For the past twenty-five years, my predominant question has been ‘What do I want?’ Where other people did seem to have a pretty good idea of what they wanted in life, I simply seemed unable to fill in the blank. I remember five years ago, on a summer vacation in Tuscany, sitting next to my tent, rereading The Success Principles by Jack Canfield, trying to come up with thirty things to do, thirty things to be and thirty things to have before I die. I remember looking at the empty page before me in a kind of muted panic, and then jotting down things for the sake of filling that page, because, honestly, I was unwilling to admit that I was clueless. Yet, everything I came up with felt like something someone else had thought up, not me. And this left me even more clueless than before.
In these past months, I discovered that when other people expressed a preference, I automatically would go blank and start facilitating, even when I felt strong resistance. Most of the time, I just wouldn’t know what I wanted and just went along with whatever was most convenient to others. Usually, for my personal preference to break through I needed high contrast situations, and for me to actually express them even more contrast. I have been conditioned to suppress my own desires to the point that I find it hard to even identify my own preferences in the simplest of situations. Somehow, I learned very early on that it was better not to have personal preferences than to have them denied. To make things challenging, I live with two people who have very easily crystallized preferences. It has taken me a long time to understand that my preferences are unintentionally marginalized because in their world there is no such thing as not knowing what you want. Most of the time, I only know what I really want after the other has not only expressed a preference, but is taking action toward realizing it, or to complicate matters, after it is set in motion. That, of course, leads to a lot of stress, not to mention frustration, dissatisfaction and resentment.
Understanding how this process works for me has already taken a lot of stress out of the equation. Instead of instantly going in to facilitatory mode, I am learning to say that I need more time, that I don’t know what I want yet. I am learning to ask myself ‘What do I want?’, same question, shift in emphasis, different outcome. I am learning what it feels like to want or not want something. I am in the process of becoming aware of a rise or a drop in my energy levels, learning to register expansion or contraction, to feel lightness of heaviness. Of course, I know what these sensations feel like, but in this specific situation I have never allowed myself to let them seep into my awareness. The mind can be likened to a dog. When it has been trained through pain, retraining takes time, but most of all trust. I am gently training myself to pay attention to the signals my body is sending, to trust them by listening to them as well as I can. Every time I listen to them, I show myself that my feelings and personal preferences are intrinsically valuable, which in turn motivates my body to send clearer signals. This is what self-love looks like.
In Surrendering to Summer, I intended to gain more clarity on what I want and more focus on what feels good to me. It did not quite come in the package I was expecting, but in the end I got exactly what I asked for. What a gift!
picture by Joana Croft