A Soul Walk

I have, at many times in my life, been a planner. This isn’t to say I’m particularly good at planning, as many disappointed friends and family members will attest to, but it does mean that I like to plan ahead for the things I’m trying to do. I like to know what’s coming. I like a certain sense of order, and when presented with spontaneous suggestions, I confess I am prone to a lot of blinking that signals internal processing (or stuckness).

composition-materials-notebook-760720I’ve planned my way through many things. I planned my way through college and two graduate programs. I planned my way through twin babies and toddlers. I planned my way through household budgets and family gatherings and career changes. And while a great deal of that planning has served me well, I know it’s not the only way to get things done. I also know sometimes planning is not the best way to get things done. I know this because I am also a musician.

I’ve written hundreds of songs – including about 20 that I actually like. I’ve also performed with different folks and had spontaneous moments of music magic that we couldn’t possibly have planned for. I’ve had terrible gigs turn into great evenings because of one small moment of inspiration.

And music isn’t the only place this has happened for me. My decision to become a life coach wasn’t really planned out. I had been thinking for a long time about what to do for work when the kids got settled in elementary school, but life coach hadn’t even surfaced as an option. When it did come up, it was like bells going off in my head. There was no need for a spreadsheet and a five year plan. It was time. The choice was clear.

Even having had those experiences of spontaneous beauty, though, my planning self tends to lead the charge. Because I know that I have this tendency and because I’ve seen the wonderful things that can emerge in other more intuitive ways, I’ve developed a practice that helps me stay in touch with that more soulful side, that helps me stay open to solutions and decisions that don’t seem to fit in the flow chart. It’s called a soul walk.

A soul walk is just about the most simple thing you could ever do. You don’t need any special equipment, unless the weather where you are is like the weather here in which case water is always advisable. All you need is some time and a willingness to quiet the internal hubbub.

On a soul walk, you begin walking any way you want. If you take walks regularly, you can even start on your usual path. Take deep breaths as you walk and notice what’s going on in the world around you, suspending judgment if you can. “There’s construction noise” rather than “There’s a whole lot of effing construction noise that makes me really angry” for example. Keep breathing.

daylight-daytime-fashion-906106When your breathing helps to quiet the monkey mind inside, start to pay attention to how you feel when you reach an intersection or any other opportunity to change course. When you see that intersection coming, just ask: “Which way should I go?” and see if you feel a pull. Don’t question it. Don’t fight it: “But that street has no shade. I hate that street. If I go that way I have to walk on the squishy mulberries on the sidewalk.” Whatever. Follow the pull, even if you think you’re only having a pull because I told you there might be a pull.

Let yourself be guided as though you have an inner compass telling you which way to turn at each intersection and keep breathing.

Notice if the pulls get stronger as you follow them. Notice what happens if you don’t follow a particular pull. Notice what happens when you just keep breathing while you walk. My guess is that at the very least you will have a peaceful walk that leaves you refreshed and feeling a little more confident, a little more supported, maybe even a little buoyant.

We make so many choices on any given day. And so many of those choices require us to weigh the pros and cons, do some calculations, negotiate with someone else; it’s easy to lose track of our own knowing, our own internal compass, the guidance that lets us walk with ease through the world.

Sometimes all we need is a little practice.

When was the last time you listened for direction from that quietest part of yourself? How long has it been since you felt that internal pull?

Maybe it’s time for a walk.

What Feels Like Freedom?

I talk about decisions a lot here in these pages because a lot of people, and I include myself amongst those people, get hung up on decisions. We get hung up collecting information, we get hung up measuring pros and cons, we get hung up with figuring out how we really feel and how much of that is old programmed nonsense that we really don’t believe anymore. We get hung up because we’re terribly afraid that we’re going to make a mistake, do it wrong, fail, look foolish… I could go on. There is a test that helps us get past all of that, at least for the decision-making part. It’s simple, really. Acting after that is a separate discussion, but the test for a decision is remarkably easy.

Martha Beck, the brilliant PhD with whom I trained as a life coach and one of my esteemed mentors, agrees with other brilliant souls that the defining feature to look for in these times is a feeling. WHOA! I realize I may be losing some of you already. If this is not your first time at my personal rodeo, you probably saw that coming. The feeling that Martha Beck suggests we look for is something she calls “shackles on.” Looking for that shackles on feeling requires a couple of things. The first thing you’ll need to do is get quiet; stop the clamor of data in your head; stop the pro and con list (you can have them back later if you really need them). Get quiet and take some deep breaths. Let yourself temporarily let go of all of the reasons you SHOULD choose one thing or the other. When you’ve gotten yourself quieter, imagine one of the possibilities you’re considering, and see how it makes you FEEL.

Slide1Does it feel like you’ve got shackles on? For me that usually means heaviness and a feeling of being drained; my body will actually respond by slumping in my chair and emotions like dread and sadness usually come as well. Does it feel like shackles off? For me that means feeling physically lighter, breathing more fully; my body responds by straightening up, my head drifts upward and back on top of my neck where it is supported. I feel airier, like there’s room for me; I feel unlimited. THAT feels like freedom. That’s shackles off. My body knows where my true preferences lie, without all of the mental gymnastics I torture myself with. When you stop to see how you REALLY feel about options, sometimes the right decision becomes incredibly, even physically, clear.

BUT WAIT you say, I can’t possibly because… yes, I know. You have responsibilities. You have financial realities. You have obligations. I’m not being sarcastic. I TOTALLY get it; believe me. I have them too. Here’s the thing, recognizing what choice feels like freedom doesn’t mean you have to do that thing right this minute. What?!

Here’s the thing about big changes and hard decisions and knowing what makes you feel free, knowing what your deepest desires are; these are treasures, precious cargo, and they deserve to be treated with the utmost respect, and sometimes that doesn’t mean jumping in with both feet into something big. Sometimes that means holding and refining that vision until you know exactly how you want it to go, nurturing it, cultivating it like a tender seedling. Sometimes it means asking yourself: “What are 10 small things I can do to get closer to THAT version of my life? What is it about that vision that works for me? Can I get a little of that while I work on all of this?” and then doing some of that, doing the work that will make it possible to get to where you ACTUALLY want to go; doing the work that will make the voices that tell you that you’re being foolish or that your dreams are impossible have to stop because, look, you’re doing it; doing the work that will make it easier to make a transition that might not be as immediately gratifying as going into your boss’ office and telling her exactly what you think of her. You can start to build your dream with little bricks, little motions, little efforts to tend your garden

Slide2You can do all that, OR you can keep using your spreadsheet and concluding that staying where you are or choosing the thing that most certainly does not feel like freedom is the only possibility, convincing yourself that how you feel about it is immaterial. You can pretend that there is nothing between choice A and choice B because it feels too painful to admit what you actually want. You can pretend that you have no choice because of all of your obligations and you can continue to feel shackled to your current reality. ¬†You can continue to collect evidence for why it’s so awful. You can do that, but I’m not sure why you’d want to. Wouldn’t a little freedom, even if it’s just in the form of a vision and a list of steps, feel REALLY, REALLY good?

If your vision maker feels broken or you’re afraid of what you’ll find if you look for your feelings, I’d be honored to help with that.