Originally published May 22, 2012, at Creative Dream Journals.
I can point to so many people I’ve learned life lessons from. I’ve talked about some of them in other posts on this blog, and some are other contributors. But for me, the greatest lesson I’ve learned is to follow my inner wisdom. It’s a cliché, but it’s truth, and that’s the way to say it.
The best teachers I’ve had are people who have helped me do this. They modeled integrity themselves; or they actively listened to me and asked questions to help me figure out what I want, think, and feel; or they reacted positively when I followed my own path, spoke my mind, wrote what I wanted to write, and was true to myself.
Following my inner knower is a muscle I have to keep exercising, because it’s rarely convenient. She likes to go against the grain, and that makes her both endearing and frustrating, like a toddler, only one with years of experience, insight, conviction, and perspective. So, maybe not so much like a toddler. Maybe more like some other stereotype—a hippie, a bohemian, a ne’er-do-well, a self-absorbed artiste, a layabout. Because my inner knower almost always comes across as lazy, self-indulgent, and irresponsible, on the surface. But she’s not. She’s just serving a deeper purpose, one that has to do with developing the soul, growing as a human being, becoming more myself, and experiencing life richly.
Just in the past couple of weeks, my inner knower has had to deal with conversations like these:
- My habits of mind say, “It’s Sunday. You should be productive today.” My inner knower says “No. You need to go to the park and cut pictures out of magazines.”
- My tax bill says, “You should sacrifice some of your writing time so you can do more income-generating work.” My inner knower says, “You need to stay on the path you’re on. You can be creative about this.”
- Some insidious voice says, “You need to sacrifice your own best interests to accommodate other people’s convenience.” My inner badass says “Are you kidding me?! Step aside while I pull out my Tommy gun.” (Wow, I didn’t know my inner spirit had a Tommy gun till I wrote that just now. I’m pretty pacifist, so I’m both horrified and impressed.)
The thing is, she’s right. I can tell because when I don’t do what she says, I get depressed, and life feels like a burden. When I do do what she says, the world seems open to me. I’m alive again.
In her great book Finding Your Own North Star, Martha Beck talks about the debilitating pain she gets when she doesn’t do what her inner knower tells her to do. She says “I certainly hope that you don’t have as antagonistic a relationship with your body as I used to have with mine. I hope you don’t develop shooting pains and embarrassing rashes every time you step off your true path. Most people don’t. For the majority of my clients, their physical reactions to life choices are much more subtle—sometimes barely noticeable. But they are most decidedly there.” I quote this for you because I’m in Martha’s fun club: when I don’t do what my inner knower tells me to do, my brain chemistry freaks out and does what it can to incapacitate me and generally make me miserable. Stick, carrot—whatever works, I suppose.
But they used canaries to test coal mines for a reason. Sensitive freaks like me and Martha Beck are just extreme versions of normal people. Jamie Ridler once called it “having a super-powerful inner compass.” But everyone has an inner compass, right? It’s just that for some people, their inner compass points them toward things like “become an investment banker” or “marry a millionaire,” and so their struggles are different. But all of us are better off when we can find a way to go in the directions that our inner compass points. When we do, we’re more alive. We’re more ourselves. We’re absolutely more creative. We make possibilities that wouldn’t be there otherwise.
So your teachers rock. Mine do, anyway. But the best thing for you about your teachers is that they point you toward your own inner wisdom. They resonate with something amazing in you. They help you hear, they help you follow. You say “yes.” You don’t know what will happen. But you know you’re living your real life.