Saying we must grant ourselves permission to live our own lives may sound pretty self-evident, but have a look at our formative training and consider how much of what we have been taught makes this difficult. Most of us in the west spend much of our time as children in school where we have to ask permission to do pretty much everything from speak to attend to our bodily needs in the restroom. One way or another we are given a lot of rules- by family, religion, advertisers, teachers, employers- that may or may not allow us to find and follow our own deep knowing of what works for us and what does not. Our feelings have been over-ruled too often.
I’m using the word “feeling” here as Carl Jung did: to indicate the function whereby we know what has value for us. This gets easily confused with sensation (since we speak of “feeling” cold or hot) and emotion (since we speak of “feeling” angry, sad, glad or afraid.) But I’m using the term here to indicate our capacity to know what has value for us and what does not.
Nathan my youngest son is a feeling type. I swear to you he knew what he valued and what he did not from the very beginning. So, when his aunt gave him a new outfit to wear that he felt was confining or silly or just plain ugly he’d refuse to wear it. As I went through the persuasive arguments (it looks nice on you; it cost a lot of money- truly meaningless to a three year old; it will keep you warm; she will enjoy seeing you in it) he would listen patiently and calmly repeat, “I know that, but I don’t like it.” I was in awe of his capacity to know and stick with what he valued, which included (in this case) his own physical comfort and appreciation for what was pleasing to his eye.
Brendan, his older brother (like me) is a thinking type and so could sometimes (sadly) be convinced by a rational argument to over-ride his own feeling function. On the other hand, when I tried to convince both boys not to play with imaginary guns (they were never given any toy guns but they did make them from sticks or their hands) Brendan, by the time he was nine, would offer counter arguments. He pointed out that although I had played with make-believe guns as a child I had no difficulty distinguishing between those imaginary games and real violence. Finally, I let myself just sink into the feeling I had when I watched them play these games (both my emotion and my valuing of non-violence) and spoke (with some weariness) from my heart.
I said, “You’re right. You are not likely to grow up and shoot someone because you use pretend guns now. But when I watch you do it. . . . I feel sick to my stomach.”
Brendan and Nathan both stopped and looked at me, and Brendan said, “Oh, okay. It’s no big deal. We don’t have to play that. There’s lots of other stuff we can do.”
And that was the end of that.
That’s the great thing about the feeling function: you don’t have to justify it or ask anyone’s permission. It just is. Now one thing might have a higher value for you than another and so trump your decision-making process. Clearly, for my sons, my gut reaction held more value to them than imaginary gun play. They were okay with letting the higher value take precedence. They (particularly Brendan) were just not willing to be convinced by a somewhat unsubstantiated and self-righteous argument. I know this gets tricky. We can get confused and sacrifice something of value to us because someone else has a conflicting value. But this particular thing, gun-play, was clearly not valued very highly by either boy.
I learned something that day. I learned that if I give myself permission to drop into my own heart and speak from there, I can save a lot of time, energy and anguish, and may even be heard. There’s no guarantee I know, but it makes me think of all the places where we try to muster convincing rational-sounding arguments where we might be better served speaking from one heart to another. I’m not suggesting we don’t often need to gather and allow facts to shape our choices. We do. But I do wonder how often we make our choices based on something much deeper (and less conscious) and then gather facts to justify our decision.
I also realize that the reason why my heart statement re: gun play had such an impact on the boys was because we had a relationship, one that we all valued. This of course means that if we want others in our lives to be open to hearing what is important to us to personally and collectively (like- the need for time alone or quiet in the morning or concerns about health care and unemployment) we need to be in relationship with one another, need to listen with our hearts to the hearts of those in our lives and our communities.
Do I seem to have wandered away from giving ourselves permission to live our lives? I haven’t. Because often, as soon as we resolve to do just that, we come up against the fact that we do not live in isolation. Ever. We are interconnected. So, granting ourselves permission to live according to the heart’s deepest values, means granting the same permission to others and being willing to engage (at least some of the time) in the dialogue that allows us to find a way to live together without anyone sacrificing that which, to point back to the name of this blog, keeps the green bough in our hearts, alive. Not easy, I know but well worth the effort.
Oriah (c) 2010