What Do You Want to Have, To Do, To Be?

A good question, posed in a graduate social psychology class, and an eye-opener for me.

I had recently moved from Philadelphia to California to escape an abusive relationship. What I wanted for the past year was crystal clear. Get my affairs in order, plan the move, and get out of town without my partner’s knowledge. That mission was accomplished. I left my job, shipped my belongings to storage, and drove cross country in my Toyota hatchback. Without an address or a deadline, I never felt so free.

After I found an apartment and settled in, grad school was my first attempt at reinventing myself. I had been a vocational counselor, a humdrum job in a shabby bureaucratic system, but given the volatility of my personal life, it worked because it was safe and easy.

Entering school again did not answer the question, what do you want to be?  Keeping my options open, I soaked up the information offered, acquired organizational and leadership skills, and figured it out as I went along. That was just the external, though.  Inside, quietly, I knew I was a writer.

I wanted to tell stories, maybe write novels. The kernel of the novel I would eventually write was already swirling in my mind. Finally, I had the time and opportunity to write, which I did, but sporadically. School work, extracurricular activities, and jobs pushed creative writing lower on the list of priorities.

Later, I worked in corporate communications and training, and free lanced as an editor and ghost writer. The novel grew in fits and starts. I took creative writing classes and got positive feedback, but my confidence didn’t grow. I compared myself unfavorably to everyone — other students, teachers, published writers I admired.

Suffering from residual childhood trauma, I didn’t realize how deeply I’d been affected by the paralyzing fear of my early years. I knew something was wrong, but not what. Resistance offered opportunities to heal my wounds. Many I missed, but occasionally, patterns were too blatant to ignore. I started reading metaphysics and eastern philosophy, and began changing my ingrained, negative beliefs. Still, resistance plagued me

What I wanted to have was the easy one. Material possessions never meant much, but I wanted a decent place to live, a car I liked, enough money to pay my bills and support my writing habit.

What I wanted to do never changed. To communicate. I loved working with people, helping them move through transitions in their lives. I began to teach. I always wrote, and eventually finished the novel. Wrote short stories. Took writing workshops. Joined groups.

What I wanted to be was not about career. As a career counselor and coach, I worked with people unhappy in their jobs, who wanted to express themselves in new ways. I saw myself as a motivator, a facilitator, a cheerleader. I loved watching my clients and students grow into new understanding. But as time went on, my work identity took second place to a growing search for my spiritual identity.

Now, in 2020, as we look out in horror at the pandemic ravaging the world, staying safe in our homes if we’re lucky, and wondering about the future, these questions re-emerge.

  • What I want to have is simple.  Groceries delivered, cleaning supplies, a mask, a strong Internet connection, my books.
  • What I want to be is simple. Who I am. A writer, a teacher, a child of God. I want to be brave and confident in these turbulent times. I want certainty to outweigh fear and doubt.
  • What I want to do is even simpler.  Talk to friends. Wave to my neighbors. Hold my classes on Zoom. Bike through the neighborhood. Walk along the river. Mostly I want to write.

The excuses have faded as do all denials when faced head on.  There is enough time. More than enough. No reason not to finish the new book, churn out a couple of short stories, write a blog post every week.

The faces of resistance dance in my mind.

  • I’m too busy. 
  • Work takes all my time. 
  • I need to have fun once in a while. 
  • I’m tired. 
  • Tomorrow is soon enough. 
  • It’s too late to start. 
  • The project isn’t worth finishing. 
  • It turns out I have nothing to say.
  • I’m not good enough yet.
  • No one cares if I tell my story.

But this time is different. It’s like being given all the resources you thought you needed to complete a project and they turn out to be irrelevant. Now all that stuff is strewn around me in a circle, none of it useful. I walk from room to room, kicking it aside. If I look at the issue sideways, what I want to do and what I want to be are the same.

I want to heal/change/transform that which stops me from being who I am. 

Put it like that and things fall into place. There’s journaling and sitting in silence and listening to the wisdom of the trees and playing with my old dog and young cat. There’s writing and listening and being honest. There’s faith and trust that the forces of change turning our lives inside out are the birth cries of something new.

That’s how we grow in spirit, and also how fear catches us. We don’t know what’s coming. So it’s back to basics. Write it down. Show up at the page. Tell the truth. Listen for guidance.

You have to listen hard though, because sometimes spirit whispers.

 

 

What You Need is Within You

The roadmap to emotional health hides without our own bodies.  The clues that something is wrong may take the form of pain, symptoms that appear without cause, even illness.

When we don’t deal with difficult situations and the emotions they evoke, those emotions find their way down into our bodies where they may hide out for years without making a peep. Or, they may cause a gradual sense of depression, stagnation, not being as alert as before.

As we encounter more challenges, we stir up those old emotions.  They may cause unease, anxiety, difficulty in concentrating or deciding. The more we ignore the messages from our body, the more we invalidate our physical self.  The split widens between our physical and mental realities.

Healing in its broadest sense means more than stopping the pain in an aching back or reducing the symptoms of a cold. It is opening a line of communication with our bodies and asking

  • What do you need?
  • What are you trying to tell me?
  • How can I help?

Now, this takes practice. Also, persistence. An open mind. Willingness to change. Most people decide it’s easier to take a pill for pain or get an allergy shot.

Now, I’m not advocating refusing medical treatment for an illness, physical or emotional.  The medical profession is unsurpassed at treating acute illnesses and injuries and many diseases.

But you can enhance the efficacy of any treatment with the use of “complementary therapies” such as massage, acupuncture, herbs, energy healing, etc. One result of these therapies is they help you move what is stuck in your body, physically and emotionally. Releasing old emotions, old ideas, and outmoded beliefs will help open the lines of communication between your mental awareness and your physical awareness.

Another strategy that works wonders is to increase your self-compassion. Instead of criticizing yourself if you fail to meet a goal or don’t perform to expectations, step back and give yourself some slack.

Our high-strung society rewards competition, conflict, and winning.  It results in people who suffer from stress-related illnesses, cannot relax, and who judge others and themselves

Alternatives to self-criticism

  • We can recognize the signals from our bodies that we are stressed, overworked or struggling, without judgment.
  • Instead of getting out the whip and urging ourselves on to greater effort, we can be kind and let ourselves rest. After periods of rest and play, solutions to problems often appear with no effort.
  • Remind ourselves that everyone experiences difficulties and setbacks. The person in the next office may not admit they are behind on their projects, but the tight jaw and frown lines, the clipped tones and impatient voice tell us what is going on. We are not the only ones overwhelmed.
  • No one is perfect, no matter what your parents or your internal programming insist. Perfectionism is the surest road to chronic stress. Do your best.  If you always do the best you can, you have nothing to feel guilty about.

If we practice self-compassion, it is easier to have compassion for others.  After all, we’re all in this life together.  If we don’t see the world in dog eat dog, win/lose terms, we’ll attract others into our life who are more loving and forgiving.

Noticing how we respond to our own “negative” thoughts and feelings are one clue. Another is what our body has to say through our feelings, our moods, our aches and pains.

The next time your back acts up, try breathing through your heart and from that neutral space, ask yourself, What’s wrong?  What do I need to do?