Lately I’ve been enjoying the most incredible splurge of “can do” vibe. In the space of little over a month, I’ve taken up two major new activities (Nordic Walking and Rock Choir); I’ve made new friends; I’ve networked with complete strangers over shared interests via email and, as of yesterday, met one for a coffee; I’ve taken up activities that involve going out in the pitch-dark and rainy/windy evenings to get to these events (these being things I pretty much gave up for years when driving became so challenging); and I’ve even bought myself a watch to keep up with all the places I now have to get to “on time” (having said I would never-ever own one again; but I don’t mind as this one is for me). I’ve set up various social events with both old and potential new friends and been to four live music events in a month, with a fifth one coming up later in the week. One of these involved a stay-over in the capital with an extra night spontaneously added at the last minute “just for the hell of it”. So to say it’s been a busy and boundary-pushing month is a massive understatement in any context but, in my life, this is all quite utterly, gob-smackingly extraordinary, as is my relatively calm and matter-of-fact “take” on it all, as though I somehow knew it was all scheduled to happen just like this.
None of these things may sound all that extraordinary to someone who normally leads a busy social life, who is even marginally extroverted, or who considers themselves to be fit and pretty well, physically speaking. However, I am someone who has had (brace yourself for the umbrella term) “fibromyalgia” for over 14 years, along with its myriad associated ails and, more recently realised, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, which periodically turns my internal body supports to chewing gum without any warning, oh and chronic fatigue that comes over me in massive, highly-inconvenient, waves. I’m also someone who is very highly sensitive to people and many things in the environment, including EMFs, also an “INFJ” introverted type (the introvert of all introverts), an empath and a measurable Highly Sensitive Person, and I’ve spent most of at least the last ten years almost exclusively in the company of my family whilst watching many of my regular friendships and other involvements with “life” fall away until, I discovered, I was now stood pretty much all alone in the field of my daily life, with just (metaphorically speaking) the prairie grass blowing in the wind to keep me company. It was from this involvement-barren space that I launched myself into what has been, so far, quite the extraordinary new decade.
One of the things I’ve been most proud of, and astonished by, in myself is that whenever that sharp pang of anxiety, or even full-on fear, has tried to rise up in me prior to doing any of these things, a very calm and soothing yet entirely no-nonsense inner voice has popped up to so clearly, and quite parentally, reassure me with “its OK, just do it, you’ll be absolutely fine”. I have obviously come to trust in this voice implicitly because, pretty much as soon as I hear it (assuming it comes with the right sensations…read on), I release all the petty arguments, the “what ifs” and “yeah buts” and, as instructed, just do it anyway. It works like magic and is the reason I have transformed so very much in such short time; since, as soon as you become more involved in one part of your life, other things tend to snowball out of your own positivity and all the affirmatives you are invisibly sending out into the energy field.
Like yesterday, as I headed to that coffee with a complete stranger, not quite sure why I had set it up but feeling compelled to do it anywhere since something told me it was going to be meaningful in some way. Though I managed the entire drive there with hardly a niggle or would-be rehearsal running through my head (not like the old days…), that sharply rising moment of doubt crept in just as I was stood at the cafe door and yet I dismissed it with a brief “you’ll be fine, go on in,” synced with the very moment I pushed on that heavy, creaky, swing door fully expecting to see the woman whose face I had memorised from her website sat before me. (She wasn’t…she was half an hour late but even that didn’t throw me; I simply ordered a herbal tea and used the time to jot down some unrelated thoughts for a future blog and was feeling quite “chilled”, compared to her flustered-ness, by the time she got there.)
But today I feel different. Today I woke feeling alarmed and out of sorts. Today I was meant to be going to a new yoga class that I surprised myself by setting up late last week, on a sudden urge that contradicted my long-standing pronouncement that I was happiest keeping yoga as “a home practice” and solitary pursuit. Something had kept drawing me to an actual flash-forward imagining of me going to yoga in my local village and, when I felt into it, I suspected it was linked to the recent opening of a new yoga class in a converted barn. Perhaps I was drawn to it because this seemed so preferable to all those cold-draughty village halls commandeered for most weekly classes, this being a custom space that looked warm and inviting on their website, so I checked out the teacher’s bio and liked her vibe. As had happened with the Nordic walking, once I had done these preliminary “tune-ins” with both “location” and “people” (I seldom do anything without feeling into these aspects), I didn’t hesitate to fire off an email to set the ball rolling and liked the feedback I got from the teacher, including that she is hyper-mobile and knows that hip openers aren’t for everyone as they can sometimes do more harm than good (that’s me; but not every yoga teacher seems to realise this). Impulsively, I said I would be at her next Wednesday morning class and I meant it; was even excited and enthusiastic to go…just as I was with all the other activities I’ve taken up lately, so here was my breadcrumb trail once again; my clue to a path I was meant to follow. Because, in life, I have learned, it is the enthusiasm and excitement that we feel in our bodies that serves as the sign that you are right on track and, if you can fan that feeling a little to make it bigger, it can serve as the very fuel and the fire to get you there, over any possible hurdles.
Yet this morning, when I woke in the still dark bedroom, I knew I felt “off” as I, to be honest, suspected last night, though I had hoped it would dissipate in my sleep. That same voice as ever tried to mantra to me “its fine, just get up and get ready as planned, you’ll be ok when you get there” but maybe this advisory sounded a little bit more wooden and halfhearted than usual today; a kind-of broken down cuckoo clock version, because I felt its insincerity from the offset. So I went to the bathroom, came back, sat up in bed to clear my head and, by then, I knew that I knew that today wasn’t the right day to begin a new yoga class. Some part of me that had been counting up all the many successes of my month took the hit in the stomach, feeling the disappointment of a track record broken…but it was no good, today was the day I just had to stop.
If I needed any logical reasons, tomorrow is my precious Nordic Walking session and I have a special reason to really want to be there for a friend, this week, then we have an especially busy weekend planned, but it was more than that…all the signs I needed were there in my body, why did I need logic to back it up? These were signs I had ignored before, to my detriment, and I knew I should be listening to them now if I was to the change the record of my life.
I’d already clocked yesterday that I was feeling decidedly under-parr, in fact I’ve been like that since the full moon but with none of the usual recovery after it peaked. The sponginess in my body and the way it was hurting yesterday, even to sit for prolonged periods, was telling me I was on the cusp of an EDS flare-up and to provoke it right now would be the wrong thing to do. Looking in the mirror, I could see my extreme tiredness in my face and lank hair…which always give the game away, turning me greyish complexioned and haggard overnight when I have reached the end of my energy tether. Lately, I had been feeling quite rejuvenated, bright eyed, rosy cheeked and full of sparkly life but this was another, hollow-eyed, version of me staring back. Was it any wonder: I simply shouldn’t underestimate how much I have put my physical body through entirely new paces or how many new synaptic connections I’ve grown in just a few weeks whilst pushing all these boundaries and learning new skills, like an entire way of life flipped on its head in a month.
Of course, its difficult, sometimes, to tell the difference between a genuine reason to say “stop” and that age-old trend of self-sabotage that, in the past, has probably prevented many of us from doing things that provoke a little more adrenalin than normal, that push our boundaries or take us out of comfort zone. It’s all too easy to assume our subconscious is just looking for an easy way out and to come down on the side of our logic, forcing ourselves to do what we don’t feel we should be doing. The fact our whole culture is set up that way; that parents and schools and employers have told us that we “must” be that way and “not let anybody down”, that prior commitments should be non-negotiable unless logical/demonstrable reasons to change things prevail and that “what doesn’t kill us will grow us” does not help us in our life-long assignment of coming to recognising what truly serves us best…and what does not!
It’s also difficult to tell the difference between the kind of gung-ho inner voice declaration of “of course it will be alright” that pushes you though (what your logical mind tells you is) unfounded reservations…and the kind of parrot-like reassurances that would probably still be saying that the day it all went badly wrong, like an automated voice from you dashboard telling you to keep driving you car forwards as you head over a cliff…
So, in some situations, its useful (and then some) to have the inbuilt voice of a parent-friend inside your head that encourages you to be brave, to take the next step, to keep old fears out of it and to take that all important moment of launch over the threshold into some new experiences. Yet we have to be cautious about the tone of that voice; is this intuition speaking or has the inner voice become automatic, habitual, a by-rote response that pops up in every single challenging circumstance, regardless of the “situation scan” your intuition has fed back to you. This is why its so important to take time to run such a situational scan through its paces; that is, to cast the torch light of what you innately know about everything, over the whole of the situation that presents itself…not just the circumstances themselves but your part in them; asking, does this feel right, specifically, for me, in this time, at this place, as I am, right now? If the answer is no then its, truly, time to stop and take stock.
This is what intuition is all about and its key. Like I said, its close friends with excitement, using that very feeling to flag up the “go ahead” signal when you think about the new thing you are about to do; so the first sign that you need to pause to reconsider is when that excitement has completely vacated the activity or gone noticeably flat. Is this just because nerves have taken over, or has intuition washed its hands of the entire scenario? Even in the depths of perfectly natural nerves sparking off around doing something new, its usually possible to discern that excitement is still in that mix of feelings somewhere (if the activity is right); in fact, the two fizzing-and-popping feelings – nervousness and excitement – are very closely related and, very often, only separated by a mere technicality of interpretation, so if we can get our head to drop the labels, we might realise we’re actually really quite thrilled about whatever prospect lies ahead and that having jitters is all just a natural part of that experience.
There are times when you just know this isn’t excitement, it’s more or a warning, an advisory to reconsider; the feeling is heavier, more leaden in the gut. When you ask those crucial questions, “how would I feel if…” (“I was getting in the car…talking to new people…half an hour into a yoga class with another half hour still left to go…having to walk my dog straight afterwards,”etc; in other words, run your prospective event through your head like a video and register your body’s feedback) and you get that deeply exhausted feeling in the body, there’s your answer. Or, if doing that doesn’t elicit enough information, imagine not having to do this thing and you might get a clearer response. This morning, all I had to do was imagine not going to yoga, and suddenly having the morning free (in a fairy busy week) and it was as though I swooned into a kind of pool of relief where the tension I didn’t even know I was harbouring suddenly dropped out of me, my shoulders relaxed several millimetres and I finally breathed out again.
So what if you’re still feeling the affirmative about the event but something still tells you that you shouldn’t go; like me and the yoga today? That can be confusing, right? So (using my example) how about this? Perhaps the excitement for the yoga teacher and the venue is absolutely right, they do have a place in my “new” life; just not today. Perhaps (and my very sensible yoga teacher husband helped me to get to this quicker…) I need to let my body acclimatise to Nordic Walking and Choir for a few weeks and begin yoga in, say, April or even May. Perhaps the excitement is for something that is in-store, up ahead…and I have to get much better at assessing when this is the case and not the cue to start something “immediately”. Because, (paradoxically) I am really quite the life-wire, energy wise, inside of this slow moving body of mine and, once I unleash all my energy, I do tend to rush at the gate, charge around in the china shop and do far too much all at once!
When we do too much, the main thing to get broken (rather than china in the shop…) is usually ourselves; and this is a key life lesson we all have to learn, some more than others. Spreading ourselves too thinly never pays off and only detracts from those things that are already working well. For instance, yoga today would probably have impacted upon my walking event tomorrow; either because I was too tired to enjoy it or too unwell to go at all. In my case, it feels like part of my shortfall in executive thinking (a classic Asperger’s trait) that leads me to want everything to fall into place immediately it occurs to me and not pace myself or plan for appropriate integration and acclimatisation. Perhaps this is why everyone that knows me quite well, and who has heard about my sudden seed-popping momentum this year, has said to me their version of “Wow, that’s amazing, I’m so thrilled for you….only, just, promise me, you won’t over do it!”
One more thing to look out for is the not so welcome “old friend” that is the critical voice. This inner voice may well try to tell you that you are a failure or letting people down, including yourself, by cancelling what you were going to do. Whatever else is being assessed here, this particular voice is not useful and is likely some throwback from your earlier life (or an adult in it, whose way of speaking to you was internalised at an early age). There is no failure in realising that something doesn’t feel right today and that you are listening to, and prioritising, your body; in fact, there is a great deal to be celebrated since nine tenths of the population routinely ignore and over-ride theirs, so you are already ahead in the game of life and one step nearer balancing your wellbeing for optimum health and longevity.
So, when these dilemmas occur, the thing is to take your time, get upright and move enough for the body to wake up so you can get clear what your intuition is really telling you (not your automatic alert systems or “logical” brain…). Then, in good time if you have to let anyone know, draft the email or send whatever text is necessary to cancel but don’t make it all about failure or grovelling apology, self-deprecation or letting anyone down; just say it like it is…I can’t make it today, I’m listening to my body and need to take a break, but I hope to be there next time, or whenever (or leave that part open if you can, so you can decide later, since a booking deferred may just repeat the same dilemma in very short time). Taking on a feeling of made-up guilt around what we have done to inconvenience others is another old habit learned in our former lives and we are not about to pick up that particular burden again!
The thing is, here’s what Im learning (as someone who has been so pulled back for so long), we really can go back into life and do it differently this time. If illness or any other reason has kept us outside of the fray then we can dare to go back into the current of life and make it more comfortable this time. We can do it without the politics, without the burdensome social guilt, we can do it for the good parts without the fear-based ones. We can even wear a watch and keep a timetable to serve ourselves this time and we can dare to plan ahead without feeling locked into anything non-negotiable, as I’ve just described. I bring this up because the resistant feelings we may have about scheduling and timekeeping can be very deep when we have pulled back into a more fluid kind of life, especially if the circumstances around our pulling back were associated with a great deal of stress.
By example, the very first time I realised I now had a schedule to keep once again…as I rushed my way around a poorly-timed dog walk right before an event I had arranged to go to, yelling at my dog to hurry up because I had to be somewhere else soon…I witnessed myself being unreasonable and hated this sense of time-poverty being back in my life. I simply wanted to fold that conceptual schedule up, like an origami aeroplane, and throw it far away into the bushes. Now, a few weeks in, I realise it serves me to get my life back into a shape that I like and that I enjoy, including having things to look forward to and more variety of reasons to get out of bed in the morning. This time, its all for me and I get to build my life-structure from the foundations upwards, like an architect getting to build their very own house just the way they want to. The watch and the timetable are just tools used to make sure the walls are straight and stand up in a gale…
Still developing, and using, that inner guidance (just as much as you use the outer guidance) is key and this is one thing I have really honed across all the years I’ve been well-and-truly pulled back from life. This relationship you have with your intuition is probably the most important one you ever develop in your life so you need to give it some attention! The thing is, there has to be trust…for instance, that the inner guidance has your best interests at heart and won’t ever force you to do anything that’s not right, for you. If that voice ever becomes dogmatic, forcing you to do what isn’t quite right for some other reason (like a fear of letting anyone down), that trust is immediately broken; especially if that decision blows up in your face because you ignored all the signs you shouldn’t go ahead. Such a voice, by the way, is unlikely to be intuition, though it’s a voice that can do a very good impersonation if you don’t keep an eye on whether positive, rather than fear based or negating, feelings are present (like I already said).
That’s not to say every episode of overdoing it is a break of trust between you and your inner guidance system: you’re not broken on the inside because of an error in judgement. Sometimes you will just get it wrong for no easy to explain reason, as we all do; it may just be that you read the signs wrong or you were overly optimistic, so never mind; we live and learn. But its absolutely key to accept there is no shame in changing your mind, cancelling, postponing or whatever you need to do; and in fact, you should really congratulate yourself for listening to inner wisdom and taking good care of your wellbeing as top priority.
When you go back out into the world after a long break away from it, there are many new challenges to confront and some familiar ones; time management (as I said) being one of them. Getting that part of the equation wrong can add to the inevitable stress of pushing new boundaries, being extra tired from the new activities and, of course, it may set off triggers from another time in your life when life was really time-pressured for some very different reasons; perhaps in a corporate job when you were stressed-out or depressed. Keeping last minute time panics to a minimum, planing well-spaced but light meals that are not too close to activities and so on (I don’t function well on a stomach that is still trying to digest food…nor on one that is energy depleted) is proving key to the amount of success I’m enjoying in my “new” busy life. As I learn more about what works, I adapt and I reorganise my life accordingly…with me at its centre (as it should be).
Because, yes, one thing I know my slow moving body really doesn’t appreciate is feeling time pressured or rushed; in fact, it can lead to melt down or burn out pretty quickly. Yesterday, I started to notice that “last straw on camel’s back” feeling coming over me again, knowing today was going to be pretty darned busy and tomorrow is looking quite mad as we have two big events rolled into one and quite the juggle to timings to get it right. That’s where the new watch comes in, not as a torture device (this time around…) but a time management aid. I know I have to get better at planning my timings, building in spaces (unlike yesterday…when I found I suddenly had under half an hour to get dressed, washed and do the 15 mins drive to get to my meet-up because I was sat here writing for too long, forgetting to check the time). This time around, I need to get more organised…for me.
I’ve mentioned how excitement can be a big clue you are on the right track; well, synchronicity is another great tool for noticing your divine plan of life coming together. I can give you a great example from the other day when three incredible synchronicities occurred in quick succession. The first was that I had decided upon contacting a couple we made friends with at a hotel in Italy two years ago as we were going to be staying near them on our next trip away. I had literally picked up my phone on Sunday evening, ready to WhatsApp them with the suggestion, when a message flashed in as I held the phone in my hand and it was them…suggesting we meet up. It was an astonishing coincidence for all of us: we hadn’t heard from each other for 15 months!
On the same day, I decided to sit down and write a long message to my “old” uni friend, the one I met up with for the first time in three decades just before Christmas, to see how she was and suggest another meet up. When I got to my laptop, guess what, she had just messaged me for the very same reasons and we are now meeting up for an exhibition in a few weeks.
The third was the contact I mentioned above who was a suggestion of one of the Nordic coaches I spoke to the other week because we have interests in common. By now, we had emailed back and forth but had, so far, not managed to coordinate a place to get together as I live quite a way from her. Suddenly, she popped up to say she had had a meeting crop up near the very coffee shop I originally suggested so would I like to coordinate something, which is what we did yesterday. These kinds of thumbs-up from the universe can really start to fuel your confidence, reminding you that all you have to do is set the positive intentions and your investments will be doubled and tripled as things start to snowball. Did I mention my new friend from Nordic Walking has now joined my choir?
In other words, one thing spirals out of another and life takes off…all we have to do is be ready for it, whilst keeping grounded in the body, in touch with our internal messaging systems (yes, use that intuition you’ve spent years honing….its even more powerful “out there” in the midst of life!) and balancing ourselves, constantly, with as much self-care as busy-ness. Its the two things in tandem that turn life into the best kind of adventure, full of pleasant surprises and organic pieces of life-experience, the kind that make great stories to smile about afterwards. We don’t have to force anything, become control freaks or get all regimented about our new interests and our diaries to make life happen; rather, it’s a case of balancing positive intentions and a degree of reasonable commitment with the organic flow of life’s varying needs. This kind of outer balance, if practiced diligently enough until it become the normal way we live our life, can start to reflect inwards as the kind of inner balance that uplifts our moods, stabilises our health, generates trust and relaxation in the body and enables us to be more resilient and participatory in life; which is all such a beautiful thing and a win-win made manifest across all the various levels of our experience, inside and out.
So today, I just needed a quieter day…and I got it, including a very pleasant walk in golden afternoon sunshine (between rain clouds) on my own and now I feel a little bit recharged, with a way still to go but I also know I did the right thing today…and as for tomorrow, well, let’s see as nothing is set in concrete. By taking each day as it comes, feeling into each step as it becomes the next one and allowing room for manoeuvre, things become more manageable, more inherently “guided” and well-fitting to our genuine needs and capabilities and so life generally flows better, more smoothly, tinged by a kind-of gilded golden light of higher orchestration…as though customised just for us (because it is). This is where inner and outer lives click together to become a much more holistic experience of living; a new way of experiencing the best of both worlds, as one. Its a level of life mastery that never gets tested when we pull back from involved life for much too long; so to take these intuitive skills out to where they can inform our own best experience, where more involvement with others is, and positively influence those others, who learn from our different example, is to bring all those valuable things we learned during our long times spent alone into the light of day, to add to the mix.