Knowing yourself is a funny thing. Every guru in the “feelings” world says that we must sit quietly and listen in order to know ourselves. That we must let go of all the outer bullsh*t and noise that we create for ourselves, based on the blatant lies we have been taught through our lives, in order to hear what is deep down underneath. Here’s the thing. I’m realizing that this “knowing ourselves” is an ever-moving target. As soon as we realize something and bring it to the surface, it changes us, and we are new.
I listened to this podcast on NPR once, on the way to visit my dear friend. It was about communication. I love the ironies of life. I listened to a podcast about communication on the way to visit someone that was about to start losing her communication skills. Sometimes you have to laugh about how life plays out. We talked all about it, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I found it extremely fascinating because it taught me new things about understanding people who are not as good at naming their feelings and dissecting them, as I am. I was really relating it to relationships, marriage, parenting, understanding men. Now, in my current place in my friend’s journey, communication and feelings are everything. When communicating with others that love her, communicating with her, dealing with my own feelings, I continue to find meaning from this Radiolab podcast called Words, even now.
This study was all about language. A researcher went to a remote village in Nicaragua where they did not have American Sign Language. They did a series of experiments with the deaf people there in order to study their emotional range, and their language to describe emotion. What they found was that, when people don’t have words to describe subtle emotions, they do not understand subtleties in emotion when interpreting external situations. The researchers went back years later, after ASL was introduced to the community, and found that with the same tests, the deaf people now interpreted situations completely differently because they had the language to name the feelings. The researchers deduced that when we have words, we can then think the thought. Without the word to name an emotion, we cannot process the emotion or think a thought about it. The podcast also talked to a person that had lost language due to a stroke. Her language later returned to her and she told what it had been like to be without her words. She described sensation..the feeling of the sun on her face, being completely present, connected to everything.
This podcast changed how I understand others. It gave me the perspective to understand that they might not have the language they need to process their emotions. It has changed how I parent. I now speak at my children, even if they do not respond, even if they seem to not want to listen. I speak all the words that may describe what they are feeling so that they can find something in my words that names their emotion for them. I find that, after they have had time to process what I have said, they demonstrate a greater understanding down the road. A greater understanding of themselves, and of others. It takes time, but providing them with language and perspective, just by saying the words for them, changes them.
This study also changed how I feel about meditation. Meditation is the new buzzword these days. Experts describe meditation as quieting the mind to allow your deepest understanding to surface, as essential to stopping the thoughts that swirl around your brain in order to give your mind, body, and soul a healthy break. To let go of what you can’t control, to bring yourself to the present moment, bring your focus to sensation, and enhance the feeling of connection to all things. Psychology experts say that, in order to process feelings, we need labels, language, words. After learning more about the roles of language, and lack of, I can see how we need both quiet, and language, to be emotionally healthy.
Ok, back to my quest to know myself. What I really wanted to write about today was examining boundaries. How to establish them, feel good about them, and feel empowered and at peace while taking the scary action of setting healthy boundaries with others. I was researching how to do that, because I really don’t have that answer or even the tools to examine them. Do you know what I found as step number 1? Name your limits. “Identify your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual limits.” When I was seeking a word for this year, I chose the word abundance. I was tired of focusing on my “lack.” I wanted to focus on the opposite. To focus on what I was grateful for. To focus on the abundance in my life. To be a person who radiated abundance. To attract others who radiate abundance. In seeking to do this, I realized that, although I had found a wonderful word that I wanted for myself, I didn’t even know what it meant to me. What did abundance signify to me? I had to name it. I had to dig deep down inside and find my meaning of abundance. When looking to set boundaries, the first step is to name them. How can you create boundaries if you haven’t defined what your boundaries need to be? I need to sit quietly, listen to myself without the chatter of rules, society, the critical voice, and let the knowing surface, then, I need to take my language back and name it.
Now, onto the frustrating conclusion I have come to. As soon as you realize, name, and bring that knowledge into your life, you are changed! I found my meaning of abundance. My people are my abundance. However, knowing that truth, freed me of the stress of not knowing. Once I knew how important my people are to me, I started to think about which people were important to me. To name why those people meant so much. Once I named those friendship qualities, it made me focus on which friendships I wanted to send my energy into. When I shifted from sending energy into all of my relationships and focused more specifically on the few, I found I had more energy for new friendships, and knew more specifically what I was looking for in any new friendships. I had less stress about holding onto and preserving relationships that were hard to protect and were taking so much energy. I also began to feel more secure about my most important friendships. If they weren’t functioning without constant attention, I realized that they were not the kind of friendship I wanted, so even my good friendships became less stressful.
After finding more peace surrounding my people, my abundance, I was freed up to seek out other ways of feeling fulfilled. Mind you, this quarantine isolation certainly expedited the seeking. However, am I calling my friends every day? Texting and checking in constantly? Worried about how the world perceives me? Making sure that everyone finds me likable? Watching what everyone else is doing and holding my life up in comparison? No. Knowing what my people mean for me, the value I find in them, understanding the connection I really seek, and naming it, has enabled me to let go of other, less fulfilling ways I tend to seek a sense of belonging.
I am refocusing this time and energy on re-discovering myself. Feeling freedom and abundance in aloneness is providing me the space to find myself, instead of just existing as a mirror of others, reflected, in a constant quest to be liked and feel a sense of belonging. I now realize how much energy mirroring was taking. I am finding that this freedom has brought back new energy, more time, creativity, the flow of my inner self bubbling up on the outside. Time to find other things I enjoy. Time to re-think and question my choices. To stretch my inner knowing. To feel abundance independent of my friendships. To rediscover my value, my worth, that exists in my uniqueness, not in my conformity. Painting, writing, creating poetry, writing songs, reading, sitting quietly thinking. It is still a work in progress and takes noticing, when I am returning to my focus on others, and letting those thoughts go. I am enjoying my own company. I was never one to want to be alone. My meaning of abundance is changing. Knowing myself better has changed me, and the change has led to more knowing, which leads to more change!
I am also developing the ability to process my feelings alone, through writing, instead of the way I had previously developed...through talking to others. Even my way of working through my feelings has changed. Of course, I still enjoy my people with all my heart and come alive in their company, and find meaning in the support of their friendship, but I have also been released from that enjoyment being at the sacrifice of myself. I am practicing ways to connect and belong without losing myself.
I have realized that puzzling this all out, putting words to the feelings, acknowledging and naming the change in me, is changing me as I write. Opening the way to learning how to set healthy boundaries. Opening my way to finding happiness, peace, and fulfillment. And hopefully, by writing this, I have labeled some feelings for you, so that you can go on to have a better understanding of yourself, which changes you, leads you to more knowing, thereby leading to more change. We are all shifting targets, and as soon as this piece is written, I will already need to begin to re-examine myself again. So, on that note, it’s time to go meditate!