I watched a wonderful movie last night titled “Legends of the Fall” on Netflix. It was released in 1994 and stars Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, and Gordon Tootoosis (as One Stab, the narrator); the movie is based on the novel of the same name by Jim Harrison. The story is about the development and life of a young man who follows his own path, and as can be expected, his road is one less traveled; his path puts him in the way of adversity over and over again. Early on in the story, the narrator One Stab tells of how the boy counted coup on a Grizzly Bear, and that this attitude of facing and defeating death remained with him all his life. The message I took from the story was how we must be willing to face our fears if we want to be true to ourselves rather than slave to the will and opinions of others. Life, in this way, is a lonely business.
The book is set in the American West in the early 1900’s and even though it’s fiction, it has a large element of truth in it: there are many characters of that time period who went West in order to free themselves of the bonds of their community (some good, some also bad); my grandfather was one of those people.
It’s hard to follow our own path. So hard, in fact, that most of us (including me) fall off the path at times and try to follow someone else’s path that’s “safer”, “easier”, more acceptable to those in our society. Then, at some point, we loose our energy and joy of living, waking up one day wondering how we got to a place of going nowhere, wondering if that’s all there really is.
I’m here to tell you that isn’t all there is. And even more importantly, no matter your age or circumstances, you can get back on your own personal path and reclaim that energy and joy you once felt. It isn’t easy, but it is worth it. After all, this is it, so far as we know: this life we have now, no matter how long or short, is what all we’re given to live our dream.
How do we do it then, reclaim our path?
- First, re-attach your head to the rest of your body. When we feel attacked and protective (of our dreams, for instance) we go into what’s called fight or flight mode – our stress-response system kicks in and we protect ourselves. Wilhelm Reich called this body armoring – we tense our muscles and if we do it often enough, our body keeps that tension. We also repress the feelings we have around what we’re protecting so that, in the end, all we feel is numbness. And when that happens, all we have is our thoughts no longer attached to the feelings they generate. So it’s important to re-attach.
- One way of doing this is to re-learn about what your body feels like. You can do this through the mindfulness meditation of body scan. Body scan is a meditation technique that is designed to bring you back into body awareness. There are many similar techniques (relaxation tapes, for instance, if they have as part of their instructions to feel each part of the body as you relax it) – the main point is to bring back into your daily or weekly routine a way of being with your body and re-discovering what it feels like in terms of physical sensations.
- Then, notice what you feel physically – and where – whenever you are thinking something. For instance, if I have to give a presentation and I’m stressing about it, I might feel a tightness at my solar plexus, a rawness at my throat; on the other hand, if I’m looking forward to it, I might feel a fluttering at my solar plexus and a warmth at my throat. One suggestion is to set a timer on your phone, and every the timer goes, stop and ask yourself what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling.
- Once you’ve reconnected your head and heart, you can access your true inner knowing. Martha Beck calls this your “Essential self”; some shamanistic traditions call this that part of the “Shideh self” that knows what’s best for us. I call it your “Gut”. In any situation where you need to make a decision, you can go to this place of knowing – your “Gut” – and see how each truly sits inside you. Does a decision make you feel not so good – nauseous, tight, even dead? Or does it make you feel light, energized, fluid? This is called learning to “Trust your gut”, a phrase that’s often used and rarely understood.
- Finally, let go. The most important thing about trusting your gut, once you can access this, is not fearing change. Change is a constant part of living and growing, and may mean changing relationships, changing expectations, changing direction, changing long-held beliefs. Fear of change can bind us, and blind us from our inner knowing. Facing our fears, remaining open to new possibilities, can feel scary; and yet doing that is the path to spiritual freedom. My challenge to you is to incorporate these three steps into your daily routine – even for a mere few minutes a day – then see where you’re at with yourself in a month or a week.
Here’s a practical every-day example, using myself as the guinea pig.
I have a problem that is recurring: I want to do too much. I want to complete a course that’s meaningful to me and adds to my business experience; I want to complete a business face-lift that’s even more important to me; I want to learn how to market myself better; I want to advance in my shamanic studies. I want to write a book. And I haven’t even started on all the other things in my life I want to do – spend more time with my friends and loved ones, take vacation, and so on. Well, I can’t do all of them all at once, so how do I decide on what to focus on and what to put aside for now? First, I notice how I feel physically with each one: ”complete the course” leaves me feeling somewhat energized in my stomach area; “complete the business face-lift” leaves me feeling really energized; “market myself better” leaves me feeling heavy and with a restricted throat; “advance my shamanic studies” is similar to the first one. So if I follow my inner knowing – my gut – the most important thing, no matter what anyone else may think, is my business face-lift (that problem with self-marketing is another issue).
If you have a decision to make and you feel stuck, try this out. It may take a while – especially if you need to re-connect – but believe me, it’s worth it!
Now I’d love to hear from you about your own experiences, knowledge, opinions. In the comments below, share one thing that you experienced as a mirror moment that changed your day, or even your life.
This newsletter is in three parts: the first part is my contribution; the second is a video I’ve found that relates to the topic in part 1; the third is a quote. I hope you enjoy the richness this brings to the topic of the week with all three parts.
Ziggy Marley – Roads Less Traveled
Quote of the Week
Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.
At times we need more – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us. I offer both one-on-one consultations and coaching packages. For more information, visit my website www.thejoyofliving.co/services-and-programs or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org