An irresistible urge to clean out a closet came up the other day. I attacked it with gusto and deposited in a cardboard box shoes I’ll never wear again, clothes that don’t fit, worn out bags, random books, and a lamp I hate.
After finishing, I realized I had been looking for something. Not that elusive black shoe to match the one in the box. Something more important. I was looking for my point of power. The place of stillness. The present moment.
I’ve often been stymied by resistance, which is a great catch-all for negative ideas and beliefs—the programming that lives in what some call the subconscious mind. It’s taken years to understand that what stops me from 1) starting and 2) finishing projects is hiding inside me.
Every spiritual teacher I’ve encountered, in person or books, emphasized the importance of the Now. In the sixties and seventies, as meditation and eastern philosophies integrated into western culture, it became an often-spoofed catch word. Be Here Now! Allen Watts exhorted us.
The truth is, he was right.
The only way to create anything new is from the present. If we try to create from old patterns and memories, we end up re-creating old situations, even if dressed up in new clothes.
If you prefer dwelling on the past, you may identify yourself with childhood experiences, past wounds, slights, or resentments. Hold beliefs about how limited you are, how it’s too late (or too early) for what you want. Think you need more security, money, or free time before you create. You tell stories of what happened.
If you’re oriented to the future, you’re always planning. You have goals, vision, motivational tools, a to-do list. You’re so focused on what you will do that you don’t notice what is happening now. You tell stories of how great things will be.
If we don’t question where our ideas come from and if they are still true, we risk repeating patterns we don’t understand. A stuck pattern is a lens of perception.
If you feel at the mercy of time, other people, or your responsibilities, and can’t seem to start that novel, exercise program, or job hunt, maybe it’s time to look inside. The inner way is not often valued by the outer world, but it’s essential if you want to know yourself.
Here are some simple ways to start:
State a clear intention.
- Decide what you want.
- Write it down.
- Don’t share what you’re doing with anyone. Make this a private space, just you and the contents of your mind.
Spend fifteen minutes a day alone.
- Sit quietly with yourself. In nature. In your favorite chair.
- Close your eyes.
- Breathe, and notice what thoughts come up.
- Listen to the voice within, even if it sounds like your dad.
Get a notebook
- Commit to three sessions a week, twenty minutes each.
- Write what’s going on in your life and how you feel about it.
A practical way of clearing the mental residue is to look around at your living space to decide what you don’t need. Cleaning out closets, bookcases, attics, and garages is a physical correlate to cleaning out old ideas. It’s satisfying to cart away physical objects. Plus, it gives your resistance a heads-up that you mean business!
And who knows, you may find your point of power hiding behind that old tennis racket!
An exercise I use with coaching clients moving through transition is to write their own epitaph. Some are put off by this exercise, but others embrace it. Some find it validates their choices, while others realize their current life does not reflect their true aspirations.
Since we’re all different, what is important to us varies by age, sex, education, income, values, and abilities. And, as we age, our values and perceptions change.
The first half of life is about learning who we are in the world, choosing and establishing careers, and starting a family. For artistic souls, how to express themselves is critical. For security-minded folks, long term safety trumps risky challenges.
Later, as careers progress and families grow, we may find that what was once satisfying has become humdrum, maybe a little boring. At this point, many explore career transition, or develop new avocations.
Difficult life circumstances influence all our decisions. Victims of trauma and abuse who do not receive treatment can find their goals out of reach. They may have financial difficulties, trouble maintaining stable relationships or jobs. They may suffer from a nagging sense that something is wrong but can’t pinpoint what.
Anger and fear not processed block the creative energy that is our birthright. People who want to write, paint, design, or express themselves in any way may find resistance a formidable force.
- I don’t have time.
- I don’t know where to start.
- I don’t have the right education to do that.
- How do I know my work would be good?
These thoughts are negative programming held in the brain below the level of conscious awareness. We can hold beliefs from early childhood to old age without knowing what they are. All we know is that we don’t do what calls us. Not until we learn why we do what we do, can we uncover the beliefs that hold us back.
When asked how they want to be remembered, which is another way of asking, are you on track with your goals? Most people mention:
- Creative Work
- Personal Traits
If you try this exercise, and find you’re not engaged in activities related to your goals, this is a clue that it’s time to work on that negative programming.
Like the ancient goddess of crossroads, Hecate, with her ability to look both forward and backward in time, we can use past experiences to guide change in the present, so we can be more confident about how the future will unfold.
How do you want to be remembered?
Language shapes our concepts about who we are and what we can do. Even idle words tossed off without thinking can be taken to heart and turned into beliefs. Hiding beneath the notice of the analytical mind,these beliefs govern behavior even when the person has opposing conscious beliefs.
I was once told by a healer that I was acting on ideas about having the “right job”, the “right clothes”, and the “right car.” Indignantly, I protested. Not true, I said. More interested in leading an authentic life, material possessions approved by the common culture had seldom interested me.
“Yes,” the healer said with a smile. “But your mother held those beliefs, and she gave them to you.”
My mother had passed on several years before, so I could not question her about it, but lo and behold, when I examined my own beliefs, using a simple muscle testing system, sure enough, I was holding onto unconscious ideas that conflicted with my value system.
Beliefs can be tricky, since those that most affect us most are often buried under layers of experience. They must be coaxed out, with meditation, journaling, or whatever healing method works for you.
A simple way to start examining our beliefs is to notice how we talk to ourselves and others. Do we use a lot of judgmental words? You should. I ought. That’s hopeless.
If you use judging words every time you make a minor mistake, is there a way you can substitute kinder words?
- I forgot again! Could be changed to I am working on remembering
- I’m so stupid! Could become I made a mistake, but that’s okay because I’m human.
- How could I have done that! Could transform to I am learning from my experiences
If you try this exercise, it may feel awkward at first, but with some practice, you’ll soon learn to catch those automatic judgments and start speaking to yourself like a friend.
James W. Pennebaker, the pioneer in research on expressive writing for healing, discovered patterns of language typical of those who get the most benefit from expressive writing. He used a software program to analyze both written and spoken communication and found that pronouns (I, he, she, we, it) are a key to change.
When people who have experienced trauma write about the event, they can create a more coherent story which leads them to new understandings of what happened to them. The use of causal (because, why) and insight (realize, understand) words predicted how well the writers recovered from the trauma.
The most interesting and unexpected result came when he found that people who changed the pronouns they used (from first person to third person, for example) improved most in mood, health, and sociability.
By counting pronouns, Dr. Pennebaker found that people whose health was improving tended to decrease the use of first person pronouns. They gained perspective and the ability to see the situation from more than one point of view.
If you’d like to learn more about his research, he has written a popular book on the subject.
His original research, which inspired my own investigations into the benefits of writing for healing, is discusssed in his first book.
Wbat about you? Have you noticed how you talk to yourself? Have you tried journaling to uncover beliefs and stuck patterns you want to change?
The Book of the Center
While I was working on my novel a few years ago, a thought dropped in. It had nothing to do with the book and came with the little jolt I associate with the part of me that is NOT my ego-mind. The thought was, “The Book of the Center.” I heard the words as if a voice had spoken aloud.
The first time this happened I was 28 and it scared the heck out of me. I thought either God was speaking, or I was losing my mind. Maybe both. A self-professed humanist, I had no religious convictions or grounding in metaphysics. I sought help. To no avail. Finally, I realized the voice was a part of myself I didn’t know. It seemed prudent to record what it said. That was the beginning of my awakening to spirit.
I’ve learned (the hard way) to listen. When I heard about this mysterious book, I pulled out a fresh file folder, labeled it The Book of the Center and stuck in a file with other writing projects. Going to write that someday, I thought. Wonder what it means. Sometimes I pondered if Center meant my own center or Self, my heart, a place of neutrality, or something different.
Reading The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself recently, I remembered how my Book of the Center appeared. Finally, I’ve started it.
Journaling for Healing
Between the first intrusion of the voice of my Self and the title of a book I didn’t understand came a lot of years of journaling. In the beginning I journaled to deal with the drama of my life.
In midlife, I was embroiled in a difficult relationship that made no sense. By then, I had learned to meditate, work with my own energy, and use healing methods to address my issues. With this situation, nothing worked.
One day I sat at my computer, opened a new file, and wrote my latest take on The Situation. Although I judged my relationship problems as too petty to bring to the attention of my deeper parts, I decided to try anyway. I typed a single question: “What is going on with me and this person?” Then I sat with my keys on the keyboard and waited.
After a few minutes I wrote whatever came up, without thinking or judging. No voices spoke, no visions came, I just wrote.
What I wrote was not profound or particularly clear, but it made enough sense that I asked another question, waited again, and wrote again.
That was the beginning of me using writing to connect with Self.
The more I dialogued with my Self, the more useful the exercise became. It took several years to convince me I was talking to more than my ego-mind (one of my issues is self-doubt), but I kept going. No one read my journal. I didn’t talk about it. I just kept writing because it seemed like the right thing to do. Also, I’m a fast typist and the faster I write, the easier it is to bypass the mental critic in my head.
Many others have discovered this method. It’s even mentioned in books on journaling. I teach my journaling students how to do it. The great thing is you don’t have to learn to meditate, take a class, or learn special techniques. All you need is a notebook and pen or a computer, and a mind willing to open.
An Easy Exercise for You
Have you tried it? If not, this could be the time. This is how it works.
- Assume you have an aspect of your identity that knows more than you do, that loves you, and is willing to communicate.
- Settle yourself and clear your mind.
- Ask your Self a question in writing. About a crisis, a choice, a pattern you don’t understand. Anything you want to know about yourself.
- Write what comes.
- Refrain from judgment.
This works. I swear. You may have to be patient, but persistence counts.
If you give this method a try, send me a comment about your experience. I’d love to hear your reaction.
Changing our words will change our story. Changing our stories can change our lives.
Our parents tell us stories about our family, heritage, and culture. Our culture tells us stories about what people like us can expect.
The words we use are not coincidental or arbitrary. We are taught to name, identify, and classify. Words are used to classify us. Eventually, we get the picture. We don’t need anyone to tell us we need to shape up. We know.
Have you ever looked at the words you use to describe yourself? Do you see yourself as smart, attractive, competent, scared, passive, helpful? Are you loyal? Independent? A team player?
Which words are more positive to you? More negative?
Words create our sense of who we are. A good girl. A strong boy. Such a smart student. So good with her hands.
Even something as seemingly objective as our physical appearance is shaped by beliefs.
You have big hips. He’s small for his age. Red haired people have hot tempers. You’re too fat/thin/freckled, pale. Your hair is too curly. Rich people have straight hair.
We describe ourselves, first, as others have described us. Judged as children, we take the words to heart. The judge takes up residence inside our minds, and from there rules us. Later in life, we wonder why we never feel good enough, smart enough, and capable of making our dreams real.
How we talk about ourselves has a lot to do with what we’re willing to try. I had a student who was bright, attractive, and a single parent receiving public assistance. The class was on how to find a job. Marie was a high school graduate and well qualified to work as a hotel receptionist, but when I told her about a position in a downtown hotel, she said, “Oh, no. I couldn’t apply for that.”
I asked why, and she said, “People like me don’t go there.”
The hotel was upscale in an urban area. She was qualified. The job did not pay well enough to attract applicants with college degrees. What stopped her was the story running in her head. She was poor, Hispanic, “second class.” If she had applied, she would have been seriously considered, but I couldn’t convince her to make the appointment. She felt more comfortable in the fast food job she took.
Now when I teach journaling, creativity, and writing for healing, I ask students to examine their beliefs, the tapes running in their heads that are stopping them from reaching out. It comes down to words. Change the words, change your life.
If you’d like to try it, look at your life as a timeline
1.Draw a straight line across a blank piece of paper.
2. Below the line, group your age anyway you like. By school grade, decades, whatever works for you.
3. Above the line write three words that best described you at that age.
Do this quickly. Do not mull. Your first responses are best.
When you finish, look at the words.
• Are the words from your younger years still true?
• Would you like to change any of them?
• Looking forward, what new words would you add to describe yourself?
• Write them in the future portion of the timeline.
Did you notice any patterns? Any changes with time?
If so, I’d love to hear your reactions in the comment box.