C. S. Lewis was a theologian and professor of medieval and Renaissance literature at Cambridge University and a fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge. He is best known for his popular Narnia fantasy book series.
In 1944, C. S. Lewis gave a speech titled “The Inner Ring.” It was his Memorial Lecture at King’s College, University of London.
C. S. Lewis opened the speech with a few lines from Tolstoy’s War and Peace. He refers to a character named Boris, who figures out that within the official military hierarchy, there exists an “unwritten system” where true power resides.
This unwritten system doesn’t exist in any military manual or company rule book. As C. S. Lewis states:
You discover gradually, in almost indefinable ways, that it (the unwritten system) exists and that you are outside it; and then later, perhaps, you are inside it.
C. S. Lewis’s “The Inner Ring” warns us about our desire to join this inner ring:
As long as you are governed by that desire you will never get what your want. You are trying to peel an onion: if you succeed there will be nothing left. Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain.
I wanted to join the elite people
As a blogger and fine artist, I used to pay close attention to all the luminaries in both fields. I’d marvel at the readership and success of bloggers like Michael Hyatt and Jeff Goins.
I’d admire the success and media exposure of fine artists like Scott L. Christensen, Jeremy Lipking and Casey Baugh.
I wanted to be just like these successful people. After all, I’d found success in the law enforcement profession. I’d risen to highest rank possible in my profession, that of Chief of Police. I was ready for the next big thing.
Being an ambitious and success driven person, I wanted to join the elite people in both the blogging and fine art worlds.
I desperately wanted to be a part of these “inner circles.” Why? Because I figured joining the ranks of these notable people would mean I had made it. I had found success.
The question is, what’s your defintion of success?
Friendship trumps the Inner Ring
Most of us want to be part of the “in” crowd. The cool people who are up on everything and “in the know.” The first kids to get selected to join the team, as opposed to the dregs that are left over.
Except it’s all a lie. It’s transitory and short lived. It belies the greater truth that self-worth and human dignity trump station and status.
Listen to C. S. Lewis here as he explicates further:
Once the first novelty is worn off, the members of this circle will be no more interesting than your old friends. Why should they be? You were not looking for virtue or kindness or loyalty or humor or learning or wit or any of the things that can really be enjoyed. You merely wanted to be ‘in.’ And that is a pleasure that cannot last. As soon as your new associates have been staled to you by custom, you will be looking for another Ring. The rainbow’s end will still be ahead of you. The old ring will now be only the drab background for your endeavor to enter the new one.
According to C. S. Lewis, it’s not the inner circle that will promise happiness and fulfillment. Rather, the answer is true friendship. As C. S. Lewis states about friendship:
Aristotle placed it among the virtues. It causes perhaps half of all the happiness in the world, and no Inner Ring can ever have it.
Become a craftsman
Over time, I started to figure out that what mattered most was my family, friends and creative vision.
It was a waste of time to try and mimic the people I admired. Better to listen to my own voice and forge my own path. Create my own artistic circle that reflected my artful sensibilities and expressions.
C. S. Lewis urges us to abandon this quest for the Inner Ring. He argues that if we break it,
…a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it.
Listen to your internal spirit
There’s nothing wrong with seeking inspiration from others. We can learn volumes from talented people.
But in the end, you must go about your own artwork. You must listen to your internal spirit.
Stay true to the craftsman that you are. Enjoy the journey you are on. As C. S. Lewis urges:
And if in your spare time you consort simply with the people you like, you will again find that you have come unawares to the real inside: that you are indeed snug and safe at the centre of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring.
It’s okay to be the beginner. The novice on the outside, trying to find your way. Yes, seek inspiration and get inspired by the work and talents of others.
But stay true to yourself and your artistic sensibilities. In time, other artists and craftsmen will be drawn to your authenticity and sincerity.
From there, true friendships blossom and a deep peace settles into your soul. And, dear reader, this is how you become an artist. This is how you attain happiness in your life.
This is how you create your own Inner Ring, which becomes the center of your universe, and the creative sanctuary that others will long to find in their own lives.
Before you go
I’m John P. Weiss. Fine artist and writer. Leave a comment below. Then, go throw yourself into your creative destiny!
A version of this post was previously published on Medium and is republished here with permission from the author.
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Photo credit: John P. Weiss