I sometimes blame the fact that I'm a Gemini (on the one hand..., but on the other...) for my inability to simply, uncategorically make choices without second-guessing, regrets or what-ifs. But whether it's the stars or my parents or my second-grade teacher who's to blame for my wavering, I seem stuck with it. I can barely decide whether to buy the generic toilet paper or pay extra for the name-brand, let alone whether to stick with my unfaithful spouse and keep my family intact, or make for the hills.
Which is why I found the following (thanks to Martha Beck's Finding Your Own North Star) so interesting:
Your social self lives by what psychiatrist Alice Miller sees as the cardinal rule of all repressive social systems: "Thou shalt not be aware."... Don't know what you know, and don't feel what you feel.
Once you've learned to obey this rule, you can easily lose access to your own experience of joy and desire, loathing and revulsion... Since the only way to find lost feelings is to feel for them, the search for your own heart is always a blind one. Instead of any clear impulse, you register only flat nothingness, a hollow, yearning ache that doesn't lead you clearly in any direction at all.Wow. Sounds a whole lot like me. And, likely, a lot like you if one of the ways you coped with your spouse's betrayal was to stop feeling.
Cutting yourself off from feeling can work in the short-term. It can get your kids to soccer practice. It can get you to your desk. It can get dinner on the table.
What it can't do is get you to your next step. At least not decisively.
It's taken me a few years of putting in time to realize this. Of not feeling and simply moving along in my life and marriage. Not so much deciding what I want in my life as letting life decide for me. Which isn't a bad thing for a period of time. It can make sense to simply bide your time until choices become clear. But they won't – can't – become clear if you're so divorced from your own feelings that you don't even feel them anymore.
What Beck suggests sounds rather odd. She maintains that the answers rest in your body. Literally. That by taking an inventory of your body parts and soliciting their opinions (I'm not kidding here!), you'll find your answer. She takes her view on this from Asian philosophy which, as she points out, insists that it's our bodies that hold the answers, not our minds, which bend and change to all sorts of untrustworthy beliefs.
It's an interesting exercise and one that I recommend, if only because it can't hurt and doesn't cost a thing.
Get as relaxed as you can without the benefit of drugs/alcohol. Try and still the mind, which, if yours is as annoyingly toddler-like as mine, is no easy task. Then start paying attention to your body, starting with each toe. (Settle in, this is going to take awhile.) Ask yourself what it's feeling, Beck suggests. Hot, cold, itchy... "Don't think," she admonishes, "just describe." Again, if you're like me, you'll likely start to notice, if you don't on a regular basis, that certain parts of your body are...tense or tight. Beck advises us that there's likely a lot of information being stored in those parts.
Think of these tense parts as frozen. Try and breathe warmth into them and let them thaw.
This is where the exercise can get uncomfortable emotionally. Locking feelings up keeps us safe from them. And letting them out releases the capacity to once again feel pain. And as we all know far too well, pain sucks. A lot.
The thing is, NOT feeling pain doesn't serve us either. It keeps us alive...but not living.
The time will come when you have to let it out. Sadness, anger, hatred, fear. You have to allow the feelings to breathe...and within them to find your answers.
You'll also be surprised to discover that, rather than paralyzing you with pain (though it can be excruciating to feel them) these feelings will actually make things a whole lot clearer. You might not miraculously know what the rest of your life will look like, but you'll be far clearer about what you want it to look like. And therefore, what you should do to create it.
It's not magic. And it takes a certain conviction, not to mention suspension of judgement to undertake such an exercise.
But if you stick with it (even making it a daily practice, as Beck does), you just might find your answers aren't in the stars at all...but in your kidney.