“In all of creation, identity is a challenge only for humans. A tulip knows exactly what it is. It is never tempted by false ways of being. nor does it face complicated decisions in the process of becoming. So it is with dogs, rocks, trees, stars, amoebas, electrons and all other things. All give glory to God by being exactly what they are.” -David Benner “The GIft of Being Yourself”.
A lot of people think of therapy as a process of “finding themselves.” As if they were lost, like the loose change in the couch cushions or the missing puzzle pieces that your kid may or may not have dropped down the air vent.
The process is actually far more simple (though it’s rarely easy). It’s more of an undoing or an unearthing, finding who you were made to be before the world got its hands on you and you started over complicating things.
I do believe we’re complicated creatures. But in western culture we tend to think that understanding those complications is all that’s needed. We start think that information can really bring us to a place where we “know” ourselves. But having information about ourselves, about God, about how we relate to others, it doesn’t help us “know” about those things any more than information about love tells us what it’s like to be in love. So if it’s so simple, how do we get in our own way? In this three part blog I want to address three common ways, with a few concrete ways to combat them.
- We don’t accept experiential, physical or emotional knowing as real knowing.
The reasons we don’t accept this as a culture would be a fun discussion I’d love to have another time. But the result is I consistently hear beliefs like:
- Emotions and gut feelings are a weakness to be eradicated, not a piece of our whole selves to be cultivated so we can make wholehearted, wise decisions.
- Not naming or expressing emotions is the same as not having them. I can make them magically disappear. I hear people say “I’m not a feelings person”. I don’t even know what that means. Like “I’m not a food person.” Or “I just don’t do sleep, like that’s not my thing.” So what I hear isn’t that you’re not a feelings person, it’s that you’re not a feelings aware person, which is kind of terrifying for you and certainly the people around you and a complete mine field for any people that you might be leading. It’s like telling your loved ones and those you’re leading that you’re taking them to a gorgeous island…..with just a few random unmapped and unstudied volcanoes. And hoping it ends well.
If you couldn’t tell I think that’s garbage. Based on my theology, based on my research and based on my lived experience with clients, this doesn’t make sense. If we affirm that our bodies are good, and we believe in the reality of the incarnation, we have to start being willing to encounter God through our physical senses, and allow for emotions and reactions of our body, our literal gut instincts, to be taken into account when we learn to know ourselves and what deeply connects us to God and others and ourselves.
Obviously I would be a little bit hypocritical if I just sat here and gave you information about experiential knowing rather than trying to create and actual experience for you, so let’s do a quick guided visualization….
Sit or lay down. Close your eyes. Bring to mind one of your “peak” moments. For some people these are moments of conversion or conviction, epiphany, confirmation of identity, comfort in suffering. There are a lot of “peak” moments, but they are moments that we remember as distinct snapshots that defined or altered our future or the way we saw ourselves. Take this snapshot and start to dig into details. Where were you? Do you remember any smells or sounds? What clothes were you wearing and can you imagine how they felt on your body? How the ground felt under your feet or the seat underneath you? Physically put yourself back there. While you sit in that place, ask yourself “what is something I know to be true about myself in this moment? About God? About the world?” They are usually simple truths, and limited in number. Sometimes there is just one big truth that is the takeaway.
When people hit crisis, generally all of the “information” that they have feels useless, but these experiences stick. So when people circle back to these experiences and visualize them, the miraculous moments in their lives, the peak moments, the moments of freedom or peace or alignment, and they remember what they knew to be true about themselves, about God, about the world, in those moments….That’s something they can believe and hold onto because they experienced it. It was transformational knowing, not just knowledge.
So here’s a few concrete tips to practice experiential knowing:
- Journal about peak moments, what do you know to be true about yourself, about others, about the world, about God
- Notice emotional and physical responses in your day to day life. When your stomach drops or your chest tightens. When you cry or feel explosive anger for (seemingly) no reason or start to feel frantic in a conversation or a relationship. Don’t work too hard to interpret them (this is what therapy is for), but start taking inventory of them and noting them as valid information
- Notice the moments you feel free, peaceful, aligned, expansive, joyful. Take inventory of those too, and it can never hurt to structure your life to move towards the people, places and activities that make you feel that way.