“I feel trapped” she said. “All I have ever wanted is to be free and here I am stuck in a job I hate and a relationship that isn’t working for me.” I asked her if she might be willing to slow down and drop her awareness into her body and really feel what she was saying to me. “What’s the point of that? I don’t see how that’s going to change things.”
Freedom is not in changing things so much as it is finding where we have choice.
And the first most important choice is the choice to let yourself feel what it feels like to be you. Especially in the discomfort of vulnerability. Vulnerability is the human truth that we are not in control of important outcomes in our lives. We want things and we cannot guarantee their manifestation. Vulnerability is not danger – it is not an immediate threat to life or limb. The problem is, the feeling of vulnerability feelsthreatening. I call the feeling of vulnerability “dissonance”.
Dissonance is muscle tension and agitation, it is arousal in your sympathetic nervous system, and it is uncomfortable. We need to feel it in order to let the body know that there is no actual danger. What we are facing is not a physical threat like a pack of wolves or an oncoming bus, but is instead the difficult truth of forces outside our control impinging on something we want. The physiological arousal would be a good match if we were facing a physical threat, but it does not help us with the emotional and psychological challenge of our limits. So we need to make the choice to actually tune in to our bodily sensations with warm interest and nonjudgement, and slow down long enough so that the body can register our conscious presence. It is our attention to the sensations that soothes the body. When the body settles we can then access our higher functioning, our more complex reflective processes – our perspective, our sense of humour, our compassion, the awareness of the bigger context, our spirituality, and so much more.
The trouble is, without realizing it, most of us would rather stay unconscious. When we sense the muscle tension of our vulnerability we simultaneously have a wired-in urge instructing us to avoid. So we down a Beck’s or munch on Cheetos or sleepwalk the aisles at Costco or even compulsively organize our cutlery drawer rather than approach the twitchy, jittery, energy in our body. Yet when we run away from our body when it is asking for assurance we are safe, we end up disconnected from the energy that can set us free.
When we do not actually feel what it feels like in that uninspiring dead end job or in that relationship where we do not feel deeply known or passionately met, we can numb out and tolerate the stuckness for a long time. In avoiding ourselves in what it feels like in the moment in the body, the energy of our emotion is hidden and unavailable to us.
We may try to make change but we do it with our cognition and willpower. The heavy lifting of change cannot be done with those small muscles. We need the big core muscles of emotion to move ourselves out of a trapped place. We need to feel what cannot be changed and accept the truth of that and stop blaming ourselves and others that it isn’t changing. We cannot control everything, no matter how much we wish we could. And when we let go of our fantasy of control we can embrace the real job – that of finding where we may have some choices.
If I let myself feel how much I long for more meaning at work I might find ways to use my emotional intelligence to inspire others to be their best, and I may also be fired up enough to begin looking for other opportunities both within and beyond the company. If I truly feel how much I want real intimacy and connection in my relationship I will be moved by my feelings of anger and sadness to confront what isn’t working between us, and either through that process my partner will get on board or I will be able to get out.
When I experience what I deeply feel I communicate a message to myself that I matter. When I matter everything changes. Even when the circumstances do not change, there is a shift in my energy when I feel my truth. I am no longer stuck. I choose to feel, to matter, and in making that choice I find freedom.
Will you let yourself matter? Choose to feel your vulnerable self, and find freedom. You are so worth it.
Photo Credit: “Harry finds freedom” by Peanut Edith