Do the thing you never thought you could do.
Last week a colleague and I taught a workshop on “Listening to Your Inner Voice” to a group of Notre Dame students as a part of a discernment course entitled, “The Intentional Notre Dame Experience.” (I had the opportunity to teach in the pilot run of this course last spring and then, happily, found out the course was being offered 3 more times this semester.) I wanted to share with you what I think is one of the most important take-aways from that workshop.
Do the thing you never thought you could do.
You’ve heard this before, right? Pretty and pithy and pretty pithy. And maybe you were like me and thought, “Yeah, yeah, that’s old news, I’ve got that figured out. Dream your dreams, believe in yourself, go out there and make it happen!” Maybe you’re also like me and imagined this meant something like, “Skydiving! Tattoo! (haven’t done either, btw!) Talk to that guy/girl – ask them out!”
True, but only in part. I think there are layers of more profound meaning to this however. In fact, when I switched from reading this phrase as “inspirational advice” over to “read it like poetry” I was gobsmacked by the meanings and textures that emerged. (A lot more than I can get into in one newsletter, but I’ll be doing a video blog post on this so please check the blog for that coming soon!)
A little background…I spent some time thinking about the major concepts I wanted to introduce to these college students, first lecture-style and then also the things I wanted them to have an opportunity toexperience during the workshop component. The kind of learning experiences I am most interested – in being engaged in and creating – are those that are not just informational (knowledge transfer), but have the potential for being transformational (hence the hands-on, breakout portions of workshops I love to do).
Here are the top three take-aways I wanted to share with the students:
1. There is an inner voice (also could read, “soul,” “intuition,” “God-connection”) and some of the ways it “speaks” to us.
2. The top ways to strengthen and deepen your connection to your inner voice.
3. The top ways we shut up and shut down our inner voice – ways that I refer to as “disconnection defaults.”
I think, though, that we could easily dedicate an entire class, if not an entire course, to disconnection defaults – the ways we shut ourselves up and shut ourselves down. In fact, I have a hunch that if we dedicated a lot of our first attentions and energy to this, that the first two would take care of themselves. The voice wants to speak and wants to be heard. In fact, it’s speaking all the time. You don’t have to go to a lot of effort, there’s nothing you have to “make happen” when it comes to this. It’s always there and it just flows.
Therefore, if we were simply aware of the specific ways we disconnect, we’d begin to notice them more and more. And each time we notice is one more time that we become aware that there is, in fact, something from which we are disconnecting. And each time we become aware that there is something from which we are disconnecting, we’d notice the discomfort, pain, even, of that disconnection. The loss and heartache caused by disconnection would come more into our consciousness, whereas before it may have just been long stuffed beneath the surface, buried beneath a pile of a mixture of strategic denial and immediately gratifying, and yet ultimately empty, comforts and accomplishments.
And once you are aware of the ways you’ve been sleep-walking or anesthetizing yourself, it’s only a matter of time before that becomes intolerable and you start to dig through that pile, flinging debris far to the left and right, intent on uncovering your own suffocating heart…which has, fortunately for all of us, kept right on beating and breathing, waiting for you to do the necessary work.
Of the many ways we deny our callings, disconnect from our inner voice, the single one I wanted to address today when we don’t do what our hearts are calling us to do. We might not even have realized a sacred call is there, so quick is the mind to ramp up and cover it up (because there’s usually something in the heart’s call that the mind/ego finds very inconvenient and even threatening). One of the minds best secret weapon is simple but deadly effective, and that is to use the thought: ”*I* can’t do that.”
*I* can’t do that.
I can’t do that because…
I haven’t earned it yet.
I’m not good enough.
I’m trapped in current XYZ situation.
I don’t have enough money.
the economy is bad.
no one believes in me.
everyone will think I’m crazy/dumb/a fraud.
I can’t do that because
that’s just not me…
I’m a lawyer, I’m not a poet.
I’m a type-a, I’m not creative.
I’m a nice girl, I don’t rock the boat.
I’m a parent, I can’t be “selfish.” (note that there is a difference between “selfish” and “you matter, too” that the mind likes to gloss over in its arguments!)
I’m too old, I should’ve started this decades ago.
I’m too young, no one will take me seriously, .
I’m too busy, I’ll wait for when I have more time.
I’m spiritual, I shouldn’t care about things like that.
I’m not spiritual, I shouldn’t care about things like that.
I’m too big too fail. ( sorry! couldn’t resist, that last one just really wanted to be in there!)
Your mind will come up with endless reasons why it *thinks* you cannot do this thing. If you have thought more than three times in your life, “I can’t do X” (and X isn’t something that lands you in jail, or, simply, makes your heart sick – your inner voice may make your mind crazy-uncomfortable, your stomach may want to empty its contents, but even when it’s difficult, even when it may, in part, break your heart to try, it never makes your heart or soul sick), then I am willing to bet that that particular X marks the spot for you. Dig beneath that “I can’t do X” statement and you will find your heart’s treasure.
Don’t be discouraged if you find this kind of heart and soul inner-excavation difficult or frightening. I am a crazy-passionate advocate about asking for guidance and support during this kind of work. Find those that have gone into similar territory before you. Find someone who loves you enough to carry an extra lantern to cast light, warmth and provide an encouraging presence and words. You can find comfort and help in the written word (books, blogs, etc), and that is wonderful, but please go beyond that. So much wonderful, loving, generous support awaits you if you only ask. This can include asking for invisible help, asking for your own soul’s help (invite it in! invite it to walk towards you as you take steps towards it), praying, but also please reach out to help that lives and breathes – ask a trusted friend, think of enlisting a team, whether you need a sitter, an MD, a nutritionist, a massage therapist, a yoga teacher, or maybe you want to hire a coach, therapist, or join a mastermind or support group. Although I was too long too resistant in asking for help, I’ve since learned the tremendous power and -lovely surprise!- joy and love that can come from asking for help, whether it be from family or friends or colleagues, and in investing in myself and hiring exactly the kind of guidance and support I needed.
For example, at another part of my life, I really wanted to join this mastermind group of amazing women that another remarkable woman I knew was assembling. I knew I could really benefit from this kind of community and from some support and coaching to help me work through some of the ways I’d been getting in my own way, but I didn’t *think* I could justify the time (I was a new mom at the time) and I didn’t *think* I could justify the financial investment in myself. One of the reasons I wanted to join the mastermind was to have help and support so I could take the steps I needed to take to be able to make a living doing what I loved. I’d been making some progress, though sometimes halting and slow, doing what I love, but I still just had my toes in the water and was definitely a long way from making a viable living from all that dabbling.
In those days, there was a huge part of me saying, “You can’t justify an investment like that until you’ve proven yourself! Paint some awesome paintings, publish some stories, make some money, PROVE YOURSELF and THEN, and ONLY THEN, can we talk about joining groups like this!”
Long story short, I joined that group (about five years ago) and it became a catalyst for further unfurling (and, at times, I believe an acceleration) of my journey. That group helped me see myself in ways that was more like a remembering of who I really am and that group rooted for the things that were near and dear (and often so closely guarded) to my heart.
Although I’d been a “seeker” and knew I was on a different life path than the one I’d mapped out in my late teens and early twenties, it was the experience of taking a leap (a financial investment, a difficult conversation with my husband, difficult just because he’d never heard of a mastermind before and it sounded sort of wacky to him, the risk that I might do this and then still not “have anything to show for it,” take this leap and still might fail…) like this that was the springboard and catalyst for more growth, unfurling, deepening, and amazing experiences in the next five years. In the last five years I’ve had three beautiful babies, grown as an artist and writer, launched a coaching practice, began selling my art, deepened my relationship with my husband, and, for all these wonderful things that are there to be seen, I can honestly tell you that there are nothing compared with how I love life on the interior as well.
And it’s been possible because, more and more, I’ve gotten so much better at allowing my heart and soul to come forward and lead my life. Rather than leading with my rational mind, I’ve learned to not shut down that inner voice, even, and sometimes especially when it says seemingly wild and irrational things, for “the heart has reasons that reason knows not!” (Blaise Pascal) I don’t have everything figured out – far from it. But that no longer matters so much and I’m learning to really and truly love and embrace the mystery and adventure of living this way. I trust that if I do that thing, to which my thinking warns/admonishes/scolds/threatens/argues, “No! You cannot!” and yet to which my heart says, “Yes!” and listen to and act upon my inner voices wisdom, that all sorts of forces and resources, of my own device but also of others and Other, if I leave room for them, will converge and help make real those things I never thought I could do.
I totally believe and subscribe to the wisdom and science of making goals and making plans. I also believe there is a way to approach this spiritually and as an art form. One of the exercises we did with the students is this awesome practice my friend, colleague and co-teacher, Wendy Angst (you can follow her on twitter ;), introduced me to called “The Life Journey Map.” As Jim Rohn has written, “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.” This is very different than opening your self to SOMEONE ELSE’S PLAN and WHAT WANTS TO HAPPEN. If you approach the practice of designing your life coming first from the orientation that you Trust and you are allowing your choices to be guided by your inner voice (as opposed to your ego/mind strong-arming the process) and informed by your highest calling, you will have a better chance of synchronizing your plan with that sacred plan…which is very different than just playing the lotto, leaving it all to chance, or letting someone else hand you what their map for you.
Finally, just a hunch (and, confession, informed by my own experience), but I’d bet many of your minds are telling you that the thing you thought you never could do was be happy until you had all the boxes checked that you think you came here to check (graduate from X institution, get X degree(s), have a family, have a successful career, make X dollars, travel to Y place, support Z charitable causes, buy THEE house, be the best and consummate whatever your soul is calling you to be) – while somehow avoiding checking all the boxes that you think should remain unchecked OR ELSE you don’t deserve happiness (never yell at my kids or spouse, never be impatient, never misplace my faith, never gain weight, never get out of shape, never put your foot in your mouth, never hurt someone else’s feelings, never make a mistake, never look stupid, never have a bad day, much less to say a bad streak of days…or weeks…) I think it’s a pretty common brand of false belief many of us carry around – the “You can only be happy when you’ve earned it,” brand.
So, whether you’re looking for an initiation to inner voice practice or you’re a savvy soul-whisperer, here is a next step you can take in this practice of “doing the thing you never thought you could do.”
Know that “earning” is irrelevant in the language of the soul. Love isn’t a commodity. It just is. It flows. Just…
Be. Happy. Now.
And from that place, go forth, and do the next thing you never thought you could do.
(And drop me a line and let me know what you do! I’ll be rooting for you!)