I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon that often occurs when people devote themselves to continuous self-improvement, whether in the arena of health, career, success, relationships or money: they lose themselves. They abandon their inner wisdom, their genuine longings and their inspired impulses and, instead, place all of their trust in the formulas and processes taught by outside experts.
“Depending on our mood, we experience the identical circumstances—who we are married to, where we work, the car we drive, our potential, our childhood—entirely differently.”
—Richard Carlson From: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and it’s all small stuff (MJF Books, NY 10001, 1997).
Mood swings are a fact of life for everyone. Given the increasing scientific evidence that mind and body are interactive I have found the daily practice of rating my mental state helpful and healthful for life management. This is another mindful exercise in self awareness, a fundamental quality that elevates Homo sapiens from the rest of the animal kingdom. This practice pays huge dividends for my quality of life, so I will share my process for you to use. But first let me elaborate on some benefits of engaging a mood rating system.
- Writer's Bio: Karen is a naturopathic physician who has taken holistic healing and education into the realm of quantum physics. She is credited with “the first major breakthrough in Swedish Massage ~ research demonstrating energetic interconnections ~ since Peter Ling systemized it in the early 19th century.” International recognition for her healing and educational work includes an honorary degree, a silver medal, listing in Who’s Who of Professional and Business Women, appearances on TV and radio, lecturing in Europe and in the U.S. for professional symposia, colleges, corporations, community groups, and being featured in professional journals, magazines and newspapers. She has published more than 200 articles on holistic health and education. She has facilitated joyful well-being and health for hundreds of students she has personally certified in holistic healing and holistic massage and for hundreds more clients she has personally touched including luminaries in science, medicine and religion. firstname.lastname@example.org
We hate what we fear. It’s more comfortable to feel hate than fear because somehow it seems less vulnerable and being vulnerable is to be avoided at all costs, we’ve learned.
We don’t always say we hate, though. We’d rather say, “That’s illogical” (and, thus, not to be considered seriously) or “That’s immature” (and, so, unworthy of attention) or “That’s what they asked for” (and I can’t do anything about their poor choices). We separate ourselves from “them,” having already separated ourselves from what we fear inside ourselves–vulnerability, pain, sorrow, hopelessness.
“This is the first time I’ve decided to leave a job without having something else lined up,” my friend Tonya* confessed to our small women’s support group. We applauded her daring, self-affirming choice and offered words of encouragement to bolster her confidence in stepping into the unknown. She knew she was doing the right thing, but wasn’t at all comfortable with the prospect of not knowing what was next.
As I reflected on it later it occurred to me that, in our culture, we have trained ourselves to tolerate the wrong kind of discomfort. We have become like martyrs, enduring the endless drudgery of tedious jobs or the relentless demands of 70-hour-per-week careers. We convince ourselves that our choices are somehow noble – or we convince ourselves that we have no other choice – and busy ourselves with developing “coping mechanisms” to mitigate the negative effects of the psychic pain that, by now, has become chronic. We don’t acknowledge that this kind of pain is our soul’s way of letting us know we’re off course, because we don’t know what other course to take.
And that, paradoxically, is the point. In order to get back on course, we must be willing to not know how - to be lost, at least for a little while. And we’re not terribly good at feeling lost. We’d rather rush to figure things out so that fear doesn’t have a chance to step into the gap between the world we know today and the world we will come to know. But the world we’re longing for is created in the gap; if we think and act only from our known world, we’ll keep getting more of the same. We need to remind ourselves that beyond our daily routines and habits of thought lies an endless source of ideas and inspiration to lead us step by step into our brilliant future, if we will but take that first tender step into the unknown. That is the kind of pain – the squirmy discomfort of not knowing – that we must learn to sit with. And as we do, it begins to soften little by little. The willingness to not know invites a new knowing, the kind that can transform our lives.
I’ve come to understand that the pain we associate with not knowing is caused by the belief that we’re supposed to know; we’ve been taught how to plan our lives from here to retirement, so doing something as radical as leaving a job without having a tidy five-year forecast to make sense of it all seems to offer proof of our stupidity. But what if we could drop the belief that we should know what we’re going to be doing for the next five years? We might find that setting it aside ushers in a sense of freedom and possibility we’ve not experienced before. Will we have to deal with fear? Yes, we will. Is that something worth learning to do? Absolutely.
Tonya knows this, in her heart of hearts. She knows that the pain of staying in a job that suffocates her is far worse than the heart-fluttering bouts of panic that chastise her for making the choice to leave. She knows she can negotiate a new relationship with panic, but her soul’s desires are not negotiable. They are just waiting for her to peel away the filter of the known so she can see them with new eyes.
And so it can be for each of us. As we give ourselves a little distance from our known world – as we step into the gap of the unknown and let the initial waves of discomfort wash over us – we gain a new perspective. And from this place our soul’s desires can be seen for what they are: the beacon that is forever lighting our way back to our true selves. It turns out that being in the unknown doesn’t mean we are lost - it means we are willing to be found.
* Not her real name
I opened the box of goodies I had ordered from Tama Kieves, ten each of the two CDs produced by Awakening Artistry that I have listened to again and again on my journey of living an awake and inspired life. They buoy my spirits and reconnect me with a sense of limitless possibility, and so I now happily recommended and sell them to others in my coaching and teaching work. We can never feel too supported or too inspired!
Years ago I was in love with a very intelligent, very accomplished and very logical engineer who had everything figured out that needed to be figured out, as most engineers do. (He was also very attractive, I might add, but that’s a story for another time.) We often engaged in conversations about the meaning of life and some of its messier emotions, and I remember asking him, “Do you love yourself?” He paused to give my question thoughtful consideration, but not for long. In short order he answered definitively that he did not and, further, that he didn’t want to love himself. He viewed not loving himself as a necessary motivation for continual self improvement. Loving himself, he believed, was akin to rationalizing and embracing all of his worst qualities, and that would not be acceptable. No, he preferred to withhold self love as a means of whipping himself into shape. It was far better, he reasoned, to never be satisfied; that way he would never become lazy.
Muriel’s voice chirped briskly into the phone, confident and convincing and – maybe just a wee bit tight? “I had a rough month, but I’m okay now. I felt so frustrated that everything wasn’t working out but I forced myself up to my office loft every day to continue making progress on my brochure. It’s at the printer now and I’ll have copies ready by Thursday that I can start mailing out.”
Muriel is a coaching client of mine who lives on the west coast, and she had unwittingly raised a few red flags that waved frantically to me across the miles. Words like “frustrated” and “forced,” and her absolute refusal to tolerate frustration. She was demanding of herself that she be “okay.” Muriel had drifted from the brave new world of Creating Work She Loves into the seductive land of Making It All Make Sense.
Fear… Abject despair…Anger, tilting toward rage… Then fear again – terror, really. Numbness, then another stream of anger and indignant righteousness. A virtual kaleidoscope of negative emotions triggered not because I am being held hostage at gunpoint, or because I’ve just been told I have a life-threatening illness. No, these feelings have emerged out of the seeming calm of my psyche as I sit safely in front of my computer, reading a few exceptionally well-written emails. These messages have been forwarded to me from caring and intelligent friends whom I love and hold dear.