A selfie photo requires a click on an icon, magically reversing the camera’s direction, allowing us to see and capture our own image. If only hearing ourselves were as simple. If only there was a device that allowed us to hear our own inner voice.
In my last blog HARDWIRED FOR SIGNIFICANCE, I shared a painful tale and the comfort of being heard by a close friend. Now it is time to turn the lens around to the auditory equivalent of the selfie to explore the sometimes clear and precise, and sometimes hard to discern, knowledge and wisdom inside of ourselves. I will share examples illustrating when my inner voice was crisp and clear and others where pain’s throbbing tenor had a noise cancelling effect, muffling my inner wisdom.
A CRISP AND CLEAR VOICE
A Fork in the Road
I started my morning at work reading through emails, focusing on one from my boss, who was located in England at the time. I could imagine his accent as he hit on topics such as bonuses, friction between two leaders in our division, and a request that I consider a move to London. What???? Had I read that right? Was my boss asking me to relocate to London?
At home that evening I told my husband Tim about the offer. I immediately took out a piece of paper and began to write the pros and cons of moving to London in my current role versus taking a promotion to a corporate role I had been offered the previous week. Tim looked at me and said, “Stop writing! Why are you putting yourself through this process, you know exactly what you should do.” I put my pen down. I heard myself. My body literally gave me the visceral message, “Go to London!” When I stopped, I noticed what was evident to Tim; my heart was beating more rapidly, my pupils were no doubt dilated, and my voice animated. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I wanted to go to London, that London was right for me. Once I was assured by Tim that the move was also right for him and for our life, I accepted my boss’s offer. My body had given me some very clear signals and when combined with a thoughtful conversation with my husband, helped me make what turned out to be a life changing experience in my career and our personal life.
An acquaintance of Tim’s, an experienced marketer of outdoor gear, came to our home to talk with Tim about a possible joint venture. They had a lengthly conversation exploring all the possibilities and pitfalls of the venture. After this colleague left, Tim asked me what I thought. Without thinking I told Tim he should not go into business with this man. I went on to say I did not trust this guy. I felt somewhat frustrated as I could not give Tim a concrete example or reason I felt this way. So I simply said I do not know why I feel this way, I simply have a bad feeling in my gut. Tim chose to trust my instincts. For some time I wondered if I had given Tim the right counsel. It turned out I had. My inner voice had told me something important. Within two years this man was exposed as breeching the ethical rules of an industry organization.
An Unwelcome Message
I was coaching an executive about his new leadership challenge of managing a senior leader who was once his boss and mentor. After listening to this executive and reflecting on several interactions that I had witnessed, my inner voice gave me an insight as to what I needed to say. I heard me!
The powerful prompting from within told me to say, “Your former mentor loves and cares for you; how does your current approach honor this relationship?”
Oh how I wished I had not heard my inner voice! I was in a large organization talking to a very analytical leader. It is definitely not corporate speak to talk about love and caring so explicitly. I resisted the urge to share my insight and question as I pictured myself moving from the role of trusted business partner and confidante to the flake-factor fringe of Human Resources.
After a few minutes, I put my ego aside and took the plunge. I shared my thought; I asked the question. This executive sat back, took a deep breath, looked me in the eye and said “lets talk.” We went on to have an authentic conversation about how he could navigate the relationship in a way that honored the regard and caring his former manager had for him and his new role as this man’s boss.
William James, one of my favorite philosophers, once said “In the dim background of our mind, we know what we ought to be doing.” For the most part, I am very fortunate as my intuition, inner voice, inner wisdom or whatever you want to call it, is not in the dim background of my mind. It is often a very resonant, strong, and often repeated frequency, pulsating its message until I acknowledge its call. But what about those times when it is not?
A MUFFLED VOICE
Deep and meaningful relationships. That is a phrase I would use to describe what matters most to me. As I reflected on times when my inner voice was subdued, indistinct, hard to hear, it was when there was a disconnect around that core value. Two examples come to mind.
A Fractured Friendship
It was a friendship that developed prior to my entering corporate life. I appreciated the individual’s witty sense of humor, ability to quickly sense other’s emotional states and his quirky irreverence to all things that reeked of self importance. Sadly, my sense of appreciation and a strong value around loyalty would dull my intuition and render me unable to see the things that were not conducive to a deep and long lasting relationship.
The friendship showed its prescient fault lines early in the relationship when a difference of opinion on a topic resulted in my friend not speaking to me. I initiated a discussion and worked to resolve the issue because I believed talking through a conflict is important and further I wanted to understand how having a different viewpoint had caused him pain. While there were many pivotal moments of a caring friendship on both sides, perceived offenses on my part resulted in the same pattern I had experienced early on; cool treatment and withdrawal of communication.
I should have sensed the friend was hurting from his own inner demons.
When some life changes sent this individual into a downward spiral of emotions, I was blamed for the misery that ensued. Again we worked to resolve the rift. I began to question how many times this would happen; some perceived offense on my part, resulting in an emotional and physical withdrawal, followed by a period of silence, and then initiation on my part in an attempt to resolve the conflict. As I feared, there was a next time. Only this time was different. I did not breach the silence. I did not initiate a resolution. The friendship was over. I had finally heard my inner voice which told me this friendship was not right for either us.
Hope Took a Trip South
When I describe my relationships with my siblings or closest friends, I wax poetic with words like supportive, nurturing, vulnerable, adventurous, trusting, and joyful. If there were a family and friendship lottery, I have won it!
Someone entered my life, someone with many shared values, interests, and a common circle of friends. I, full of hope, pictured a relationship where there would be mutual caring, intimacy, admiration and respect. I pictured a close connection and shared experiences. The kind I had experienced with my family and close friends.
My attempts to develop a bond with this woman; through conversations, lunch invitations and caring gestures were met with disinterest. I sensed she felt competitive toward me. All of my endeavors to shine a light on the fact that I wished for a special relationship were dimmed by the responses I received for my efforts. The hopes I had of developing a real friendship failed to materialize. Given I believe strongly that the stuff of real friendships is a mutual interest and investment, I came to realize that a meaningful relationship would never materialize, that our interactions were destined to be on a superficial level, never realizing the potential that might have been.
In the examples where my inner voice was clear, almost shouting its message, I heard and acted. In the two examples where my voice was not so clear, I now realize it was I who muzzled its cry. In the case of the fractured friendship, my appreciation for the person’s positive traits, my sense of loyalty, and my belief that you work to resolve conflicts, closed my ears to what was being whispered. In my final example of a meaningful relationship that never came to be, it was the weight of my hopes and expectations which had the effect of me placing my hands over my ears to block my wise self from telling me that the degree of my investment in this relationship was not honoring my own worth. In both cases I eventually heard my voice and acted but the self-imposed silencing of inner wisdom resulted in pain during the relationships and lingered long after, even to today.
In a future blog, I will explore the many ways we treat ourselves with significance, including choosing the people we hold as intimate connections.
A CALL TO ACTION
Turning up the Volume on Your Inner Voice
- Consider times in your life when you have heard your inner voice and listened. Times when you heard but did not listen. Consider times when you did not hear your inner voice clearly. Journal or jot down examples. Reflect on what you learned from each experience. For example, what factors were present when you heard vs. did not hear your inner voice? Is there a pattern you can learn from?
- Reflect on the degree which you value, respect and listen to your inner voice.
- Choose a current situation in your life where you would benefit from your inner wisdom. Take the time to be quiet and reflect so you can hear yourself. Observe your body language and signals as you consider different alternatives. Notice what your mind, heart and body are telling you.
- Share your insights with a trusted confidante. Sharing your insights often clarifies them in your own mind. Additionally thoughtful questions and insights from an outside source can deepen your wisdom about a given situation.
- Apply your inner wisdom to your situation.
- When we are slow to hear our inner wisdom, emotional pain can result. Marianne Williamson, a great spiritual teacher and author, bases her work on a set of books called “A Course In Miracles”, and teaches us that unprocessed pain has to go somewhere. She suggests a process to help us better hear our voice and process unresolved pain. She calls it bearing witness to our feelings.
- Consider a situation, issue, or relationship where you feel something is unresolved or which gives you pain. Common signs are continual thoughts and rumination about the situation, low or negative energy, feelings of stress, and or resorting to unhealthy behaviors such as over eating, drugs, alcohol etc.
- Take a few minutes in a quiet place, and bear witness to your feelings by asking yourself some of the following questions (choose the ones that fit for you):
- How do I feel? Really?
- Why do I feel this way? What is underneath it?
- Where does it hurt?
- Why does it hurt?
- How does the hurt express itself?
- Is there anything you can do to change or move the situation forward or in another direction that better serves you?
- After you take the time, sometimes more than one session with yourself, and deeply reflect on and answer those questions, you may come to realize there are some areas which are out of your control. In those cases Williamson suggests turning those areas over to God or to that which represents your higher power.
The above process has had a profound effect on my life, allowing me to better hear my inner wisdom and shortening the cycle of rumination and unresolved pain. I encourage you to try it.