I’d just come from lunch with a friend and had a fierce headache. I didn’t understand why. After all, wasn’t she my dear, longtime pal? Hadn’t I been looking forward to our lunch to catch up, giggle, and break our perpetual diets?
I stretched out on the sofa and tried to meditate, but I was surprised, even shocked, at the feelings that surfaced: anger, resentment, disgust. Now I had to admit that we had both changed and grown in different ways. We no longer had that spark of commonality and camaraderie that had made our get-togethers so delightful. I was increasingly interested in the latest spiritual teachers, and she was increasingly interested in the latest Jimmy Choos.
Before, we’d united in delicious criticisms of everyone we saw and knew. Now, I strived to see the good in all, or at least not speak ill of them. Not that she wasn’t a generous and thoughtful person. She was. I still loved her insights and sense of humor.
But . . .
My mental, physical, and emotional reactions were talking to me.If you’ve had similar experiences, listen. If you find yourself resenting your job, friends, goals, even leisure activities, and you feel nausea or sleepy at choices you’ve made, listen.
We have been given many touchstones that signal whether and when we’re on track in our relationships and work. As we acknowledge the signals, cultivate them, and pay attention, they’ll guide us unfailingly. Here are several important ones.
Touchstone: The Appeal to Our Mind
Our minds know. And sometimes protest, defend, reason, and rationalize for not doing what our infallible touchstones tell us. In the Unity booklet Living on Purpose: Creating a Life You Love, Unity minister and poet laureate James Dillet Freeman advises us in his poem “God Meant You for More,”
Listen, be still, can you hear?
The waves of God’s thought
Roll, roll in your mind.
Neale Donald Walsch’s first Conversation With God: An Uncommon Dialogue, Book 1, gives us His advice:
Listen to Me in the truth of your soul.
Listen to Me in the feelings of your heart.
Listen to Me in the quiet of your mind. . . .
Whenever you have a question, simply know that I have answered it already.
Whether we listen or deny our gifts and right work, our minds/bodies know. Wayne Dyer says in The Power of Intention:
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That silent inner knowing will never leave you alone. You may try to ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist, but in honest, alone moments of contemplative communion with yourself, you sense the emptiness waiting for you to fill it with your music.
Touchstone: The Message of Our Inner Voice
A major way we know is through our Inner Voice. It is a flawless touchstone. The brilliant children’s author Shel Silverstein puts it eloquently and simply in the widely reprinted poem “The Voice,” in his book of poems for children, Falling Up. Most of us taller children can surely benefit too from its message:
There is a voice inside of you
That whispers all day long,
“I feel this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong.”
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
Or wise man can decide
What’s right for you—just listen to
The voice that speaks inside.
As you probably know, our Inner Voice can be accessed in many ways—in quiet, meditation, nature, or by just asking. Then listen. Certain words may come into your mind, or you may sense particular feelings. Your eye may light on a headline that’s the message you need, or you may suddenly hear or think of a song lyric that holds the answer. You may feel impelled to act.
Whenever you feel perplexed, stymied, disgusted, angry, uneasy, anxious, frustrated, afraid, sick, or any other way that’s uncomfortable or unbearable, and your great and powerful rational mind isn’t coming up with decent answers, ask your Inner Voice.
The more you turn to it, the more you will rely on it, trust it, and recognize its wisdom. It’s always available and always on your side. It knows what is absolutely right for you and is your ultimate friend, ally, guide, and support.
How does the Inner Voice feel? When I get quiet enough to ask in all humility, the Voice is immediate. It’s also certain, calm, strong, and nonjudgmental. It ignores all my “What ifs” and “Buts” and hones in on solutions.
Sometimes the answer is only a word. And that’s enough. Other times the answer floats in as a sentence, or trumpets as a declaration, or winds around as a mini-lecture. However the response appears, the Voice comes with unmistakable certainty and peace.
Touchstone: The Messages of Our Body
The answers of the Inner Voice prompt sensations in your body. Feel them. When I hear the Voice, I feel a lightness in my chest and sense of well-being. All fear in my stomach is gone, and I feel a blissful calm.
When I’m not following the Inner Voice, my body tells me in other ways. In that lunch with my friend, my head ached fiercely. With a writing colleague, the minute after I agreed to critique a story as a “favor” and knew the story was really a mini-novel, I felt a burning in my gut and shortness of breath. When I met a neighbor I’ve never particularly liked and agreed to her dinner invitation, my palms went cold.
But when I had a conversation with a stranger in the parking lot and we could hardly talk fast enough about common spiritual interests and made a coffee date, I glowed. When I was offered a dream-job project editing a heartfelt memoir for a former client I’ve always been fond of, my heart beat faster with grateful anticipation. And when on a winter Saturday I turned from chores that loitered on the to-do list for a year and instead devoted the afternoon to writing a section in my novel, my energy skyrocketed and I couldn’t wait to get my fingers tapping.
Deepak Chopra in The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success points us to the touchstone of our bodies. He suggests we ask ourselves, “If I make this choice, what happens?” And he advises us to wait for the answer—given in our body. If our body “sends a message of comfort,” we’ve made the right choice. If our body “sends a message of discomfort,” we haven’t.
Touchstone: The Messages of Our Emotions
Our emotions are also faultless guides to our best choices. My friend Shelley recently told me that a long-ago college acquaintance, Tanya, asked her to a party celebrating Tanya’s newly-awarded partnership in a law firm. With much stammering, Tanya lamented how busy she was and implored Shelley to organize the refreshments and directed that they had to be “top of the line.” Shelley couldn’t even fathom why Tanya called her—they hadn’t been close in college—much less dropped this rather large task on her. But Shelley, slightly flattered, consented.
The moment she hung up, Shelley said, she felt tremendously angry. First it was at Tanya for her nerve and assumptions that Shelley would remember her and help her. Didn’t Tanya have other friends? With the raise of her partnership, couldn’t she afford a party planner?
Then, more accurately, Shelley knew her anger was at herself. She had ignored her body. As soon as she heard Tanya’s directions and supposedly dire plight, Shelley had felt a little sick and mentally pulled away. This, she confessed to me, should have been enough of a sign. But she ignored it. Her emotions and body were telling her to say no, but she said yes.
I’m pleased to report that Shelley called Tanya back, wished her the best, and politely bowed out. After the conversation, Shelley felt another dramatic emotion—elation. As she told me, “I stood up for myself and honored my real feelings.”
You can probably recall similar or parallel experiences to Shelley’s. In any situation or decision, when you feel mad, sad, glad, or any other emotion, heed it. It is telling you the truth.
Several questions can be helpful for knowing whether you’re making the decision that keeps you on track. Chopra in The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success suggests two questions for any choice:
1. “What are the consequences of this choice that I’m making?” He points out that in our hearts we already know.
2. “Will this choice that I’m making now bring happiness to me and to those around me?” Again, Chopra observes that we will know quickly by listening inside.
Combined with Chopra’s two questions above, you can ask other questions that help you ferret out and intuit your best choices to know if you’re on track with any activity, task, or event, alone or with others. For me, the greatest “flow” activities are writing and meditation (and sometimes making a gorgeous lasagna).
As I’ve made increasingly better choices, given myself more writing time, and noticed my bodily sensations and emotions, I’ve developed these touchstone-focusing questions:
1. Are you unaware of time passing when you’re engaged in the activity?
2. Are you unaware of your body during this time?
3. Do you feel completely immersed in the activity (or others you’re with)?
4. Do you feel a sense of joy and peace during the activity?
5. Do you get annoyed at your body for becoming tired because you just want to keep going?
6. When you leave or finish, do you have a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment?
7. Are you eager to repeat the activity very soon again? Tomorrow?
Learn your own mind-Inner-Voice-body-emotions touchstones for getting and staying on track or straying. As you do, you will develop the art and intuition of listening in all ways and make many more choices that are right for you. You’ll be happier, more fulfilled, and more giving to others in the right ways at the right times that bless you both.
©2016 by Noelle Sterne, Ph.D.
Book by this Author
Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams
by Noelle Sterne.
About the Author
Noelle Sterne is an author, editor, writing coach, and spiritual counselor. She publishes writing craft articles, spiritual pieces, essays, and fiction in print, online periodicals, and blog sites. Her book Trust Your Life contains examples from her academic editorial practice, writing, and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. Her book for doctoral candidates has a forthright spiritual component and deals with often overlooked or ignored but crucial aspects that can seriously prolong their agony: Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping With the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (September 2015). Excerpts from this book continue to be published in academic magazines and blogs. Visit Noelle's website: www.trustyourlifenow.com