For all of my life, I have been the giver, the nurturer, and the pleaser for my closest loved ones. I have put great effort into nurturing others, and have had to learn (and re-learn) how to receive that same love and care. I have made great strides, but life still teaches me that receiving from others is not enough—not even from the most giving, caring, loving, selfless, amazing, and wonderful people in my life. It isn’t because they are inadequate. By far, they are breathlessly amazing. Instead, it is because I need me. Nurturing myself is something I will likely never master but only improve upon, especially as I put more effort into others’ care and forget about myself—as a devoted mother, as a lover, or as a friend.
It’s a tricky balance to strike, especially when nurturing others brings genuine, tremendous joy.
However, a situation has reminded me once again of this important truth: we and only we can nurture ourselves in the ways that we need. That sounds harsh, but I’m not saying that we don’t need others. We absolutely need others, whether they’re our parents, grandparents, spouses, grown children, best friends, or other special ones in our lives. The first people in our lives absolutely should give us that nurturing, but I’m reminded that this nurturing from others was never supposed to be the goal or the endpoint. We get married on this premise and promise—to nurture someone else and to be nurtured by them for the rest of our lives. If we must replace what we never had (or what we had greatly and yearn for again) for the time being, so be it. It is necessary, but… it was only supposed to be the foundation for the real goal.
We have to level up to the point where we can nurture ourselves and show ourselves out of the cage. No one else—not our mothers, not our fathers, and not our partners—can do that for us. They can only provide that foundation of love, but it is up to us to continue that momentum of self love for the rest of our lives. The true endpoint (and it is not a point, but a continuum) is receiving that care from ourselves. We all start at different spots—some of us have been shown no love, some of us have been shown inadequate love, some of us have been abused and told that it was love, or some of us have been given material replacements for love—but we can all continue that momentum of self nurturing no matter where we started. It is our only way out, or rather, our only way in.
Inspiration for Transformation
This is a time of great change. I am informally counseling my loved ones and friends through break-ups, lost jobs, new jobs, new relationships, mean fights, new or growing businesses, and creative projects. Often, I speak to several people in one day, and lately these conversations are occurring simultaneously as messages come through at once. It's a turbulent time!
While I don't intend to write about the goings on in people's lives (I probably need to start a chisme column though), from the breadth of these conversations, I can share the threads that weave through the situations I'm hearing about, and going through myself.
I've begun to see that the door slams of lost jobs, break ups, lost loved ones, diagnoses, and major transitions are life's call to release old ways of living, being, doing, feeling, thinking, and connecting that no longer serve us. While they may seem to serve us on the surface, ultimately they do not serve our deepest desires or the solutions for which we have been profoundly asking.
Why can't I just do / be / know / feel / have _______? your inner voice asks.
These losses and major transitions literally force us to line up with that inner self--the aspects that we know we need to nurture but have forsaken for all of the reasons and excuses (and we have rehearsed these reasons all too well), the joys and desires we have neglected to follow, and the dreams we have been fancying without paying attention to the ideas, places, and people that can birth their reality.
These transitions are a message that we have been holding onto the familiar for far too long. After all, we have good reason to resist change. Unfamiliarity is effortful for the brain as new neurons must form and connect during new behavioral routines and modes of thinking, while unused connections diminish. Unfamiliarity also activates fear networks and can trigger anxiety even among those of us who do not have clinical anxiety levels.
But if we're forced to change in order to line up with our deepest desires and joys, even if that means we have faced loss, doesn't that mean that things are unfolding in order to bring us closer to what we truly want? Perhaps life does love us. Perhaps the universe does have our back. Perhaps we have been the co-weaver all along, and we have been our best ally without our knowing, despite that our minds and brains know too much, think too much, and can work against us sometimes.
For all of the brain's benefits, sometimes--no, often--I counsel friends to spend less energy in the head space. By this I mean, overthink less, analyze less, compare and contrast less, manufacture hypothetical scenarios less, and sort through the minutiae of pros and cons less. These have their necessary place, of course. But they are not the exclusive bearer of our knowing.
I will repeat this important truth: cognition is not the exclusive bearer of our knowing.
In 1637, Descartes famously proposed: cogito ergo sum, "I think, therefore I am," ushering the profound defense of knowledge that can be obtained on rational thought alone--one that is not predicated on any external conditions except an inner reality of thinking. To this, however, I propose a refinement: sentio ergo sum. "I feel, therefore I am," for the feelings that instantiate our emotional sensations are not predicated on external conditions either, but instead exist pristinely in an inner reality of feeling that comprises a crucial aspect of our knowing.
And the feelings come first. From what is known about the physiology of the brain and heart, these feelings come prior to the thoughts, as information and emotion processing occur swiftly first through subcortical routes in the brain, beneath conscious awareness, before they arrive to the more complex and outer pre-frontal cortical areas of the brain that allow us to think consciously, rationally, and hypothetically. We call these feelings our gut feelings, first response, or intuition. Science does not know what to make of these because it does not yet have the tools to observe them, so we have long ignored, minimized, and derided them, much to the detriment of our navigation.
Philosophy and physiology aside, all too often the solutions we arrive with our thoughts and over-thoughts can lead us astray or engender a tangle of anxiety, procrastination, or apathy. This is at best counter-productive and at worst harmful. The most common phrase I have found myself repeating in every conversation is this poorly understood cliché: follow your heart.
What does this mean for a society that has long practiced the art of following its head? Too often we think that follow your heart means following emotions. I'm here to clarify that this is not the case, though the distinction is subtle. We must not follow the emotions so much as pay attention to them. The heart space is not so much about emotions, believe it or not, because emotions are the by-product of whether we are lined up with what we deeply want. They serve as the guidance much in the same way a check-engine light and other indicators in your vehicle serve as guidance on whether your inner systems are functioning at optimal levels--however, they are not what drive the vehicle, nor are they the destination that you deeply intend. Following your heart means allowing yourself to arrive at the destination as you actively drive your vehicle, while also paying attention to all the indicators (emotions) that need attention for you to function optimally. It's a very simple concept to understand in our vehicles, but somehow greatly murky and poorly understood when it comes to its application in navigating our hearts.
What is this destination supposed to be? Sometimes, you must tune into yourself and listen deeply to find out. Spending time in nature, meditating, having quiet moments to yourself, listening to music, cooking, cleaning, creating art, making music, and etc. are all activities that facilitate this inner listening. This may require you to pause from your routine for a moment.
Always, these destinations will necessarily be your joys--not your instant gratifications per se--but the things that bring you deep joy and fulfillment, the things you envision for your role in your families, communities, society, and humanity, the things you wish to do for yourself that you never allowed for all of the societally-approved obligations that you allowed to control you, the things that make your heart soar and your soul sing, and the often illogical things you deeply want but have betrayed in yourself (though life is guiding you to stop that self-betrayal through these failures, losses, and transitions that you are now experiencing).
As you re-calibrate your compass, you will begin to check in with yourself in order to recognize whether you are truly following your joys, or merely avoiding your fears. The latter can still motivate us--but here we must distinguish motivation from inspiration. Motivation often involves an avoidance component, in which we are arriving at what we want by walking backwards out the door instead of facing forward. Often, motivation is when we are driven to achieve inefficiently by what we don't want to happen (e.g., we're afraid of disapproval, of failure, of rejection, of aging, of loneliness, of being unloved, etc, so we are called to action to avoid some unwanted outcome).
In contrast, inspiration is efficiently walking through the door facing forward. When we are inspired, we are receiving thoughts in the form of ideas and solutions, and we are called to take action in the direction of what we do want to unfold. We recognize that there may be losses in the unfamiliarity because there is some fear in the unknown, but what is driving us is the deep joy we seek and envision, not the failures or losses we wish to avoid. What is driving us is the confidence (or lack of confidence, but at least the possibility) that we deserve these joys. What is driving us is the exhilaration of foreseeing our dreams coming true. What is driving us is the fulfillment we can already taste, even if none of the parts are lined up yet. Throughout, we are moving forward, following our joys to the ends of the earth.
I ask you now: are you listening to your heart? What is it telling you? What do you deeply want? Are the decisions you need to make and the actions you need to take based on forward-moving inspiration?
Indeed, if you are following your heart, you will find that your transitions and transformations have led you on the path to its desires. This is the space you want to be in, and it requires your trust. You must remember that the brain isn't the source of this trust (in fact, it is often the source of mistrust because it is primarily concerned with survival). Instead, the source of this trust is the heart. Now you know what this means.
May you follow your heart. May you follow your joys to the end of your time here. May you listen, receive ideas, and then take action and transform by sheer inspiration. This is alignment (with God, with the universe, with the vibrating energy around you, with the people and places you encounter, with your higher self, with your inner self, and with your purpose). May you be aligned.