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

Sunflower resized

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?

The Secret to Real Change

Excerpted from On Purpose Magazine

The Secret to Real Change

It seems to me that practically everyone wants to change at least one thing about themselves. After all, we all know we have areas that could use some improvement, and we have a sense that if only we changed this or that, we would feel better…or have a better life….or become a better person. And while the changes we hope to make may be significant, there’s tons of advice and support available right at our Googling little fingertips to help us make them, right?

Why then, does “change” often seem so difficult to achieve?

Maybe the problem is that we think we can order ourselves around. We think that in the areas of our lives we’re not satisfied with, we simply must not have had enough self-discipline or self-control, but that this year we really will get ourselves to stop doing the “wrong” things and finally do the “right” things.

Personally, I’m not much of a fan of this “boot camp” approach to change. Self-discipline, of course, has its place. Sometimes you really do have to push yourself to do what in your heart you want to do. But over twenty years of working with women in therapy, I’ve seen hundreds of women change dramatically–their relationships, their careers, their bodies and their sense of self. Yet rarely has it come from ordering themselves to change.

So what DOES work to cause change? I’ll give you the secret. Surprisingly enough, it’s self-compassion. It’s listening, deeply, to your own inner self. Discovering your own story. Listening to what really matters to you. Learning what you really do want–and also listening to the parts of yourself that get in the way of change.

Let me tell you about “Dana.” Dana was a social worker who participated in one of my Inner Voice Telegroups, and her secret shame was that she yelled way too much at her three kids. A therapist herself, she knew it was the wrong thing to do. Year after year for ten years she resolved to control her temper without any success. Yet the guiltier she felt, the more she yelled. So one day I suggested that instead of berating herself for yelling at her kids, she give compassion to that part of herself that yells at them.

You can imagine her reaction. “How can I be compassionate to THAT?” she said. “That’s just making excuses. I should just KNOW better and control myself.” But I told her that if she could suspend the self-criticism for just a little while, and listen to this part of her, it had a story to share a story she needed to hear.

Over the next twenty minutes, as she suspended the self-judgment and listened inside, she heard the “story” of how much she’d been running on deficit, how each subsequent child taxed her energy more, and how, when her youngest child was born with an abnormal gag reflex, she’d been up several times a night for eight years straight.

She continued to listen further, looking at herself with compassionate rather than judgmental eyes, until the story had run its course. And that’s when she fully understood. Shortly before her first child was born, her own mother had died. Oh, how Dana had wanted and needed, with every fiber of her being–her own mother there, helping her, advising her, reassuring her that she was doing okay as a mother! But fate had prevented her from ever having that. And that was at the source of her yelling.

Of course Dana had already mourned and grieved her mother many times before our session. She was well aware of how much she missed her presence in her life, and the pain she felt not having her there to guide her. But she had never connected those feelings to her yelling. Possibly she had made the connection before intellectually, but she had never “connected the dots” emotionally. Giving compassion, however, to this part of herself that caused her so much guilt and anguish changed that.

After doing this work, Dana’s children noticed an immediate difference. “You’re much nicer, Mom.” When she got angry, she found it easier to stay calm and try a number of ways of reacting besides yelling. And when she did sometimes still yell (and how many mothers don’t?), she found that she could, for the first time, easily stop. Those twenty minutes of listening to her own story permanently changed the way she reacted to her children.

If there is something about yourself or your life that you’re not happy with, try something new. Instead of lecturing yourself about your waywardness, try listening to yourself deeply and caringly. What is your heart trying to tell you? What part of you is hurting, and not “getting with the program” because it wants you to listen?

It’s not second nature to do this but it works. In fact, I should warn you–you might actually start changing.

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.

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.

Image courtesy of