Follow Your Body’s Lead, and Move Toward What Nourishes You

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It’s summertime. The days are long, the weather’s warm, everything is growing and the flowers are in bloom. Summer is the time when I feel most like a plant. I just want to stretch out toward the sun, stick my toes in the water and my feet in the soil, and gain as much sustenance as I can from the natural world. Summer gives us the feeling that, if only we chose it, our lives could be simpler…. slower…easier… more real and elemental.

It can be easier in summer to be in touch with “the soft animal of your body,” as Mary Oliver called it in her poem “Wild Geese.” It’s that soft animal that ultimately tells us what we truly want, and don’t want. It tells us how it wants to grow. It tells us what to reach for. If we let it, it will tell us what will feel good to move toward, and it will let us know also if we go toward things that it senses is not right for us.

Maybe today, or someday this week when the sky is blue and the weather’s glorious, take time to be outdoors, and let your entire organism– your body – lead and guide you toward its natural fulfillment. Give your thinking mind a break and let the soft animal of your body tell you where it wants you to go and what it wants you to do, moment by moment and hour by hour, for the rest of the day. Your body is very wise. Who knows what wonderful and surprising impulse it will call to you to follow – and what new potential that might lead to in your life?

Keeping Your Inner Voice Through the Holidays

A week ago, I was window-shopping down the main street of the town where I live when I came across a wooden placard displayed in a gift shop window.

On the placard was written:

The Four Stages of Life


  1. You believe in Santa Claus
  2. You don’t believe in Santa Claus
  3. You ARE Santa Claus
  4. You look like Santa Claus

Christmas and the whole holiday season bring huge bundles of wonder, disillusionment and obligation (with the attendant stress) all mixed together in a not-so-neatly-wrapped package.

Many of us have the memory still inside of us of the happiness and sheer magic that Christmas day or the eight days of Hanukkah once gave us – or the pain of hoping that this year we would have that feeling, only to have those hopes dashed once again. As we grew older, the endless manufactured frivolity and sentiment, so obviously calculated to get us to spend money, can make it feel as though it’s all false and meaningless. And then all the extra tasks and obligations – the presents to buy, the cards to write and send, the dreadful office Christmas party and “whose house do we have to go to on Christmas day this year?” – added to lives that are already hectic enough – can drive lots of people to the point where they throw up their hands and say, “Christmas? It’s just for the kids.”

But deep down we want to believe that “the Season” can remind us of something that transcends everyday reality, reconnecting us to feelings of wonder and hope we once had in so much more abundance. Here are three tips to help you do that.

Step into the moment

In the midst of all of your hectic activity – preferably someplace pleasant or beautiful – take a moment to stop, pause, and reflect: This is your Christmas, your holiday. No one in the world has the same Christmas or holiday as you. No one else sees or does exactly the same things, buys for exactly the same people or exactly the same presents. What’s more, this Christmas will never come again. Next year’s will be different. You’ve created this Christmas out of all the things you have done or not done in your life. So if you’re feeling hassled by what you’re doing, think about the why behind what you’re doing. Think about all the life, and all the love, that led you to where you are right this very moment, and bless or congratulate yourself for it, because you deserve it.

You can do this many times. It’s especially useful those times when you notice you’re partly only “going through the motions.” Pause to look around and consciously appreciate the wonder of what you’ve created all around you — both the good and the, well, not-so-great — in all of its imperfect glory. Then “step into the moment” and improve it. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, at all. It could be as little as an extra hug, a sweet word or two, or a couple of extra moments looking into someone’s eyes.

If seeing where you are this Christmas brings sadness, be very gentle with yourself, and realize that it’s all the love that’s already inside you that’s making you feel sad. Because if you didn’t know what was missing, you couldn’t miss it. Also know that everything changes. It may not look like it now, but next year’s Christmas could be better. Maybe this year’s season will improve unexpectedly before New Year’s.

Talk about Christmas and the Holidays

Rather than just “doing” Christmas, make time to talk! Tell a loved one or two what Christmas really means to you inside, what some of your favorite Christmas memories are, what you’d like less of this season and (more importantly) what you’d like more of. Then invite them to share the same with you. You can do this while you’re doing something else, or you can carve out a little special time to do this over a cup of coffee or tea. After a second of two of awkwardness, just about everyone enjoys talking about this, so you can bring this up with casual friends and turn an everyday conversation into something more personal and bonding. If you and your spouse have been together a while, consciously take the time (20 or 30 minutes will do) to reminisce about your favorite Christmas and holiday memories together as a couple.

Do things that give you Holiday joy and pleasure

When there are so many things you “have” to do, it’s easy to forget about what fills you up and gives you joy and pleasure. So take a few moments to think of the things that give you that “Holiday feeling,” or simply make you feel good. Is it viewing Christmas lights, or watching certain holiday movies, or buying roasted chestnuts from a street vendor, or singing Christmas carols, or going to midnight Mass? Or is it, as one of my clients shared, going from room to room and putting a single light in each window of her home, feeling a sense of quiet, coziness and peace? Make a point of doing at least one thing that spells “Christmas” or holiday magic for you. If you can share it with someone else, great, but if not, savor it for yourself.

Your own Inner Voice wants to show you how to bring these feelings of fulfillment and peace into your life, not only at this time of year but all the time.

I wish you a Holiday season full of hope, wonder, joy, peace and of course, abundant love.


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Helene Brenner, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the author of I Know I’m in There Somewhere: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner Voice and Living a Life of Authenticity. She offers individual therapy, phone coaching and telegroups.

Your Inner Voice

Your Inner VoiceFrequently we don’t think we can listen to our inner voice because we confuse it with all the voices inside us that tell us we’re not doing enough. We imagine that the moment we listen to our inner voice it will tell us everything we’re doing wrong!

That is not our true inner voice. I call those “outside voices” because most of them originate from all of the expectations and judgments about how we “should” be doing that we’ve been hearing all of our lives. They’re “outside” of us because they don’t really feel like they come from within, from what we truly want or feel or need. Rather they talk at us, telling us how we “should” be, whether it’s thinner, happier, more successful, more organized, or whatever.

Sometimes when we’re most hurt, or most disappointed, or when truly painful things have happened to us, those outside voices can get very intense. We can get caught up in terrible self-judgment. If these sorts of critic attacks happen to you, the next time it does, see if you can gently turn away from all the self-criticism and turn your attention to what happened that brought it on. Chances are something occurred that hurt you, that you’re blaming yourself too much for. See if you can acknowledge and let yourself be with, for just a minute or two, what you truly feel, and what you want, from a place of self-compassion rather than self-blame.

Your inner voice is always gentle. It never attacks you. It is aware of all the good in you, even when you’re not. Bring your awareness away from how you haven’t lived up to some external standard or expectation and ask yourself instead, “What do I want for me? What do I feel and know to be true for me?” Then you will feel connected to yourself, in touch with your own direction, traveling on your own path.

An Attitude of Self Compassion

women's counseling and psychotherapy in frederick mdMany people think they need to be tougher on themselves. They look at all the ways they fail to live up to their own expectations and think they don’t deserve self-compassion, that self-compassion is synonymous with self-pity. There’s a tendency to think that the failure to improve is a result of “laziness” or  “weakness,” a failure of character.

If only we could yell at ourselves more effectively, we would do the things that we know would make our life better or stop doing the things that make our life worse. How could self compassion work? Being “all nice” to ourselves would just let us off the hook.

But the truth is, though it may seem counter-intuitive, self-compassion is often the vital ingredient before any lasting change can occur.

Self-compassion is a very active process, and it’s a real effort for most of us. It means accepting who we are, accepting the challenges we face and the feelings we have, and how difficult it can be to change. It means being kind to ourselves.

Have you ever had a teacher, coach or mentor who wanted to help you improve but accepted you just the way you are? Someone who didn’t make you feel bad for what you did wrong, but patiently helped you to do better?

If you ever had a person like that in your life, you know that after spending time with them, you felt better – calm, relaxed, creative, empowered, capable of improving at whatever you were struggling with.

But have you ever had a boss who demanded a lot but never offered support, and got angry whenever something wasn’t good enough? We think we should be able to “rise to the challenge” of that kind of situation, but studies show that while some people improve their performance in that environment, far more people respond by hiding their mistakes, working less creatively and productively, having more headaches and getting sick more often.

The same principles apply in your relationship to yourself. Chronically looking at all of your faults sets the stage for a stress reaction that leads to anxiety, fatigue, defensiveness and more lapses in judgment.

But listening to yourself with compassion, accepting feelings that you don’t think you should have, understanding the parts of you that resist change and controlling the impulse to criticize yourself set the stage for feeling calmer, more relaxed and more able to move forward.

But what do you do when you’re feeling so frustrated with yourself that you can’t be compassionate?  At those moments it’s important to realize that your self-critical side isn’t “bad.” It only wants the best for you. It’s just going about it the wrong way.

See if you can be kind both to the part of you that wants you to do better (and feels frustrated) and the part of you that you think has “failed.” Both parts need and deserve compassion.

The more you treat yourself kindly, the more you create the optimum physiological conditions for change. Paradoxically, “self-acceptance” and “desire for change” are not opposites. They’re complementary.

So treat yourself with kindness and compassion while holding close the change you desire.  Accept on faith that whenever you get stuck, there’s a perfectly understandable reason for it. You will not only nurture your self-esteem, you will grow steadily forward from your true inner voice.

MentorCoach’s Super-Star Article Adaptation

mentorcoachInterview with Helene Brenner.


Background: Helene Brenner’s 2003 book, “I Know I’m in There Somewhere: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Your Inner Voice and Living a Life of Authenticity”, now released in paperback by Penguin USA, focuses on how people can “turn up the volume” of their inner voices so that they can overcome fears, doubts, nay-sayers (both inside and outside themselves), and other obstacles, to begin living the life they were meant to live.

Conceiving and creating the book was an Inner Voice Experience and journey all its own. A psychologist with a thriving twelve-year practice in a smaller metropolitan area, Helene began writing the book proposal in 2000 and sold the book for a six-figure advance in November 2001 – two months after 9/11. During the same period, she, her husband and daughter adopted a baby girl from China. Through it all, Helene used her own principles in dealing with her own doubts and limitations as she tackled the New York publishing world.

Having a limited speaking background before publishing her book, Helene has reached professional speaker status through many interviews with magazines, radio and television programs, as well as serving as both keynote speaker and conference presenter on numerous occasions.

BR: We all know that some of our clients still get caught in feeling inadequate – thinking they should be able to change, but not being able to. One of the messages that comes out of your work is that we don’t have to have it all together. In fact, we don’t have to change ourselves in any way to get going to making our dreams happen.

HB: That’s right. I have a saying: “You don’t have to clean out your closets to go for your dreams.” We don’t have to fix ourselves. We can still have all of what we think of as our faults. The paradox is that the deepest change comes from deep self-acceptance. What I’ve found, through all the
work I’ve done, is that when you go down deep into exactly how you are, that’s when you can change the most.

Think about it this way: You can’t start your car from down the road. You have to get in the car where you parked it. And you can’t start yourself except by first acknowledging exactly where you are right now. If you do that, rather than getting stuck there – which is what we all fear – many times that very act of acknowledging makes your state of being change within the next moment.

BR: Tell me a little bit about the inner voice. How does someone even know what that is? How do they find it?

HB: The inner voice is a very natural thing. It’s the wisdom of your entire self making itself known to you. And it speaks to us through a number of different ways – impulses, urges, body feelings, a sense of inner knowing, through our deepest wants, and through a spiritual awareness.

The inner voice directs us toward greater self-fulfillment. If we know how to listen to it, it shows us the next do-able step in our evolution. That may not be the linear step our heads or our flow charts tell us should come next, but it’s the right step. And it does this naturally, the way a flower turns toward the sun.

BR: But if it’s so natural, why do so many people feel like they can’t hear it?

HB: To begin with, it doesn’t usually come through like a megaphone.

BR: Sometimes I wish it did.

HB: I think we all do. I also think that over the years, most of us develop layers of noise, what I call “outside voices,” that muffle our inner voice. Often, I find the first thing people need to learn is to distinguish what is “me” from what is “not-me,” because we all take in so many messages
about who, and how, we are supposed to be. It sounds elementary, but I’ve found that people need to learn that they have voices coming from all around them, and inside them, that don’t match who they really are, and must consciously learn to label those “outside voices” for what they are.

BR: Does that make them go away?

HB: Unfortunately, no. At least, not most of them. You’re never going to stop having those voices that pull you away from following your inner truth. I know that I’m probably never going to stop struggling with shyness, for example. But once I know how to identify my own inner voice, I can learn how to turn toward it. I can raise the volume of my inner voice so that it’s louder and more compelling than everything else inside me or around me.
And the more I listen to it, the louder it becomes.

BR: How do people do this?

HB: Of course it’s a process. For one thing, I developed twenty-seven exercises, or “innercizes”, I call them, to go through discovering your inner voice and applying it to your life.

I also talk about five pathways that are messengers of the inner voice. The first one is Knowing. People know a whole lot more, deep down in their bones, than they think they do! They know what is true for them – it’s just hard for them to admit it.

The next is Sensing, following the subtle – and sometimes not-so-subtle – sensations in your body. We actually have this amazingly sensitive instrument of a body, that’s been evolving for millions of years, but we totally ignore it and listen just to our brains.

The third is Feeling. Many people are afraid of their negative feelings and think they should only listen to their positive ones. But what I teach is that you can listen to your negative feelings, and get what they need to tell you, without actually becoming identified with them. Sometimes if you don’t
acknowledge them, they’re going to stop you. Sometimes they have something very important to teach you. But they don’t have to run your life.

BR: And then you talk about Wanting.

HB: That’s the fourth pathway. Americans are often thought of as being too self-centered, of wanting too much. But every coach should know that most people are actually terrified of wanting and manifesting what they truly want. Maybe everybody is, at least part of the time. So we all learn to create substitute wants, things that we think we’re allowed to have. Our job as coaches is to help people to dare to claim their true passions and desires. It’s not the people who have the most who live closest to their dreams, it’s the people who want the most.

Finally, there’s what I call the Voice of the Larger Self, the spiritual essence inside you. What I found is that people can get in touch with an  ineffable sense of peace and grace that’s very visceral.

BR: You also talk about the ABCs of the Inner Voice.

HB: Those are Acceptance, Being With and Compassion. This goes back to the paradox of change. We’re all very smart about what’s wrong with us. But ordering ourselves to change rarely works. Only when we allow ourselves to understand and experience how the parts of us that we may not like, or that we don’t think are optimal, serve a purpose and have a good reason for being there, do we create the room to deeply change. It’s change from the inside out, not outside in.

BR: It sounds so compassionate, but you’ve said that this is not a path for the faint of heart.

HB: I guess that’s another paradox. It’s still easier to go along with whatever’s familiar in your life, living from old expectations, dampening your deepest desires. We all have a big part of us that clings to safety, and what is known feels safe even when it isn’t. Ironically, taking the risk you’re
afraid of taking usually feels like a big relief. But daring to listen to who you really are and act accordingly means choosing to explore the unknown. It’s my favorite way to live, but it’s not easy, which is one reason I emphasize self-compassion. It’s also why I like the format of telegroups so much,
because people in my groups become so encouraging and supportive of one another in the process of following their inner voice.

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Following Your Inner Voice in Uncertain Times

following your inner voiceIt’s been 10 years since I wrote the book “I Know I’m in There Somewhere”. Recently I was thinking about how things have changed since them.

Sad to say, for the most part, people’s lives and futures feel more uncertain than they did 10 years ago. While there’s been progress in some areas, and a few reasons to feel hopeful, on a personal level, many people have experienced difficult and painful reversals. Our sense of control over our lives has been shaken, and our confidence that our lives will get better, or at least turn out okay, is not what it used to be. Even if we ourselves have not been affected, the misfortunes of friends and family affect us all.

Going for what’s truly important

It’s at times like these, when we’re most likely to forget our inner voice, that we need it the most. Insecurity can make us fearfully contract and hold on to the old. But a truer, less frightened voice inside us tells us that we’re going to be okay if we’re willing to open our eyes, look around and try something new. The gift of uncertain times can be that the old ways maybe weren’t so healthy or good for us, but they weren’t easy to give up as long as they gave us a secure lifestyle.

Now that things are not so secure, we can look inside and ask, “What do I really want to change? What’s truly important to me? What do I need in my life that I’ve never taken the time to go after?”

Blaming others, blaming yourself

But before you do that, let me say that the very first step to following your inner voice is always – ALWAYS – self-acceptance, not harder pressure to make yourself change. When times get harder, more insecure, more uncertain, it’s common for people to become harsher and angrier, to blame “weak” people for the problems. Deep down the person they’re most critical of, indeed the person they blame the most, is themselves, for causing what’s happened in their lives and for not being able to rise above it or make it better. But as I’ve said before, the boot-camp approach to yourself just doesn’t work. Letting go of the self- judgment and harsh demands allows for the inner truths to emerge and begin to perform their magic.

Ten Minutes of Total Self-Acceptance

So here’s my suggestion: For the next ten minutes, or some ten-minute period today, sense how you feel inside and take stock of where you are, and let yourself be. Completely. For this time period, let yourself be totally okay with the way you are. If you need to, remind yourself that you’re only doing this for ten minutes – you can go back to your “normal” way of thinking very soon! Notice what it feels like to drop all judgment of yourself. Notice if new feelings, thoughts or sensations emerge when you let go of the pressure. Whatever those new feelings are, greet them in a kind and interested way. Listen to what your heart says when it stops fearing that it will be judged.

This process doesn’t take long and it can’t get you in any trouble – it’s not even fattening! But the more stressed, harried, worried and self-critical you are, the more I recommend that you make a point of taking a few minutes every day to sit quietly and be okay with yourself just as you are, and give yourself that caring presence. Doing this can vastly improve how you feel on a day-to-day level, and help you find the next best step in your journey ahead.

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