For the last 3-4 years, I have gathered weekly with a group of women for what the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) community would call an “Empathy Group”. Essentially, we hold space for each other to explore what’s alive in us, name the universal needs that are not met, savor them, and allow strategies to emerge that meet those precious needs. Together, we vent, claim our successes, mourn our losses, and find and own our part in life’s experiences. With firmness and gentleness, we hold witness to each other’s inner work.
Week after week, year after year, we remind ourselves of the importance of being loyal to ourselves; of taking action in the world in a way that supports and includes us as much as it includes others. We were all oriented as children to the idea that we were only ok if the people around us – mostly our loved ones – were ok (also labeled codependency). Heck, most of us are conditioned that way! But this loyalty to the well-being of others at the expense of my own well-being is a slippery slope.
Before I know it, I lose touch with my own well-being…or even what I am feeling as distinct from those around me. I stop wondering “What would deeply serve me in this situation?” and obsess about “What will make those around me happy?” “What’s the path of least resistance so this conflict can be over?” Unconsciously, it’s often “What will keep me safe (emotionally or physically)?”
From there I move quickly to not noticing I even have needs, not feeling my emotions, and shutting down my voice – not making requests for myself because I am simply not connected enough to myself to know what kind of support I need!
Learning to believe that I am ok no matter what those around me are experiencing or thinking about me is balm for the soul. It’s also REALLY hard to do. It always leads me to the question “How do I put myself at the center of my life AND include my loved ones?”
Several years ago, when my intuitive gifts came flooding in, I kept hearing a mantra that went something like this: “When I serve myself, I serve everyone.” I understood this to mean that if I followed my deepest knowing/Truth, everyone, including the people I thought would be angry, would be served.
I struggled to express this idea to friends, family and clients…it felt so selfish! But as I continued to listen to inner guidance and take the actions I heard, I found it was true. When I included myself in the equation and listened for guidance, the actions I took worked for all. It wasn’t always immediately obvious (sometimes people did get really pissed!) but it was always true in the long run.
I came to understand that at the level of Universal Truth, we are always, already one with everything. So when we act in accordance with our deepest knowing it is always for the highest good of all. Recently, I read a quote by Molly Sheehan at Green Hope Farms that gracefully expresses the philosophy behind that mantra:
Conscious oneness is a state in which we take responsibility to seek our own
inner guidance and live in authenticity from this inner guidance.
Because of the divinity within us, this means that each of us
will bring the world the gifts of self that neither diminish nor imperil others,
but in fact, add to the light of collective humanity.
It’s a paradigm shift; and a radical one at that. Yet this radical shift is necessary if the planet and our species is going to survive. Because to survive, it is critical we each express the uniqueness of our soul and make manifest our purpose, whether we know exactly what it is – or not! So, how do we make that shift? One step at a time.
Trusting that when we act from our deepest knowing/Truth everything will be ok takes practice, courage and compassion – especially self-compassion. It requires self-intimacy – being intimate with our own internal experiences (physical, emotional, mental and spiritual). It also requires support from a small community of people who are also orienting themselves in this way. Intimates who can hold us in a space of love and acceptance as we find our way. Why?
Because what we are guided to do from deep within us (our Truth) is often exactly what our ego, society, parents, or partners don’t want us to do. It upsets the apple cart. Sometimes it pushes up against habitual behaviors and beliefs that no longer serve us (Gee, I’d rather not have that difficult conversation with my partner; seems easier to just stuff my feelings under the rug and let the resentment fester!).
Most often, taking action aligned with our deepest knowing takes hard work – going back to school, changing jobs, leaving a relationship, enrolling in counseling with our partner, staying in a job when it’s difficult, having that difficult conversation, etc. When the going gets tough, it’s critical to have a support from intimates as well as deeply grooved tools that we’ve practiced during quieter times.
So as you move through 2012, I challenge you to put yourself at the center of your life. Breath deeply. Pause before you say yes and actually FEEL the “yes” or “no” in your body – then follow it. Consider your needs as much as you consider the needs of those around you. Serve from a place of inclusion and joy, not obligation and fear. If you can’t do it “for free and for fun”, don’t do it at all. Move through the fear that you’ll be abandoned, hated, shunned, alone; see it for the lie it is. Let your deepest knowing – your soul – Truth – guide you in daily decisions. Be loyal to yourself.
Oh Em, perfectly attuned as ever. This of course is the message that I needed today, thank you for listening to your own inner wisdom and sharing with us all. I particularly needed to hear “if you can’t do it for free or fun, don’t do it at all”…goosebumps!
Thanks for the challenge. I accept it and I hope I’m up for it. I was sharing this concept with students in an Interpersonal Communication class I teach to high school seniors. I was trying to show them that their interpersonal relationships can go as far as their self-love does.
A friend told me recently that I offended a mutual friend when I “put myself at the center.” I took that as needing to work on taking care of myself and being sensitive to him. Of course, I am not responsible for his feelings, but I am responsible for my actions. The part that makes me the saddest is the that the friend I was talking to concluded that NVC is being self-centered and he wants nothing to do with it.
Hi Emilah, I love this post and I particularly appreciate the eloquence with which you communicate the concepts of self-care and spiritual growth. You have such a gift. and I find that what you say resonates in such a deep, authentic and true way. Thank you for this post and please keep them coming. Best, Joanne