I was so impressed by an exercise from “Steering by Starlight”, by Martha Beck, that I just had to share. Fair warning: you may want to read this exercise in her book as well, since I’m explaining my understanding of it, which may be different from what she intended. There is a ton of other valuable stuff in her book too.
First, please meet “Shackles On”.
Think of a time you were doing something you disliked, even if it turned out well, even if you were praised for it and only you knew something wasn’t right. If it turned out dismally, even better! Now imagine it thoroughly. Remember what you were thinking, how you felt, some key scenes. Yuck, I know! But it’ll pay off in the end.
When you’re good and into it, stop and check into your body. What are you physically feeling? Tense in your jaw? Sick to your stomach? Shallow breathing? Pinpoint your individual physical reactions and remember them. Mine are a constricted throat, tightness in my chest, and sometimes a queasy feeling in my solar plexis. Shackles definitely on!
Next, “Shackles Off”.
Think of a time you were doing something you love, something that made you feel free and joyful and powerful in your life. Again, really get into it, roll around in the joy a bit, even laugh out loud. I did! And once again, tune into your body. How do you physically feel? What sensations is your body giving you? Pinpoint and remember them. Mine is an open, glowy feeling that’s impossible to describe without using nebulous, vague words like “open” and “glowy”.
Before I go further, I should explain that this exercise is based on the premise that when we are living a life that is worthy of our highest best self, we feel internally free. Shackles cannot exist in the zone, when we’re going with the flow, when we’re riding the wave.
Therefore, it seems kind of valuable to me to be able to recognize what will make me feel free before I actually do it – because, let’s face it, I can’t trust my brain. (I can just hear my husband laughing as he agrees!) But from what I see, pretty much all of us are heavily manipulated by ingrained cultural and personal beliefs, as well as by our hidden desires and fears. With all that against us, we don’t stand a chance of making a truly nonbiased logical decision. And then there’s the experiential evidence. Logic has led me down some truly miserable paths by lying to me about what I should do and be. Am I the only one this happens to? I think not.
Now, back to the exercise:
First, select your question. Should I quit my job and travel the world? Should I run a rescue home for runaway pigs? Should I work to become an astronaut and go to Mars? Or in my recent case: should I write screenplays or novels? (Because a few months ago, it sunk into my thick skull that I didn’t have the time or energy to turn both into viable careers.)
Second, imagine you have succeeded in your goal. Really get into it.
You’re wandering through an outdoor market in Greece, rustic bread and a small pot of honey in your bag, the sun warming your shoulders, the tang of apricots and rosemary in the air…
You’re feeding healthy, homemade treats to your dozens of grateful pigs, who gaze adoringly at you as they gently lift the treats from your palm…
You’re listening to your astronaut buddies sing “She’s a Jolly Good Fellow” in celebration of you proving there is life on Mars, as you sip rehydrated champaign and play with a bald, green near-kitten with ruby eyes…
Now, how do you feel physically? Are the shackles on or off?
Should you go for that goal? Will it bring you true joy?
Your body is telling you the answer. Listen.