“Listen to your inner voice.”
Easily instituted advice if you’re on a silent retreat or doing a weekend of journeywork, but harder in the midst of daily life when you’re not sure you can hear your own thoughts—let alone the voice of your heart.
I have a secret for you:
Your biggest hurdle to hearing your inner truth is getting out of reaction mode.
When you’re in fight-or-flight response and can’t hear the voice of your heart, you’re actually not supposed to; our bodies are hardwired to get us out of danger.
(If neolithic woman hung around wondering if it was her dharma to get eaten by the saber-toothed tiger, our species would have died off long ago. Which I’m sure some would argue would’ve been a good thing.)
Your hair-trigger fight-or-flight reflex works great for tigers of the saber-toothed variety but not so well for daily modern life…
…. which admittedly sometimes leaves you feeling like you’re being chased by a whole streak of tigers (yes, that’s really what a group of tigers is called—a streak. Thus giving us a moment when humans—and human language—are sooooo cool).
The most important thing to know about being in constant, low-grade reaction: you don’t realize you’re in it.
So you think you’re being ridiculously rational, but you’re behaving more like a drunk driver who’s sure she’s road-safe.
In order to break the cycle, you’ve got to build some calming into your day, whether you think you need it or not.
My daily ritual?
(It only works if you stay off social media while you’re sipping.)
Turn the process into ritual:
- As you boil the water, notice the interaction of fire and water.
- Listen to your favorite song while your tea steeps (tea = water and earth).
- Breathe in the steam (water and air) before your first sip.
- Taste your tea. Roll it on your tongue before swallowing.
- Remember this is your time. I don’t answer the phone or finish the laundry. I sit and sip and breathe.
I’m a black tea drinker myself—a holdover from my time in Ireland—but milky oats, holy basil, a little chamomile or lemon balm will all help you calm the heck down. I sometimes add cinnamon or roses to my assam, both of which work wonders for my stress levels.
(The cinnamon is more personal than medicinal. My Aunt Ceil would make cinnamon tea and it’s atavistically soothing for me.)
Tea not your thing? No worries: it doesn’t much matter what you do (as long as it calms you). It matters that it’s daily. The dailyness is what lets you break out of fight or flight mode (’cause remember you might not realize you’re in it).
The other day whilst sipping tea, I listened to FDR’s “there is nothing to fear but fear itself” speech.
Roosevelt knew the power of fear. He knew a bunch of humans in reaction mode was truly something scary.
You are beautiful and strong and full of purpose. Find your daily check-in, whatever it is that lets you come back to center and share the power of your heart.
Tell me in the comments below how you will be finding some quiet in these overly loud times.
I paused and put my spoon down.
Deep breath, Maia, you’re being paranoid.
He said there were no tomatoes. He wasn’t confused. He even asked if you had a nightshade intolerance. He gets it.
The smell of the soup kicked up my fear.
One tiny taste and I was sure there was tomato.
Stop it, Maia. No one is lying to you.
I ate a few more bites.
The waiter appeared at our table, he reached for my bowl.
I’m so sorry. New chef… changed the recipe…
I tried to smile, I tried to be blasé.
Nothing to be done. Smile. No big deal.
I’ll just be hugging the toilet vomiting, panting for breath, head pounding, arms shaking.
No big deal, another lost day.
* * *
I teach my students to trust themselves, to trust their own perception and intuition, over what they read or what they’re told or what a waiter says he knows.
It takes some time and experimentation to learn what’s intuition and what’s your brain getting bossy (you can read more on Bully Brain here!).
In this situation, my intuition was screaming but I listened to my brain’s chatter instead.
Why? Why do we tune out when our body is clearly offering up its truth?
If your head isn’t listening to your heart, ask yourself these questions:
* What’s Your History?
My grandmother suffered from migraines and I grew up hearing that she was a hypochondriac. Need I say more?
We each have our own story that colors how we see the world. It’s in the things that have been said (and not said) by those around us as we grew up.
We have a list of things we want to be and not be… and until we make that list conscious, we are always subconsciously measuring our actions against our list.
So for me, I don’t want to be a hypochondriac… and that sometimes leads to ignoring my intuition.
* Are You Exhausted?
Like you, I make a gazillion decisions a day. I make decisions for my health, my home, my business. I decide what to make for dinner.
Every once in a while I want to abdicate for ten minutes. I want to let someone else make a choice.
This gives my brain great leverage against my intuition. It can use thoughts like Are you the only one who knows anything? or Can’t you just let someone else take care of this?
If I had stopped and tuned in, I would have known that my intuition was right. But it was the end of the day, and I was tired, and I wanted my ten minutes of not being on.
* Have You Given Away Your Power?
Let’s face it, it’s pretty easy for someone else to establish authority.
And if you’re exhausted and ready to not be in control for a few moments, it’s even easier.
I asked the waiter what didn’t have tomato or potato.
He said Oh! You’re nightshade intolerant. And proceeded to list what I could eat.
He established his authority by recognizing my condition and appearing knowledgeable about the intersection of my nightshade intolerance with the menu.
Think about this:
If it’s this easy to give up authority to a waiter whom I have never met before, how much easier is it to give up authority to your family physician or lawyer, or to your mother, or to a college professor?
When our intuition flies in the face of what an authority is telling us, it takes a stronger sense of self to stand in your own power.
What’s the antidote?
* Notice when your head and your heart are not in accord.
When I start hearing a voice chastising me in my head, that’s a pretty good sign that my brain is in bully mode.
* Begin to recognize what fear feels like in your body.
Because your brain will usually get overactive when you are scared and fear muddies your ability to hear the voice of your heart.
I am pretty terrified of an accidental nightshade ingestion; it can lead to tremendous pain.
That pain is a big fear driver.
And fear distorts my ability to really listen to my inner voice.*
What distorts your ability to hear the small voice within? What makes you ignore your intuition?
*If you find that fear or panic is an issue for you, try carrying a bottle of Five Flower Formula or Rescue Remedy in your bag. When you find yourself fearful, put a drop under your tongue and take a few seconds to regroup.
Last night, my husband and I lay in bed and shared a secret that might sound, at first, a bit appalling.
We shared our hope that what happened in Boston was domestic terrorism.
Yes, you read correctly: Domestic Terrorism.
Not international terrorism, not Al-Qaeda. Not something we could blame on some other nation, or people, or religion.
We had been in Boston just the day before, had commented on the bomb-dogs that were sniffing suitcases and trashcans as we waited for Amtrak, had wondered how we could all sleep-walk past the monitors lulling us with propaganda of safety and fear. Orwellian.
And then the news: the Boston Marathon had been broken by bloodshed and we were staring down the next round of creeping anxiety, spreading news-flash to news-flash, replicating like a virus.
In the midst of this I got a phone call from a client telling me she was sick of being sick, she’d had it, she was done. She calmly told me that she was going to punch a hole in her illness.
How many of us walk around calmly spewing anger? Playing at exposing the darkness of our souls, never really allowing the anger to vent until it explodes and legs are lost, life is lost?
(In this moment, as I sit typing, my neighbor is yelling over and over again at his Down Syndrome charge: “When the fuck are you gonna get it? When the fuck are you gonna get it?” His anger shudders down my spine. I pause, and walk across the narrow strip separating our homes, and gently ask, “do you need a hand?” It breaks the tirade for now but I know I’ve done nothing for the anger which will come again… Today? Next week?)
And so I wish this for all of us: the moment of understanding our anger.
The moment when we know, deep in our soul’s roots, that it’s not the other that angers us but our own ineffectiveness or inability to create change, our fear for the life we have or the life we want to lead. Our terror that our children will go hungry or be too scared to sleep. Our suspicion that we are not enough, not pure in the eyes of our Gods, not heard by our partners. Not lovable.
And then deeper: to the place within us that rejects gays and queers (or “straights”, for that matter), those whose skin or religion or spirituality is different than ours, or those who chose a life we can’t comprehend.
I wish us all a pause in which to see our prejudices clearly, to hold them up and examine them, to understand where within ourselves, and why within ourselves, they’ve taken root.
Our knowledge that it is not the other which angers us, it is ourselves.
Even as I write these words I feel, within me, the sparkling effervescence of panic floating upward in my belly, whispering that my nation no longer chooses free speech over security and that these words, this deep longing that we finally see the rot within instead of turning once again outward, will be considered an act of terrorism as if holding space and ground is now a sin.
But it’s not time to be silent. After 9/11, I watched in awe as we sunk into the silence of fears and those who would speak were shushed by friends and neighbors as the breath was sucked from hope and peace.
So this time I will pray out loud:
I pray that we are not allowed to look outward. I pray that our gaze will (finally) be drawn to the rot within (within our cities, our schools, and our institutions of governance). I pray that we will finally, gently, realize that this is the same darkness that created Columbine and Aurora and Newtown.
I pray that we will fall to our knees and weep for what we’ve allowed ourselves to become.
And then, with deep compassion for centuries of striving, we’ll begin to heal.
We’ll combat hate with hope and return our gaze to love.
Words are small things and yet they’re everything. They’re intention and action. They’re the signposts that remind us to begin change through small, do-able steps.
Now is not the time to become overwhelmed into inactivity. Let’s detox our nation one small do-able step at a time. My step for today is to write this blog post. To be real and truthful and vulnerable, right now, right here.
What’s your one simple step that you can take today?
I’ve often said that I would not step forward until I had something new to teach, until I created a better path up the mountain.
I was wrong.
I’m a torchbearer in a long, long relay. And it’s now my turn. And it’s yours. Let’s hold fear at bay with deep compassion, let’s pause and acknowledge the darkness in ourselves, let’s band together beyond hopelessness and helplessness, and be– each and every one of us– a voice for love.
Tell me in the comments below how you’re feeling about what’s going on in our country and our world.
P.S. If you are feeling a little shocky from this whole experience, try Five Flower Formula from Flower Essence Society. Its the same formula as Rescue Remedy, the difference being that FES is U.S. based and grows their flowers biodynamically.
If you need a little more info on flower essences, find it here.