Now that both of my girls live miles, states, and flights away from me, I find myself transitioning into what it means to be alone.
I have done this more than once:
- After my divorce when the visitation schedule began. Every other weekend, the girls would be picked up from school by their dad on Friday and I wouldn’t see them until sometime Sunday. It was excruciating.
- When not just one, but both girls were in college and I simultaneously ended a 2+ year relationship. The house was quiet (and immensely clean). I had no plans. There was nothing that needed to be done or managed or cooked (or cleaned). It was excruciating.
- Last August when my youngest daughter, after 6 months of being back home because of Covid, returned to her life in Montana. It was quiet (and clean) all over again. And yes, excruciating.
- Last September when I left my corporate job. From endless Zoom meetings and work-to-be-done to nothing but quiet and time and space. It was excruciating.
- Last November when I moved my oldest daughter from her apartment and life in Bellingham (just 90 minutes from me) to Lexington, KY (a day of flying from me). Even though she hadn’t been living at home for years, that return flight from KY to WA was excruciating – and days following, to be sure.
- Every time I fly to visit one of the girls. Each return flight and for days after, I wonder what I’m doing so far from them. It’s excruciating.
I should be quick to say that there is much goodness in all of the above, as well. It’s lovely to have a clean home, far fewer responsibilities, less tension, more quiet and time and space.
But here’s the thing: when in receipt of quiet and time and space (whether that is attached to being alone, or not), I don’t seamlessly move to gratitude and appreciation. I am jumpy and distracted and irritated. I can’t settle down. I don’t feel at all myself. And I’m highly committed to distractions.
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one.
It’s why scrolling IG and FB, watching Netflix or Amazon Prime, online shopping, eating, drinking, and any number of dissociative techniques are what we default to instead of the quiet and time and space we often wish for. (Believe me: this post is hardly a critique of such; more, a confession!)
Years ago, when the visitation schedule kicked in, I talked to a very wise woman about what all of this felt like for me. I told her about how I was scattered and frenetic, frustrated and tense, “off” somehow. And this was her advice:
Sit still. Be quiet. Let yourself feel.
Uh, no thank you! That’s the last thing I want to do!
Except that I did. And it was hard. I felt a lot. It was uncomfortable and sad and often filled with grief. Sometimes anger. A long list of unanswerable questions that, when looked at more closely, led me to deep fears – which I didn’t like feeling and wanted to avoid (by getting up from the couch and making popcorn and pouring a glass of wine and turning on Netflix).
Despite her wisdom and even the years since that I’ve been following her counsel, I still lean toward the distractions. They’re always right there – like a bowl of potato chips – calling my name. (Sometimes the distraction is a bowl of potato chips!)
Thankfully though, my recovery time is getting quicker. Only because I continue to do what she said. It’s not my first impulse, even my second; but eventually I turn within, to the wisdom that resides there, to what is underneath and underneath and underneath – all of which deserves to be heard…and felt.
I do sit still. I can be quiet. And even though it often-and-still feels daunting and scary, I let myself feel. (Just so you know: it’s far less excruciating than it once was.)
I ask myself the following:
- What do you feel, exactly?
- Can you name it? Will you?
- What’s underneath that feeling?
- And what’s underneath that feeling?
- What will happen if you let yourself stay with the feeling underneath that one instead of jumping up to avoid it?
Easier asked than answered, to be sure.
To actually feel what we feel, to give our deepest heart the gift of space and time, is scary and daunting (and potentially unraveling).
But here’s what is more true:
You have BIG and deep and powerful feelings. They matter. And to feel them is the bravest work you’ll do in a lifetime, for your lifetime (over and over again). When you allow them, they are the very things that invite you home to yourself and into the wisdom, courage, and strength that is already and always yours.
Yes, it’s scary and daunting (and potentially unraveling). Yes, any distraction feels far more desirable. And…self-awareness and growth and transformation and sovereignty is what we’re after, yes? Which is why these three simple steps become devotional practice:
Sit still. Be quiet. Feel.
I know. Deep breaths. I’m right there with you.
This is not for the faint of heart. As you let yourself feel, it is inevitable that you uncover places of harm and grief, emotions you’ve learned to repress, patterns you’ve developed that keep you safe – understandably! To let yourself feel – without restraint or censure – is brave and amazing. Choosing to stay present to every aspect of your story is the most beautiful and sacred work you can ever do. I promise.
May it be so.
As always, I welcome your thoughts, your questions, your response, even your resistance (which I get, believe me!) I’ll definitely stop with the popcorn and cooking shows to respond!! I promise.
It’s taken me a lifetime to learn that I can trust myself and my own knowing instead of needing to rely on external sources of wisdom: parents, authority figures, teachers, professors, religious leaders, experts, even books.
I spent decades convinced that I was missing some crucial piece of information, that there was a magic pill or silver bullet or golden key that, if I could but find, would make sense of everything. Surely life couldn’t be this hard. Surely there were answers just waiting for the right questions to be asked (of the right people). Surely I should do better, be better, and rise above every struggle and challenge.
I believed that the wisdom I so desperately needed was “out there”; even more, that anything within me was suspect, if not untrustworthy and dangerous.
What I’ve (slowly) earned is that everything I was looking for was already and always mine. I have every bit of the wisdom I need. I am trustworthy. And “dangerous” might be the very best thing.
Despite how long it’s taken me – and the ways in which I still have miles to go – I have picked up a few things along the way. Maybe, just maybe I can speed up even a few of my lessons-learned for you.
Here are 6 (of so many) ways to access your inner wisdom:
1. Give yourself permission to spill everything. Whether on a piece of paper, a new document on your laptop, and/or in sacred space with a therapist, Spiritual Director, or coach. Unedited. Uncensored. Unrestrained. We spend so much time with the opposite: editing, censoring, holding back. Listen to all the chatter in your brain. Let your fear speak or shout. And let it all out in a contained and trusted way. When you let yourself say everything, you’ll hear what’s most true, what rises above the din, what your soul longs to sing out, what your heart knows.
2. Practice articulating one true thing every day. Just one. That’s all. Speak out loud (to a person) one thing that is honest and completely consistent with what you hear and know within. Then feel what that feels like – for you! When you begin to speak your wisdom (in fits and starts, even with baby steps), more of your wisdom will rise up and long to be expressed. I promise.
3. Let others’ responses and reactions become your divining rod, your GPS, the exact data you need to know you’re on the right track. Exactly!
4. Pay attention to anything that has you leaning toward staying in line, following the rules, not upsetting any apple carts. Then ask yourself: What do I really think about this? The answer? Yep. Your inner wisdom – speaking up.
5. Notice where are you clear that things are not OK as-is. In a relationship. At work. Something you witness online. In the larger culture. All of these and then some. That discontent you sense, that frustration, that grief? Mmmmm. That IS your wisdom. It’s revolutionary and radical and all about transformation. Because it’s just that wise!
6. Look back. When was a time in which you DID hear and trust your inner wisdom? What happened? What was the impact? How does that impact still reverberate through time? See how powerful you are? You and your wisdom can be trusted. More of that please!
You are the best and most reliable source of wisdom ever. Look within. Look within. Look within. You’ll find every bit of the insight and direction and guidance you need, desire, and deserve. ‘Promise.
And just in case you’re wondering, yes: there are external sources of wisdom that are of value. Of course! But not when they conflict with that know-that-you-know-that-you-know voice within. Not when they cause you to second-guess or question yourself. Not when they even hint that you don’t know. Not when following them means you quiet down or shrink back or play small or compromise or comply or swallow your truth or, or, or…
Did I mention? You are the best and most reliable source of wisdom ever. Look within. Look within. Look within.
Which of these feels the most scary or risky for you? That one? It’s the place to start. It’s where your wisdom is already bursting at the seams and longing to pour forth. Start small. Build the muscle. And watch what happens, over time, when your wisdom is not only accessed, but trusted and expressed.
Hit “reply” or send me a DM and let me know what resonates for you, where you feel the most resistance, or what situation or circumstance or relationship you already know is in dire need of the wisdom that is uniquely yours. I’d love to hear. Really!
I have a library of personal stories in which I let others’ needs demands overrule my own. I’m not proud of them, certainly not happy about them, and aware that without them I would have never learned the lessons they taught: boundaries, self-care, self-esteem, sovereignty, and more. Of them all, the hardest one has been learning to use my voice; not speaking in and of itself, but speaking my truth without editing, censoring, holding back, or apologizing.
“When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.” ~ Audre Lorde
She’s right, of course. But knowing this doesn’t make it easier. It’s scary to anticipate the fallout, the misunderstanding, even subsequent isolation and still speak, still write, still tell the truth, still articulate an opinion, still stand our ground.
What’s far easier, at least in the short run, is compromising. Saying just enough, but not upsetting anyone. Hinting at what we mean and then getting angry (usually with ourselves) when we’re not intuitively understood. And worst of all, saying what others want to hear or doing what others want, even and especially at our own expense.
When I look back at my many experiences and stories of such, what frustrates me most is how many times I felt like I had no choice; that I had to bite my tongue or censure my thoughts or tamp down my desires. I could not see a way to honor myself without someone else paying a price (or so I thought). And all of this without any recognition of the tremendous price I was paying over and over again.
It’s a false dichotomy – and an untenable one: either keeping others comfortable or honoring our very self.
We should never have to deliberate between compromising ourself, no matter how slightly, or paying a price for holding fast to what we know, believe, and feel. And yet we do – over and over and over again.
Ready for the good news in all of this?
When we inventory and acknowledge the times in which we’ve compromised, not spoken up, not told or lived our truth, not chosen ourself, these become the impetus to do nothing of the sort ever again! Our hardest experiences – past and present – are what enable us to change course; to reimagine and rewrite our story, then live into the one we desire and deserve. Our awareness is what enables choice – and change.
Do the risks, costs, or fears go away? Absolutely not. In some ways, they probably increase. But so does our strength and certainty and courage and sovereignty.
Yes, in retrospect, I might wish that I’d chosen myself sooner, that I’d trusted my voice earlier, that I’d nipped any form of compromise in the bud and in the moment. But I’m profoundly grateful for the gift of perspective – to witness my own growth and transformation; to feel the surge of strength, even joy, that comes when I do choose myself; to extend myself grace when that has not been the case – and may yet be again.
So, my invitation to you?
List out the stories you wish were not yours – the ones in which you compromised or stayed silent or said what others wanted to hear or sold yourself short or, or, or… Let yourself feel all the feels associated with each. And then stand back and look at you now – who you have become, what you have accomplished, how you have grown, what you now know and understand and believe about yourself that once felt like mist and shadow. That’s a story worth telling and living. That’s your story – complex and dramatic and challenging and amazing. And the awareness and appreciation of that story? That’s the reimagining and retelling and redeeming of stories that I’m talking about all the time. It changes everything.
A tiny PS: One of the reasons I keep telling the story of Eve – and countless others – is because the common telling perpetuates the (wildly untrue) message that when women choose themselves, disaster befalls. It’s no wonder we compromise and comply and keep our truest desires to ourselves! This is why her story (and countless others ) must be reimagined and retold and redeemed. Ours, as well. And when they are? Yep: it changes everything. Mmmm. Let’s do that, yes?