A Conversation with Michael Neill

Conscious Life Journal: Can you give us an understanding about Inside-Out, where it came from and what the basic premise is?

Michael Neill: I was working on a TV pilot with clients and the breakthroughs were great and I really thought we were onto something until one day the producer said, “I can see the before and I can see the after but I don’t see the moment when people change.” And that’s where I knew we didn’t have a TV show, because the change is always on the inside, it happens on the way home, when you’re brushing your teeth, or in the shower. The Inside-Out understanding is the catalyst but the actual change is completely inside the person. When somebody is waking up to a deeper truth, in a funny way nothing has happened. Everything is exactly as it was before they woke up, but now they’re just awake to it.

To answer your original question, I was a really messed up kid—pretty bright, from a very loving family, and I kind of got through okay—but I was on a quest for how to not be messed up. I went on a spiritual journey and played with lots of things, got very into Zen and meditation, got into NLP and was very good at it. I went from being a low-functioning depressive to a high-functioning depressive. I did really well for myself and I was able to mostly keep it at bay. Then one day I came across this relationship book and somehow this one was different. Genuinely different.

So I tracked down the author and studied with one of his colleagues and I really thought they just knew a cooler trick. But they kept saying it’s not a trick, it’s how things really work. And I said yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s a trick. And then the weirdest thing happened. I heard this guy (Sydney Banks) who said every human being is sitting in the middle of mental health, they just don’t know it. And somehow I saw how that was completely true. That I was not broken, that I’d never been broken, that babies are born happy, they don’t need therapy. So whatever was going on with me wasn’t part of the factory preset. It was something that had been added afterward. And if it had been added afterward, I figured there must be some way to do a reset, back to the original setting. For the first time in my life I wasn’t a high-functioning depressive or a low-functioning depressive. I was fine, I was good, and it was really annoying because I’d just written a book about how to stave off depression and I was supposed to go on a book tour about it, and I realized the fundamental premise of this book is wrong; nobody is broken, we’re perfect, we’re whole, we’re complete, but we have the ability to convince ourselves that we’re not.

We live in an experience of life that is entirely created from inside the mind. Change your thinking, change your life, but the problem with that is those cookies are already burnt. You can put sprinkles on them and add chocolate chips, but then you just have sprinkly, chocolate chip, burnt cookies. If you understand that it’s all coming from a deeper source, and you go back to the source, it will give you fresh cookies. It will give you fresh thinking, and that bypasses your psychology because it comes from the place in you that is before psychology—that part of us that would be the same had we been born in a different time, in a different body, with a different family, in a different religion, in a different culture. It’s the me looking out my eyes at the you looking out your eyes. And that place where people wake up to what’s inside themselves changes everything because suddenly we’re not this kind of psychological mess trying to improve ourselves, we’re the unlimited creative potential of the universe. And that’s a very rich place to live your life from.

CLJ: And does it happen for people just like that?

MN: Surprisingly often it does happen just like that. The light comes on. The twinkle comes into the eye and somebody sees, “Oh, this is me.” Carl Jung had a Latin saying over his office door and on his tombstone: “Invoked, or not invoked, God is present.” People have very different perceptions of the word God, but whatever you want to call it, “Invoked, or not invoked, life is present.” So you can wake up to that in any moment and nothing has to happen first because it’s already there.

For many people it’s often like a series of many awakenings. You notice it there, and there, and there, and eventually it gets easier and easier to connect the dots until you get a sense of the whole. It isn’t always a grand epiphany. (I have a grand epiphany that involves beer snorting out of my nose.) It’s often more of a gentle roll, and once you start to wake up to it, you start to see it through your experience more and more. You wake up to it, then you wake to it again, then you wake up to it deeper. But it can be disruptive. Like falling down a flight of stairs. But what comes out the other side is who you always were, so there’s a feeling of right place, right time, being on purpose. It’s not to do with some external purpose or some external place, it’s to do with coming from being in touch with that place inside you that I call the space within. That’s in everybody. That’s no different in me than it is in you than it was in Buddha than it was in Christ.

CLJ: How do people take this understanding and then figure out “what do I do now?”

MN: Waking up to the fact that there’s an underlying implicated order to the unfolding of the universe is not how you figure out what brand of beer you’re supposed to drink. And that’s one of the things I love about teaching, coaching, and writing about this stuff. I’m not telling anyone how to live. That’s not my domain. I’m talking about what life is and how it works and it just so happens that as you wake up to what life is and how it works, you get to move through life with more grace, you get to be more grateful for the highs and grateful for the lows, and that (as far as I can see) is how to live. It doesn’t prescribe any behavior. This is a description of how life works, not a prescription for how to live it.

CLJ: But that trips people up, doesn’t it?

MN: Only always. What I saw is that the things that are just true are nothing to do with me. Gravity is unaffected by your belief, it’s unaffected by your opinion, it’s even unaffected by your consciousness. Just like control. The biggest difference that this understanding has brought to me is so much more mental freedom. I used to be all about trying to control the mind and freedom is the opposite of control. My favorite line about control is that somebody was listening to me talk and had a bit of an epiphany and said, “Wow, I think I’m beginning to let go of the reins.” And I said, “Yeah, but the funny thing is that you’re letting go of the reins of a rocking horse being carried on the back of a pickup truck.”

The place I’m always pointing people to look is what’s true for everyone, always has been, and always will be. If you don’t take gravity into account you can’t do much. It’s the same with spiritual fact. You can take into account the existence of an underlying intelligence or not, but it doesn’t affect the underlying intelligence. You can like or not like the fact that you feel your thinking, but it doesn’t affect whether or not you feel your thinking. You can feel aware of this larger self, of this space within where thoughts come and go, where experience comes and goes, the mirror that reflects life that is unaffected by what it reflects. A mirror is no worse off if it reflects Hitler every day, than if it reflects Cindy Crawford, than if it reflects Mother Theresa, than if it reflects Nelson Mandela. That’s us at a deeper level and when you start to see that, life gets a lot less scary.

My favorite quote (by Syd Banks) at the beginning of The Inside-Out Revolution is, “If the only thing people learned was not to be afraid of their own experience, that alone would change the world.” If you understand where your experience comes from and how it all works, it’s not so scary. When my son was little, he got terriffied by the trailers for The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. If we went to a movie and that trailer came on, he would scream. He didn’t understand that what he was seeing and hearing weren’t real. It’s the same with thought.

When it looks to us like thought isn’t thought, it’s reality, it can be terrifying. Wonderful, but terrifying. You don’t go to a movie to tell yourself it’s just a movie, it’s just a movie, it’s just a movie. You go to a movie to get lost in it, to get terrified by it, to cry. That’s the fun of a movie. But you can enjoy it because you know at some level that it’s just a movie. It’s the same thing when you start to wake up to your thoughts. You can enjoy all the movies because you know at some level, even though you keep falling for it, that it’s just a thought, taking form, being brought to life and consciousness.

CLJ: Do you move from that understanding to the active creation of your thought and, therefore, your movie called life?

MN: Well, that’s where it gets really interesting. In my work I talk about what’s true before the therefore and what we make up after the therefore. So what’s true before the therefore is just true. We’re alive, we’re awake, we think, we create. That’s a universal truth. But people then go, “Therefore, I need to create good stuff, therefore, I shouldn’t create things that hurt, therefore” . . . and then you get religion, you get philosophy, you get argument, you get righteousness. Because everyone thinks that what they make up after the therefore is the right answer. There’s no right answer after the “therefore,” there are just seven billion individual creations. You could make up “therefore, I should control my thinking and create a particular kind of life.” But we don’t have to do that because there’s an underlying intelligence that will take our thinking in incredibly beautiful and productive directions. There’s a self-correcting mechanism and an inner guidance system that does that for us. Trying to control our thinking is a doomed enterprise. We actually mess it up by trying to take it over. We’re not designed to control it. We’re designed to enjoy it. We’re designed to experience it and this underlying intelligence, this self-correcting mechanism, and if we get out of the way it will bring us better thinking and better realities than we can imagine.

Michael Neill is an internationally renowned transformative coach and the best-selling author of six books including Creating the Impossible, The Inside-Out Revolution, and The Space Within. Michael is often described as the “coach’s coach” and commands extraordinary respect within his field for unleashing the human potential with intelligence, humor, and heart. He has spent over twenty-five years as a coach, adviser, friend, mentor, and creative spark plug to celebrities, CEOs, royalty, and people who want to get more out of themselves and their lives. His books have been translated into eighteen languages, and his public talks, retreats, seminars, and online programs have touched and transformed lives at the United Nations and in over sixty countries and on six continents around the world. HisTEDx talk, “Why Aren’t We Awesomer?”, has been viewed by over 200,000 people. Michael’s weekly radio show, “Living from the Inside Out,” has been a listener favorite on Hay House Radio for over a decade. His weekly blog and podcast, “Caffeine for the Soul,” is now in its 18th year and going strong.