Inner Workings

My kids love stories. I do, too. I am grateful for the stories I never would have discovered without their invitation. Frozen changed our lives two years ago. That soundtrack proved a CD can never wear out from too many plays. This year, it’s Moana. We saw it over the holidays, and it again reminded me no one does story like Disney. I am still using the story to explore and interpret my own. If you’ve seen the movie, you know a seven-minute short called Inner Workings precedes the feature film. Inner Workings alone is worth the price of admission. I searched the web and could only find a preview (click here). Since I cannot show you the short film, I’ll just have to narrate and share.

An ordinary man named Paul sleeps until the obnoxious intrusion of his alarm clock. As he struggles to awaken, we meet the main characters of the film- his internal organs. Brain, Heart, Lungs, Stomach, Kidneys, and Bladder wake up. All organs take their cue from Brain who holds the reins. As Paul sings in the shower, Heart dances along because Brain allows it. Then he imagines slipping on soap, and Brain foresees his sure death and burial. An imagined priest conducts his eulogy for comic relief. Paul concludes his shower peacefully.

As Paul walks through sunny California in the 1980s on his way to work at Boring, Boring, & Glum, he has three short encounters which reveal the heart of his whole life story. First, Stomach salivates as a couple eats pancakes dripping with syrup and melting butter. Brain adds up the calories, and we again see the priest give a eulogy at Paul’s grave. Paul continues his trek to work when a surfer practically runs him over and simultaneously invites him out into the waves. Heart envisions the thrill of the waves until Brain calculates sure death at the jaws of a shark. Again the priest presides over his funeral. Paul walks on.

He passes a woman selling sunglasses, and Heart catches vision for love and romance. His story repeats: Brain overpowers Heart in the name of safety and survival. In three short scenes, we understand Paul’s whole life. You and I, too, can read our lives through small scenes. It only takes a few. If you do not know the deeper parts of your story, sometimes it merely takes examination of a scene or two. Our heart has learned a secure way to engage life and relationships, so we repeat our story. Another way to say it is this: Our story follows us. When I sit with people in story groups, men and women pick a scene from their past to write and tell. They are often surprised to learn one short scene tells their whole story.

In short, no pun intended, Paul has not invited Heart along for the journey. Brain holds the reins and rules the show. That’s not to say our intellect should be abandoned in favor of our heart, either. Paul’s head wisely warns of the consumption of too many calories and the dangers of sharks. I just saw a shark swim by my kids at the beach last year. I will think twice next time before stepping into the sea. But Paul’s narrative illustrates a fear which silences the heart. Unless we invite our heart along for our journey, we live divided, half-alive, and we never jump in the ocean.

Additionally, when we don’t invite our heart along, we end up staring at others and wanting to live their story. Those who live with heart entice us to dream and hope, just as Paul stares longingly at the breakfast couple and people on the beach. In moments of envy, we either listen as our heart speaks hope for ourselves, or we dismiss desires in effort to survive like Paul.

Standing at the entrance of Boring, Boring, & Glum, Brain yet again defeats Heart, and Paul enters to sit at a desk. He joins the chorus of monotonous employees who simultaneously punch data into computers. Paul punches a key and checks the numbers. He punches a key and checks the numbers. He punches a key and checks the numbers.

If the story ended here, we’d call it tragic. So many human stories do end here. Dreams die never to be rekindled. Hope fades. Survival wins out over full life. We would not be drawn to this short film if we did not know this tragedy ourselves.

Brain lives in resistance to Paul’s fear. Clearly he defines a successful story as keeping his job and the avoidance of death.

When Paul’s watch beeps signifying lunchtime, Brain does some math and computes the trajectory for the rest of his life. If nothing changes and Paul continues the same story, he will walk to his grave an old, tired, and lonely man with little story to tell. Brain watches as he literally surrenders to death by stepping into his own coffin. At this thought, Brain shares the reins with Heart.

Heart erupts with joy. Paul abandons his office and races out into the ocean. There the ocean sprays him as it welcomes him to life. In his tie and work attire, he jumps and splashes and Bladder pees its way into salvation. His bladder empty and his heart full, Paul makes his way back to work. Only this time, he sits down with bright sunglasses on his head- bought from the lively woman Heart always wanted to meet.

Then the unthinkable happens: thanks to Paul inviting his Heart to work, a party breaks out. His joy overflows and seeps contagiously into his co-workers. They dance and work and sing and work and laugh and work. Work becomes play. The elder bosses, drained from a lifetime without heart, emerge to witness the euphoric office. In shock they drop their jaws and coffee mugs and join in the party.

The story needed to end this way. I feared the film would end with Paul leaving his job, and he could have. I kept waiting for him to exit the office never to return. But it was far more powerful that he stayed. His heart, not his job, was the problem. His unredeemed story needed attention. Scene after scene revealed a man who chose survival over life, and it killed his passion. Until he confronted this part of his story, his story would follow him through life: job change, marriage, parenthood, divorce, vacation, or moving to Mars. Until we confront our story, it hovers like a shadow.

Culturally we live in a world where the general notion is one must find the job which brings them the most joy. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, and I’m glad I do. But so many people hate their jobs and believe the path to recovering heart starts with finding their calling- aka dream job. Worse, we joke about the millennials as a generation whose cause must be connected to their work or they won’t work at all. While this does not characterize every millennial, the joke brings laughter for a reason. Calling is not synonymous with occupation. Sometimes we have to pay the bills, and we do not get to choose how we do it. This does not mean we’ve missed our calling. We forget the apostle Paul made tents because no one thinks of him first as a tent maker. Calling has more to do with how you bring who you are to where you are rather than what you do. Finding your heart is not leaving your life. The process of recovering and living with heart does require action, and at times this means leaving a job. Primarily, though, recovering heart starts with paying attention. Paul shows us the way as he learns to live connected to his Brain and Heart.


Fear always tempts us to live in resistance, and it ends up writing our story.
What does your anxiety define as a successful story?
What fears write your story and define your relationships?
Share Button