“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
My lovely friend, Jenny, recently told me that she is faced with some big life decisions. With so much sincere devotion, she has been searching for her inner guidance, trying to hear the still, small voice within. Yet she can’t quite find it.
She described to me the experience of thinking she is close to it, then getting confused. Of recognizing the mental stories about her situation swirling in her mind, preventing her from finding clarity.
I don’t know about you, but I know that confusion well. Should I or shouldn’t I…what if I do…what if I don’t…but what about… And I know the possibility of finding my way through it to the place of clear seeing.
If your inner guidance seems inaccessible, or if you are boxed in, stuck, or indecisive, here are some pointers that might help. These are pointers in the sense of suggestions, but they also point toward what is alive in us – the whisper of truth, knowing, and ultimate fulfillment.
Recognize your thoughts, but don’t buy into them
In any moment, whether faced with an important decision or not, we may be unable to hear the quiet voice of truth because of thoughts bouncing around in the mind like popcorn. We tell ourselves how things should be, we make a list of pros and cons, we’re trying to fix ourselves so everything falls into place. You may have noticed that trying to stop these thoughts is fruitless, so just let them be.
We find our way to the quiet inner voice by recognizing thoughts, then not believing them. I know this sounds radical, but it is the absolute truth.
The mental activity in our minds does not offer the clarity that we are seeking. When thoughts beckon, look elsewhere. When doubt creeps in, notice what was arising just prior to the doubting thought, as this is likely your inner voice speaking.
Thoughts come in the form of beliefs, stories, opinions, and expectations. If you want to discover the inner voice of truth, don’t buy into thoughts. Open your attention to all aspects of experience, and let your natural intelligence speak.
Honor your feelings
As we walk the path to our inner voice, we are asked to welcome in our feelings. We refrain from analyzing them, and simply allow them. We notice what feelings are present, and let them be without the story around them.
Certain feelings are not trustworthy guides. Consider shame, guilt, embarrassment, anger, frustration, and fear. Making decisions by following these feelings will keep our true voice locked away.
Now reflect on excitement, wonder, awe, potential, heart-opening, YES. Follow these, and your light will shine.
Spiritual teacher Adyashanti once said that fear is never a good reason to do anything. If fear arises as you step into your true path, meet it, feel it, let it be present as part of your experience. But don’t let it stop you. The world is waiting for you.
Consider all the data
If thoughts and feelings are not keeping us on track, then where do we look to find the inner guidance? We can open up our awareness to all aspects of experience.
See what your heart is longing for (and may have been longing for for a very long time). Notice what happens in your body as you contemplate different options or move in different directions. Experiment with not knowing and simply invite yourself to listen.
Bring your attention right into your natural wisdom itself, and surrender – just for a moment. Dip a toe into the flow of your natural life.
Feel your way in
I love this phrase that a friend said to me recently: just feel your way in. There is so much freedom in this approach.
If we feel our way in, we don’t need to have it all figured out. We can let go of searching for the big picture before making a move. We realize we don’t need to know all the answers. What a relief!
Feeling our way in means simply taking the next step. How to discover the next step? By taking in the totality of our experience and doing the obvious thing. It might be contacting someone or taking a break or attending to some thoughts or feelings that are tripping us up. We simply ask, “What is my next step?” and be open to whatever answer arises.
Notice what is actually here
The surprising thing about the next step is that we may already be doing it. Our natural wisdom is always speaking whether we hear it or not.
If we put figuring things out on hold, we have the space to notice our interests and tendencies. We can see what we organically move toward or away from. We spot natural inclinations and pockets of enthusiasm. These are the voice of inner guidance.
What commonly happens, however, is that we squelch these proclivities before they have had a chance to flourish. We judge them away or miss them completely because they aren’t aligned with our expectations.
So, just for a moment, let go of all mind activity, and see what happens. Where does the body go? What actions are taken? What do you feel moved to do, or not do?
Allow your natural life to take shape in this very moment.
Notice – and abandon – expectations
I’ve said this already, but it bears repeating. Listening to inner guidance requires recognizing expectations, then choosing to let them go. Expectations, which can be quite subtle, are like telling a river where it can and cannot flow. They suffocate a living process that needs air to breathe.
If you notice thoughts, such as, “What would … think?” or “I couldn’t possible do that,” you can be certain that an expectation has arisen.
We cannot know ahead of time what our lives will look like when we follow the inner voice. They simply unfold moment by moment. And in this unfolding, our true heart’s desires are realized beyond measure.
What has been helpful to you as you discover your inner wisdom? What have you found challenging? Are there any pointers you would add to this list?
image credit: jurvetson