This weekend I watched the entire first season of Unorthodox, the story of a young Jewish woman who, fed up with the strictures and demands of the religion she was raised in, leaves her husband, her family, her religion, and her country, to go halfway around the world in order to live the way she knows she must.
I believe we are all born with an innate sense of knowing. We come into this world knowing what we need, what we like, who we are. And over time, we learn that not everyone we encounter wants us to be our true selves. In fact, while our parents (if we are lucky) may cheer us on, spur us toward our developmental milestones, they also have their own set of hopes and dreams about who we will someday be.
And then we start school, where our teachers have their own set of expectations, as do the institutions we enter. Sometimes our natural, inborn inclinations are not even given an opportunity to manifest themselves because we lack exposure to the very things we desire, deep in our bones, in our DNA. We may be hands-on learners in a stringently intellectual environment; or we may be poets in a STEM school or STEM types in an art-based school.
We may be natural athletes born into a world without fields or playgrounds or into a family that does not value the human body and its capabilities.
And yet we yearn, and we find ourselves having to trust that inner voice that guides us to discover our true essences.
We encounter powerful structures in place that reinforce what we have been taught by our families, our peers, our teachers, our religion, our culture. Defying the norms, in whatever form we find them requires courage and bravery and self-trust. We all encounter obstacles that demand we squelch our inner voice, our sense of knowing, and insist we go along to get along, that we let go of what we know to be true in order to cling to an illusion of safety.
Eventually, this tension between what we know to be true and what we do to get along becomes untenable, unbearable, and we have to let go of what we have been told will save us to cling to our inner wisdom. Whether that knowledge is rooted in our bodies, our minds, or our experiences, if we don’t pay attention to it, acknowledge it, it becomes overwhelming anxiety, it becomes debilitating depression. It can become an eating disorder, OCD, a way of asserting control, any control.
When we feel anxious and out of control, it might feel easier to reach for a pill or alcohol or weed to kill that feeling (see J is for . . .). Anything usually feels easier than trusting ourselves, but that’s because we have a lifetime of being told we’re not ok, not trustworthy, that we’re too much or not enough. I ask clients if they have this little voice, this sensation in the pit of their stomach or a voice in their head or a tingling in their arms when they have to make a hard decision. Most say yes, but not everyone takes the voice seriously.
Often the voice of knowing is conflated with selfishness and the belief that listening to ourselves and doing what is right for us will take something away from someone else. That we don’t deserve to take care of ourselves. That others should get first crack at our energies and our resources. But we cannot be good stewards or caretakers or even good friends if we ignore what we know and deprive ourselves of what we need to nourish ourselves. If I am a painter who never paints or a writer who doesn’t write or a runner who doesn’t run or an engineer who is not allowed to design, then what are our gifts for?
Maybe try to spend this time alone and in quarantine listening to the voice that knows, the one deeply buried that we so often ignore and push down. Hear it. Follow it. It doesn’t just know you, it IS you.