A few years ago, I went to a workshop on body awareness. At the beginning of the session, the facilitator had the participants close our eyes, breathe deep breaths, and take a mental inventory of our bodies. We were told to think about our bodies from our heads to our toes, and to be specific in our assessment—how does your skin feel against your clothes right now?—to do a thorough check in with our body.

With our eyes closed, were instructed to release any tension we were holding in our bodies and to breathe deep, full breaths. After a minute or so, the door to the room suddenly slammed shut. Some people screamed, some gasped, all of us opened our eyes, collectively startled, disoriented, and confused as hell. The facilitator smiled. “Now, check in with your body. How does it feel?”

The responses were to be expected: heart racing, shoulders tense – your stock “you just scared the hell out of me!” reactions. Once we all had a chance to reflect on and share how our bodies responded to the slamming of the door, the facilitator said, “The way you just checked in with your body is the way you should check in with your body all of the time.” This statement changed my life.

The way your body feels at any given moment can determine whether or not you need to keep doing whatever it is that you’re doing. When we are able to learn what does not feel good to our bodies, we are better able to clarify what does, and pursue it with intention and diligence.

I apply this theory mostly in social interactions; I ask myself, “does this feel good to my body?” If the answer is no, I leave.

Not only is listening to my body a survival tool, it’s a means by which I honor the conditions that allow me to function at my best. Life’s too short to be anywhere that doesn’t call your spirit to it by name. Honor your vibrations—if you aren’t feeling it, you shouldn’t be there. I don’t mean that you should just peace out during a work meeting that bores you, or go ghost if your kids are whylin’ out at the store—exercise some discretion here. When you have a choice, the choice is yours.

The present is the best time to start living the life you want to live.

If you don’t want to be somewhere, leave. Now (if you’re anything like me) you might say something like,  “Well…what if the person who invited me is my friend and it’s really important to them that I be there?” The answer is simple: You are not responsible for anyone’s experience but your own. Say it loud, say it twice: I am not responsible for anyone’s experience but my own. You don’t have to suffer so that someone else can thrive, and if anyone asks or expects you to do so, their presence in your life does not serve you. (In the words of Zora Neal Hurston: “’If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”)

There are three reactions you can have to your experiences: resistance, acceptance, and joyful enthusiasm.  If your body/mind/spirit resists an activity/person/scenario, something’s got to give. (If the circumstance can’t be changed, change your response to it.)

The truth is, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. You – and only you—are in control of your life. It’s as easy as it sounds: if you don’t want to be there, leave. If there’s something better you could be doing at that very moment, do it. Pursue your pleasure with rigor. Don’t compromise. Don’t settle.

I tell people all the time, “I’m a leaver.” If I don’t want to be there, I’m out. (My ancestors didn’t go through all of that trauma for me not to exercise agency over my experience.) The less energy I spend on resisting negative experiences, the more energy I have to spend on positive ones.

The same goes for accepting invitations, or saying yes to something you really don’t want to do. If someone asks you for a favor and you can’t do it with a spirit of acceptance or joyful enthusiasm, say no. Say no, and be honest and transparent about doing only that which feels nourishing to your body and spirit. You don’t have to apologize; honor your right to be your best and truest self all of the time.

 

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