Last week, I wrote about how small actions can inspire us to movement, and how we can create an inner battle when we try to force ourselves to move.
There are times, though, when we know it’s in our best interest to take a particular action, but still we feel resistant. Still, we can’t seem to act. How do we tell the difference between the times when we genuinely want to move, but feel like an elephant is sitting on us, and the times when our lack of movement is a sign that it’s right for us to be still at this moment?
First, we check in with our bodies. Our bodies are always a wise guide for us. For example, right now I’d like to work on a chapter of my novel (okay, to be more accurate, I believe I should work on a chapter of my novel), but I find I’m not doing it. When I think about doing it, I feel a gnawing anxiety in my abdomen. My shoulders feel tight and my jaw is clenched. Ugggh — negative body compass reading for sure. Does this mean I shouldn’t work on my novel today?
Not necessarily. I need to interpret what I’m feeling in my body. What’s going on here? If I were to put words to what I’m feeling in my body, what would they be? Well, I don’t think the writing is very good. Something’s off about the voice. It’s a terrible novel. And really, I should have finished it a year ago …
There are a number of thoughts here that I could question. The writing’s not very good — is that true? The voice is off. Is that true? It’s a terrible novel. True? Should have finished it a year ago. Is that true?
All of this is mind chatter. It feels stressful, and that’s how I know I need to question these thoughts. The mind throws lots of thoughts out there — most of them negative — and if I take them too seriously, if I attach to them too much, they become a story about this novel: It sucks. Why work on it?
Just questioning the thoughts, though, I detach from them a little. I become the observer. I already feel a little lighter about working on my novel, because I can see where my mind may be feeding me some lies. At least some of the writing is probably good. It’s possible the voice may need some tweaking, but I’ll learn more about what’s going on with that by working on it. It may actually be a pretty good novel. Why should I have finished it a year ago? Who says?
Now, let’s look at what happens when I put words to the sensations in my body and I get something entirely different. Let’s say I check in with my body and feel a gnawing anxiety in my abdomen, tight shoulders, and a clenched jaw. I ask, what’s going on here? And the answer that comes is: Well, I’m feeling really burned out on this book. There’s no energy going toward it. I’ve been working hard on it, and I’d really like to put it aside for a while. I’d like to “fill the well,” as Julia Cameron puts it in The Artist’s Way.
How is this second situation different? In the first, I question my thoughts because they’re stressful, and when I do, I know I want to work on the novel. I just need to quiet the mind chatter, comfort it, put it to bed. (It’s okay, dear little Mind, we are going to work on the book anyway. There, there.)
In the second scenario, how do I know I really want to take a break, put the novel aside for a while, and fill the well? Because the thoughts don’t feel stressful. They are pointing me to what is true for me. The truth, even if we’re not thrilled with the sound of it, is never stressful. What is deeply true for us creates peace and clarity.
(And it will take trust in the process, and movement itself, for me to allow myself this break, this rest. But it will be well worth it.)
If what I wrote above just blew your mind or gave you a raging migraine, here’s another way to tell whether you really want to move toward something or not, which I learned from Martha Beck: If you feel ONLY fear, don’t do it. At least not right now. Regroup and figure out what’s going on. What’s the fear about? What’s its message for you?
If you feel fear AND desire, do it! (But do find some support and understanding for the part of you that is fearful. It can be a lot easier to take action when you have a friend to hold your hand, or at least hold the space for your fear.)
One caveat here: Sometimes I am so confused, overwhelmed, and out of my mind that I really can’t get in touch with my body very well, and I really don’t know if I’m feeling only fear, or a mix of fear and desire, or whether I have morphed into a garden slug. In these instances, I’ve learned that I may not know whether or not I truly wanted to take an action UNTIL I’ve taken it.
How do you determine whether or not you really want to take action right now? I’d love to know!