In my early twenties and straight out of college, I agreed to take a temporary position teaching high-energy eight year olds who so the story goes, had worn down their former teacher so effectively, she had suffered a nervous breakdown.
Happily for me, regular hatha yoga and meditation practices helped maintain good humor and composure, which led to the students and I forming a strong and healthy relationship. I was also grateful for the kind support offered by another temp, who took me under her wing, guiding me to navigate the political landscape of the school.
Nonetheless I quickly discovered, while my new friend Vanda was compassionate and caring toward everyone around her, she did not extend the same qualities toward herself. Within minutes of meeting, I learned she was in the throes of a separation. For the last two of their seven-year marriage, her husband had been having an affair. “I only found out when the girl turned eighteen, “said Vanda. “Then my husband declared he wanted a divorce.”
Deeply in love and just weeks away from tying the knot myself, I could not wrap my head or heart around what this must have been like for Vanda and I told her so. However, Vanda responded with something I have never forgotten. She told me:
“It’s really ok. For several months before we got married, I kept getting headaches, stomach problems and a strong feeling something was off. Friends and family members asked me endless times if I was sure about getting married. I wasn’t but I decided to go ahead with it anyway. Even walking down the aisle a huge part of me was saying, ‘This might not be a good idea,’ while I reasoned it away with thinking, ‘No big deal, I can always get a divorce.”
On my own journey and in the years since this disclosure, I have played many of the ‘Vanda’ roles. I have been out of touch with what my body has been trying to tell me, deaf to the insightful words of others and woefully unable to articulate my needs, thereby unconsciously setting myself up for failure.
I now realize, I am not alone. Particularly in the west, the inability to trust and act on our body’s messages, along with the voice of our intuitive wisdom begins in childhood. When we are born into families where those closest to us are not ‘ in tune’ and are not ‘present’, we consider it ‘normal’ not to acknowledge physical and intuitive signs.
Then, we find it difficult to trust inner guidance and are unable to express our needs authentically, making it impossible to ‘be’ who we are. As a consequence, the pain of feeling separated from our authentic self is buried in the psyche, manifesting as ‘lost’ aspects that we keep trying to find.
Consequently, it seems normal to disregard our needs and instead we project them onto everyone around us, thinking they should intuitively ‘know’ what we want. This becomes problematic in personal relationships and is high on the list of why so many marriages fall apart.
Only when we wake up to what we have been doing can we change this unhealthy dynamic and initiate profound and lasting change.
For example, we can become acutely aware of deeper messages by entering into active dialogue with physical ailments. We can ask:
- What lesson or lessons do I have to learn from this condition?
- Is there something I have to let go of?
- Is there something I need to embrace?
- Which emotion is predominantly linked to this pain or lack of alignment?
This simple inquiry immediately serves to bring us out of the “mental quadrant” and into the intuitive, emotional quadrant, which is the doorway to the higher self. Then through learning how to embrace this feeling quality, we can begin to trust inner guidance and access the courage to express our needs in a way that is honest and meaningful.
Regardless of where we are on our journey, when we listen to our body, have the courage to access our intuitive wisdom and act in accordance with what we are hearing; we are imbued with limitless vitality. And the reverse is true. When we repress, tune out and disregard, we feel disconnected from everyone and everything and then we complain of feeling depressed and exhausted.
When we accept the responsibility inherent in having this choice, we can be mindful about the decisions we are making in response to what is unfolding in our lives. We can ask:
- Am I honoring all aspects of my life?
- If not, what is out of balance?
- Am I giving everyone in my world the gift of presence?
- If not, what am I avoiding and why?
Having the courage to be present and attentive means we are inviting healing into our lives and into the world at large. We can also be vigilant and ready to enlighten ourselves to the consciousness of unity, no matter how it appears.
Whether it manifests as disharmony in our physical body, an unhealthy relationship dynamic or as discontent at school or work, we can learn to engage with it, accept what is, and honor and love the lesson or lessons it has to teach us.
Mindfully and proactively transforming old habits of self-denial and self-sabotage is the doorway to freedom. And realizing how closely and intimately we are connected, we can take delight in knowing that when I am free, so are you.