That’s me doing SO MUCH YOGA in Hawaii! I’m trying to keep going even now that I’m home; it’s one of the gentle shifts I’m incorporating, a la today’s missive on big decisions (read on!).
We all face those moments when we have to make BIG decisions.
Do I take this job? Do I walk away? Step up to this challenge? Call it quits? Say yes? Say no? Ask for extra whipped cream?
These big decisions usually present themselves with a big bright sign that blinks, “Decision Time!!!!” and come with a big ticking deadline.
Those moments can be nerve-wracking (ha, more like stomach-churningly terrifying)– but they’re also pretty straightforward. The task before you is simply to decide. By next Tuesday. Or in the next ten seconds.
And then it’s over; you said yes, you said no, or maybe you hesitated and the option disappeared. Life moves on according to your new trajectory.
But other decisions come with no sign.
They rise up quietly inside us.
They whisper to us as secret longings. They brush up against us like moths, as unarticulated desires or inchoate ideas.
There’s no clear timeline, no urgent deadline, just a…feeling. An invitation.
And sometimes decisions come in even more distressing disguises– a sadness. A numbness. A dull misery. A sigh of resignation. Or a sudden fury, bewildering to everyone around us (and sometimes us, too).
What are we to do with these invitations?
Well most people, since our culture doesn’t tell us ANYTHING useful about these, simply stuff them down. Dismiss them. Shake their head and get on with things. This is fine and good, a very lovely way of handling things– until those stuffed-down things curdle and ferment, as they always do, and then suddenly erupt in a messy mess of a mess.
Other people take the opposite approach, and let each waft of an idea send them full-speed down a new shiny idea trail. The spirit has moved them! They’ve received a download from the universe! This is their new life purpose! It’s very inspiring, except that they also unfortunately tend to end up with 17 half-started businesses, a dozen first chapters of different books, and no forseeable source of income.
Since there’s no urgency except what’s inside us, these choices tend to linger. They stick around. They trail us like smoke.
And it can be so confusing!
Am I just having a whim? An emotional day? Am I meant to press through these intense feelings? Are they resistance keeping me from my brightest future and my truest purpose? Are they just fear or self-sabotage keeping me small and holding me back?
OR, are these feelings wise messages from my soul, urging me to make a change? Is this that divine whisper that I should reeeeally pay attention to before it turns into a divine smack upside the head?
HOW ARE WE SUPPOSED TO KNOW?
Well I’m so glad you asked, dearheart, because I have some very important clues for you to look for.
First of all, notice the quality of the thing rising up in you.
Is it clear? Or is it murky? Is it resonant like a bell? Or is it irritating, like static?
Then, notice if it has clear instructions.
Does it say things like, “Proceed to the ice cream cone on 12th street immediately”? Do you have a sudden impulse to sign up for a pottery class? Does it ping you to reach out to a particular person? Or is it vague and contradictory, like, “Do– SOMETHING!” Or, “Hurry up and– well– just– I don’t know, but HURRY!” Or is it just a vague sense of panicked urgency?
Finally, notice what’s happening in your body.
Do you feel expansive, energized, and compelled to move forward? Or do you feel clenched, panicked, or paralyzed? Do you feel a lightness, an urge to jump up and dance? Or do you feel heavy, pulled in two directions at once, stuck?
These are very important clues as to what to do with what’s rising up inside you.
In short, when it comes to making big decisions:
When it’s muddy, make small shifts.
When it’s CLEAR, make big shifts.
If you feel the urge to do SOMETHING, and you know life as it is just isn’t WORKING, and you need SOME sort of a change, but you have 47 ideas and they all have some problems– well then please hear me right now that this, my beloved, is not the moment to quit your job. Or blow up your marriage. Or buy a new house.
No no no no. This is the time to make SMALL, GENTLE shifts. It’s time to keep making small turns as more is revealed, tiny adjustments in trajectory, taking one new exploratory step forward. This is a great time to try a new hair stylist. Or wear those slightly intimidating boots. Or finally start seeing that couples’ therapist. It’s time to try a green juice you’ve never tried before, or do some gentle yoga before bed, or clean out that closet that’s bugging you. It’s time to join a new book club, take a class, or hire a coach to help you gently explore what would make life more fulfilling. Surprisingly, many of my clients find that these seemingly small changes are actually incredibly powerful, and they add up to a beautiful transformational change that unfolds in a direction they never, ever could have anticipated, and which is utterly delightful.
This is the kind of change that will serve most people best, most of the time.
But sometimes a bell rings inside you. It’s so clear and sweet and undeniable that your whole body reverberates to its gong. It might make no sense, it might scare the absolute pants off of the reasonable adult inside you, but there’s a joyful glee to it– or a heartbreaking but true RELIEF in it– that pulls you forward almost of your own accord. It might not make sense to anyone else in your life, but you know. You know that you know that you know that you know.
When you know, you just know. And when that happens, this IS the time to make those BIG leaps. Goodness knows I’ve made my fair share of these– burning my whole life down in my early 20s so I could learn to be a phoenix, leaping across an ocean after an earthquake and starting an entirely new career, plunging into the emotional abyss of writing a memoir about my childhood, moving up to Canada to marry the love of my soul and add four new beautiful children to my home and heart and then making a documentary about it.
But these moments are relatively RARE in most lives, and the deepest truth I know is that the more you avoid the first kind of change– the gentle, curious, exploratory kind– the more abrupt, intense, and painful the latter kinds of change tend to be.
Let me say it again because it’s so important: when we follow our own gentle nudges with TINY GENTLE shifts, we tend to find our way down surprising but also organic paths. But when we resist those changes or stuff them down or inflate them into conflicted dramas, the BIG tectonic shifts tend to hurt more.
I don’t know for sure why that is, but my theory is that it’s because we’re always trying to grow into who we really are, into the biggest most interesting versions of ourselves. When we willingly go one step at a time, it keeps unfolding that way– one step at a time. But when we resist that growth, when we stuff our longings or lash out in an utter panic, the growth happens in bigger, more dramatic lurches. Even if I’m wrong about that theory, I do know for sure that when those big leaping moments present themselves, you’ll always be glad to stand at that threshold as the bravest, fulfilled, creative, badass, most you version of yourself that you knew how to be.
So go ahead. Make a tiny, gentle shift. Do something that feels compassionate and also a little bit brave. Go ahead and be a joyful participant in your own life’s transformation. And listen in. Listen in so deep. Who you’re becoming just might surprise and delight you.
P.S. Like you might find yourself suddenly obsessed with yoga. Who knew?