters a formal coaching program.

Let go: When it becomes clear that he wants to move on to a new kind of work, David stars letting go of his patients and responsibilities. He also works on letting go off his old identity in order to make room for something new to be born. The logistics of letting go of an office are complex but straight forward. The inner work of letting go of images and emotions is more subtle and challenging.


Look and listen: Having let go, David enters the phase of simply being open. He knows that to move too quickly towards a new goal would short circuit the process of renewal. He does not want to just grab onto the next "doable" thing. Rather, he wants to take the time to let the next form of his work emerge.

This looking and listening time is the most challenging for many people. It seems as though "nothing is happening". But without this "nothing" the next form cannot take shape.

Connect to Values and Vision: Having given himself the freedom to look and listen, David remembers some of the reasons he was attracted to dentistry in the first place. He values healing and connection with people. Using these values as a basis, David begins to see a new future for himself - coaching dentists and physicians to renew themselves and their work in light of their own values.


Set goals: With a vision for his new work as a coach to dentists and physicians seeking renewal, David begins to build his new business. He graduates from a professional training in coaching and mentoring and begins to market his services to the dental and medical community.

As he continues to attend to the tasks of each phase in the cycle, David's work will continue to renew itself.

Now, consider your own career. Reflecting on your own patterns of career growth it will, no doubt, become clear that there were periods when your career was in the things-take-form phase of things. At other times your career may have been going through the things-come-apart half of the cycle. Both phases of the cycle are "good". Both are needed for renewal to occur.

Change is not Necessarily Renewal

Think about your friends, family, colleagues. How many of us know people who have left one relationship to remarry another person, only to find themselves in the very same pattern of relationship tensions. Others may leave their job, because of discontentment, only to discover that their sense of discontentment has followed them. The Zen masters have said, "Wherever you go, there you are." The cycle of Self-Renewal includes the self, after all. And in the final analysis it may be impossible to find the boundary between my "self" and my "life".

By following the cycle of self-renewal, your life becomes workable. Even when challenging, life conditions are not barriers to overcome. Life conditions are the very materials we have to work with. What else is there to work with?

Living from the inside-out invites us to more fully inhabit our lives and to use every moment as an occasion to more fully bring forth our vision, live our values, and leave our legacy.

Changing the outside situation does not, in and of itself, constitute self-renewal. The cycle of self-renewal, which does allow us to reshape our life, includes a period for clarifying the inner attitudes, beliefs, and feelings which propelled one into the situation to begin with. In the cycle of self-renewal external changes are a result of inner changes.

This is the real crux of the issue.

When we are established in the cycle of self-renewal we can state, without a trace of blame, "Everything that happens to me has been formed or created by me in the past, most often semi-consciously. If this is true, then my values, gifts, and legacy are at the creative center of what arises in my life. Conditions change - take form and come apart - as mirrors that reflect how congruently I am expressing those values, developing those gifts, and creating that legacy." When we appreciate this mirroring aspect of experience then problems become the voice of life as the great teacher of self-renewal.

Life is not a courtroom, but a classroom. According to the cycle of self-renewal, we are immersed in the optimum environment for learning. That is what our current life conditions are. And that is why it is important to understand where we are in the cycle and to act accordingly. To do so is to respect yourself and your life.

Every experience functions as a focal point and catalyst for bringing our values, gifts, and legacy to life. As the cycle of self-renewal is deeply grasped, we know our life is a blessing.

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