You have to learn to think for yourself.
But that’s not possible if you don’t first learn how to feel for yourself, if you always consult with others to find out how you are “supposed to” feel.
My advice is:
Feel what you feel first. Then draw your own conclusions. Then find out what other people think. It doesn’t work well if you start with what other people think, then work backwards to decide how you feel.
You can’t control what you feel. But you can learn to control how you respond.
External forces can be overwhelming. Often you find yourself feeling things you’d rather not feel just because of the world you live in. There’s no avoiding that.
But in any circumstance you can make the choice to pay attention to how you breathe. And that makes a real difference. Because you are capable of consciously influencing how you breathe. And how you breathe has everything to do with how you feel.
Just like getting the fright of your life will make you hold your breath – if you hold your breath long enough, you can easily give yourself a terrible fright.
Or you can pay attention to how you breathe in the moments when you feel safest. You can train yourself to breathe like that – even in less comfortable situations. Make that a habit and you’ll be less likely to get frightened to death by the little things.
You can’t control the environment. You can only control you.
Part of the environment is other people. And some of those people are the kind who want to control you. You need to keep your eye on those kinds of people.
Some honestly believe that controlling others is the way to save the world. (“Get everyone to do this, then all problems will be solved!”)
These people can be well-meaning, even though they are dangerous. Sometimes their motivation for trying to control you is love. Sometimes they really do love you.
But you have to learn to recognize mixed messages for what they are. You have to notice tone of voice and smell intentions, listen for more than just the presence of absence of certain keywords.
You have to learn to taste the genuine value of an offer without swallowing the poison it is sometimes spiked with. The person telling you how to feel right now might be trying to look out for you, but don’t listen to them.
Listen to yourself:
What is that sensation in my throat?!
That sensation is your physiological response to what is happening here and now. No one else feels it because no one else responds like you do.
What does it mean?!
It’s a biological signal. It’s not only telling you about what’s happening around you. It’s also the result of your previous training for handling your insides in a moment like this one.
Does this situation feel familiar or does it strike you as something completely new?
Often you’ll respond with alarm to things that don’t remind you of past experience, but later the same situations hardly raise an eyebrow.
As you navigate through life, feeling one sensation after another, how dependent are you on familiar circumstances in order to feel comfortable in your own skin?
When you’re confused there’s nothing easier than trying to create comfort by consulting with other people to know how you should think. But it would be extremely valuable to do something more difficult:
Listen to what you feel right now and try to interpret your body’s signals.
This can be especially difficult when things feel urgent. So it’s worthwhile to practice when the volume isn’t turned up so high.
Throughout the day, you can periodically stop to notice the movement of your breath, the quality of your connection to ground support, the length of your spine, your state of readiness to move in any direction as needed.
This kind of self-observation leads naturally to internal adjustments towards a deeper breath, clearer grounding, a longer spine, and a greater sense of poise. Your conscious attention triggers automatic processes of your evolutionary programming that are keen on your survival.
The more you practice, the less you’ll be dependent on your surroundings to provide you comfort.
The ability to consciously control the breath sets humans apart from every other species on the planet. But too many of us don’t even know we’re breathing half the time. And the more we ignore our breath, the more we breathe like scared animals.
The attempt to construct a life without discomfort dulls the ability to adapt and can lead people to expect all experience to fit into formulas. It can lead them to resent nuance, delayed gratification and sensitive people. It can lead them to want to control what other people feel in order to avoid the terror of admitting how complicated the world actually is.
But you don’t have to live that way. You can show up every day for the inconvenience of learning, relax into the confusion, and soak in your sensations. It takes time and it’s often uncomfortable.
And it leads to increasing clarity.
We can learn to act based on what we feel, not what others think. But if we don’t pay attention to how we breathe, we’ll have no idea what we feel.
How then could we think or act in our own best interest?
We also must pay attention to how the world breathes. Sometimes it seems to breathe quite quickly. We can’t be ignorant to its rhythms if we are going to be sensitive to our own survival.
But unpredictability is predictable. So it’s worthwhile to learn how to calm your breath in a wide variety of circumstances.
Luckily, it’s a learnable skill. It’s also the fundamental basis for any sustainable and meaningful personal growth practice.
How are you breathing right now?
The next round of the Finding Your Voice program begins in late September.