How comfortable are you when you do not yet know the eventual outcome of a particular decision or choice you have made in life?
You know it was something you wanted to do, for multiple reasons, and yet it did not turn out exactly as you had planned. For some reason though, you trust that is is still the direction you are meant to follow, and that each bend in the road helps you master new a set of skills for the next part of the journey.
Unsettling for a while though, isn’t it?
Especially when all of the advice you are getting leads you back to the place you left. It is well-meaning advice, but it simply does not satisfy the place in your heart that yearns for growth in a different direction.
So you politely thank people for their advice, which may be based on their own fears about their situations more than an accurate assessment of yours. Then you continue doing what you know you must do, following the intuition that will lead you to the next right thing. It is not for the faint of heart, this uncertainty. And yet it can open us up to the types of growth we are meant to experience.
When the doors start to open and your path becomes more clear, you again begin to trust that inner compass. You know that you can choose to remain in your wholeness, and approach your life with presence and lightness every day. And all of these gifts and lessons travel with you to the next place where you will face new trials, and traverse new territory.
Uncertainty can feel uncomfortable. But ultimately knowing that you have the resourcefulness and resilience to meet the next challenge with grace, or at least with a willing and curious spirit, can make all the difference.
Keep your heart open to those moments of knowing, even when your inner critic starts voicing the doubts that others may speak openly. This is that nexus where your vulnerability joins with courage (thank you, Brené Brown). This is where the magic happens.
Does it ever seem like there is so much noise out in the world that you can barely hear yourself think?
I love to fill myself up on podcasts, audio books, music. I used to listen to Minnesota Public Radio every day, but I now limit that, sadly. (Don’t worry, MPR, I will remain a sustaining member. I believe in what you do, just need to measure it a little more carefully these days).
Some of this noise is chosen, because we like to hear companionable voices as we work, clean homes, or commute to work. This is the role podcasts have started to play for me, in an increasing amount since last fall. I have an audio philes page if you want some recommendations.
Every now and then, something in the noise resonates with me. It is almost like something “clicks” inside me and I hear my body (and sometimes voice) say: Yes! Exactly! Sometimes it is ideas I have heard before, but I am hearing them in a new way. Maybe Krista Tippet’s guest explained something in a way that makes sense. Or Jonathan Fields gives me a science update that I enjoy. Actually sometimes I want to talk back to the podcast and say: No, actually you are missing this crucial point…
So yeah, I have dialogues with these voices. And no, it’s not crazy to do this. We all do, to some extent.
I try now and then to just turn off ALL the noise sometimes. It takes discipline to do it. I am quiet and I begin to look and listen inwardly, to the voice that resides deep within my soul. She is quieter most of the time, needing some patient attention and waiting to speak until I really slow down to listen.
Occasionally she gives me a big, fat, NO! when I am running counter to her intentions. This is a felt sensation physically, a clench of the stomach or a tightening of the jaw. I did not always pay attention to these signals in the past. But now that I am learning and understanding her language, I try not to ignore her. She has a way of sending reminders to me when I am slow to hear.
For years I only listened when I received distress signals. But now I listen for desires, cravings and dreams. She can be shy about those, so it can take some meditation and deep calm to hear beyond the noise down to these core messages.
They are there, beneath the surface. Some of them puzzle me. What?!? Are you sure, my ego voice asks her? Why would you want that?! But when she is determined, she calmly answers back and does not let herself be moved.
Do you ever try this? Listening to that core inner voice and what it tells you? I am beginning to realize it never steers me wrong. It is the soul, which is the source of all knowing.
May you, my dear reader, tune into your own signals despite the noise. Best to you during this holiday of Thanksgiving in the United States. Grateful for your comments and feedback.
Last week I wrote a bit about dark nights of the soul, a contemplation of my battles with insomnia, and coming to terms with changes I anticipate in my life. I also wrote about home, and what that term means to me. I realize in writing every day, what I am doing is mining my own stories and allowing them to take shape in a purposeful direction.
I began reading Thomas Moore’s Dark Nights of the Soul and I am surprised and delighted by some of the insights. Moore’s biography also intrigues me. His amazon author page describes him this way: “He has been a monk, a musician, a university professor, and a psychotherapist. He also writes fiction and music and often works with his wife, artist and yoga instructor…”
I love his eclectic career and life. He clearly mines the depths of his experiences and others’ stories, both light and dark. The darkness is not something to be avoided, in his view. He describes the transformation that happens in this darkness this way:
Your story is a kind of water, making fluid the brittle events of your life. A story liquefies you, prepares you for more subtle transformations. (p 61 “The Self in Solution”)
I so completely identify with this passage. And it speaks to what I attempt to do in pursuing this daily writing practice, using the process of story to understand my own life, and the path thus far.
He uses mythology as a key to understand and cultivate our relationship with the darkness, which is a part of all of us. The imagery he uses of Hekate (Hecate) the moon goddess really speaks to my need to delve below the psychological models that seek to bring things to light, to overcome darkness and to make things manageable. There is a role of this, of course. Most of us have bills to pay, people to care for, work to accomplish. When we are pulled totally into the dark, these things become difficult, and we need assistance to accomplish the basics of survival and maintaining our foundation.
But the “Lunar consciousness” of Hekate helps us put things into a context of deeper meaning, beyond our surface concerns. By mining and embracing the “waste” of our dark nights, we actually may open to some deeper truth within us. The more we try to banish our darkness, and live a moralistic life the more this darkness will assert itself in unhealthy ways. Moore writes: “I want to enter the darkness, because that is where the soul is.”
Yes. He describes the magic of this dark place, and the cyclical nature of light and darkness in our lives, the yin and yang. This all speaks to my struggle with discovering the next steps in my life, knowing my soul is calling forth different actions than what worked in the past.
I am in a cycle of change right now. Some parts of it are joyful as I realize realize my concepts of marriage and commitment have evolved. I may return to some types of work that I really enjoyed but left behind over a decade ago. And yet, I may have to let go of some comfortable notions of my middle class life, and embrace the discomfort of growing into new roles. I may leave behind people with whom I enjoy working, so that I can more fully realize my potential outside the confines of a corporate bureaucrazy.
I am mindfully preparing myself and my husband for these types of transitions. And I am often impatient with this soul-mining. I want an action plan, a step-wise process for this, a clear path. But human lives are seldom so orderly and the soul does not operate on command. So I will embrace this period of quiet, with these occasional dark nights and creative dreams to guide me.
I was trying to imagine a class at the gym where one might advertise a course in “stillness and small movements” that would attract people. Certainly I would not sign up for a class like this expecting to “get fit” or lose weight. That is not what we are told. Eat Less, Move More is the mantra in the current ethos. I understand this is meant to get those of us who sit in office chairs for 8 (or more) hours a day, to get up, walk around, and generally become more active. I believe this is a wonderful idea, and taking breaks away from my desk regularly keeps me more focused when I do sit down.
Neurologists who study the effects of exercise on the brain tell us how much daily amounts of aerobic exercise boost our memory and thinking skills. I am a big proponent of taking a daily walk, or if you cannot spare 20-30 minutes doing this, then get it in micro-amounts instead. Take the stairs if you are just going up 1-2 flights. Or park further from the store when you get groceries, and walk a little more. Granted, in Minnesota during the winter, this takes some special discipline and when it is icy, I tend to skip it too.
I have been a runner for many years, and I knew that my regular doses of vigorous exercise helped me immensely with focus, memory, and just general anxiety. Running (and walking) clear the “mental cobwebs” that tend to build up during a sedentary day, and feels great when you work up to some baseline fitness level.
However, rest and renewal, on physical, mental and spiritual dimensions is at least as important as regular exercise. By rest, I do not mean sedentary sitting on the couch, consuming television, internet, or other passive entertainment. I mean allowing yourself stillness of mind and body and spirit. Stillness? Silence? Are you kidding me? This is how a person (like me) with a.d.d. and some anxiety react when you suggest this cultural heresy.
Are we not *supposed* to spend all our lives doing, in action, in perpetual motion? Have we not been conditioned to do this from the time of being young? In my youth, Sunday was sacred, a Sabbath, and we were not supposed to work. Of course, people still needed to be fed and so that meant that *someone* was working, maybe not all day, but at least for two meals to set food on the table. Typically that was Mom, as it is is most families. And the children perhaps had to set the table, but this was for the ritual of a eating a meal together, so I suppose technically not “work.” Of course, every Sunday night I always did homework, because, as a procrastinator, even if I did work on it on Saturday (which was actually my true sabbath, in all honesty), I tended to procrastinate.
The feminist in me objects to the discounting of the work that women do for families. It is sacred work then, this caring that takes place on Sundays (and pretty much every day of the week in so many households). In fact, whenever we care for our loved ones, this is sacred work. And how often do we care for ourselves? How often to we nurture the divine spark that lies within us? This is also sacred.
A body at rest tends to stay at rest, a body in motion tends to stay in motion (with the same speed and the same direction) unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. This is Newton’s First Law of motion, sometimes known as the law of inertia. I want to suggest that we apply this notion to human consciousness as well, since it is part of our common cultural understanding. We realize we must apply energy to change the current state, whether to stop if we are moving or to start if we are still. I would offer that our habits are a sort of Newtonian inertia – we tend to keep repeating them unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.
What I love about this “unbalanced force” terminology is that is describes how I see my need for yoga and self-care. I tend to keep doing all the things exactly the way I have done them until my body says “no, you must get more of this (rest)” now. But ignoring the natural cycles for rest and renewal is something we train ourselves to ignore in this culture. We must keep pushing, our ego-driven internal monologues tell us. The hungry ghosts of our past rise up and tell us not to be lazy, we must keep going. Perhaps the voices we internalized as children chide us for wasting time, for not making use of every moment.
I would offer that this is very short-term thinking, and outdated at best. The industrial era brought us factories with 2-3 shifts, and cities that never sleep. We are taught that being in perpetual motion is the way we are in an ideal world. And yet, in the natural world, every living being sleeps or rests in some way. This is not wrong. It is natural. It is not something we have to fight. It is something that enriches us when we embrace it.
My favorite set of yoga classes, taught one after another by Ruth Silva are a soma yoga class and then a yin yoga class. In soma, the movements are often very very small, almost frustratingly so if you are used to a vinyasa class, where the body tends to move constantly. It requires focus and discipline to pay attention to such small movements. Yin yoga can be even more difficult to the restless among us, the fidgety skeptics (thank you Dan Harris for the phrase). Years ago I first tried yin with Jan Johnson back when I lived in St. Paul (Highland neighborhood). I was astonished that we would hold these slightly uncomfortable poses for 5-7 minutes each!
Then when I moved to White Bear Lake, close to a Lifetime Fitness which also offered yin yoga, I rejoiced in joining a class or two each week. The first summer I was there, I told the front desk staff that if there were more yin classes, I would not put my membership on hold in the summer. Typically I did this because I ran outside 4-5 times a week in the summer, so paying for a gym membership felt like a waste to me. I really did not like vinyasa classes (at the time) which felt like “yogaerobics” to me. But in the summer of 2016, when I began to connect how much 3-4 weekly practices of yoga were changing not only my body, but also my over-active mind, I changed my tune.
As a runner, my upper body has always been a bit neglected particularly my arms, shoulders, back and core. Hatha yoga develops my strength and balance. Vinyasa classes usually left me feeling sore for 3-4 days afterward, until I realized that the sun salutation flows are voluntary. Yes, the teacher typically encourages them, but good teachers tell you that they are optional. Good teachers, like Kathy Barnes (another favorite), remind you that you must do what is right for your body today.
If you end up sitting in child’s pose for much of the practice, or laying flat on your mat in savasana because that is what your body needs today, listen. Do what it takes to be kind to yourself, to honor your body, to honor your need for internal re-connection and rest.
Stillness and small movements create increased awareness of the interconnected nature of your entire body, and the breath that flows within it. Stillness invites you to be with yourself, to reclaim your worthiness and to experience peace. To me, it has become a sacred practice, a way of bringing myself back when the outer demands of the world or the inner demands of my busy brain keep pulling me away from my inner knowing.
In reality our bodies are never truly still, even when we quiet the outer motion. Our cells still process oxygen, our mitochondria still produce energy, our lysosomes still clear waste from the cells. We simply allow, we surrender to our natures. We surrender to the beauty and wonder of being human. I cannot think of what is more sacred than this.