Learning How to Listen to Myself and the Braying Mule of Inspiration
When I first walked out of my high-status legal career to reinvent my life, I was a virgin to listening—and a mess. I’d always followed the rules.
But truly listening to yourself is a path of throwing out the window what you think is lucrative, spiritual, appropriate, responsible, and every other pre-packaged idea you have.
And sometimes inspiration sounds like a mule, making you pay attention to a direction you do not want to hear.
Years ago, Laura helped me put on a workshop in her city. She insisted on showing me all the sights in the vicinity. I was “polite” and fried by evening. “But you have to walk the labyrinth,” she said, appealing to my spirituality. “The labyrinth is a walking meditation. Just follow the paths to the center. Go your own way and be with the experience,” she said, sounding all peachy Zen. I felt bullied.
I just wanted to go back to my hotel room and crumple. Maybe catch an episode of Law and Order on TV. I longed to eat take-out Chinese and bathe in the grease, and slide my way into numbness and comfort.
But I went along. The event was crowded. I dutifully stepped in line with the herd of seekers walking the mystical maze. Immediately, I wanted to jam into a fast lane. But it didn’t feel right to push past people who were being really contemplative. Maybe they weren’t just slow thick-skulled cows. Maybe they were listening to angels. Hell, I’d walk carefully if I were listening to divine dispatches. But I was in a hurry. I wanted to do this spiritual thing, get it done, get my answer, and get out of here.
“I don’t want to do this,” said a voice in the back of my mind. I heard it, like I heard so much of myself, like a radio playing a song you don’t really listen to. You know the words and can repeat them, but they haven’t landed, haven’t melted into you yet, like warm butter on an English muffin.
I dragged one lead foot in front of the other. It’s exhausting to ignore your truth. In that hushed hall, my mind spoke as loudly as an American in Europe. “I don’t want to do this,” I heard. “Of course, you don’t want to do it,” said another voice, the mean voice within that always kept me doing what others thought I should do. “You’re a sissy. You can’t commit like the others.” I trudged forward, not yet seeing the irony of walking in shame and burden towards enlightenment.
Of course, what really kept me going was this: I was terrified that I’d miss something, that maybe I was “supposed” to be here, that maybe if I took just one more step, I’d have a revelation or divine intervention. Maybe a wizened monk or even a tooth fairy that looked like Lady Gaga would enter my consciousness with a message.
Everyone else seemed to be blissful, vibrating in a sea of open chakras. It was obvious that they were receiving lifetimes of soul healing or, hell, maybe even insider stock trading tips. I so did not want to be the loser in the crowd who just felt tired.
“I don’t want to do this,” the voice insisted again. And for the first time, I thought about it rationally. Would I really hear inner wisdom if some part of me was hurting and begging me to leave? Was it inner wisdom to listen to this exhausted part of myself? Who said it was inner wisdom to ignore my pain? What if this voice screaming for freedom was my inner wisdom?
“I just don’t want to do this,” the voice said again with everything it ever had, everything it would ever have, demanding, pleading, begging, knowing. And just like that, my truth became clear. I wanted an experience of liberation and clarity. But I didn’t want to walk this damn labyrinth. I wanted to go back to my hotel.
Then I remembered the real rule of the labyrinth: find my own way, to the center. Who said my way couldn’t just be to leave and take my center with me? Yes, it felt like crying uncle, or abandoning a peace rally. It seemed heretical like spitting out a communion wafer.
But self-love is heretical. Freedom requires bold choices.
I bolted. I walked out of the labyrinth and held my own hand. I held my own soul like a soft, wounded bird. I walked in the direction of comfort, self-care, mercy, and ultimately, redemption. I walked in the direction of love.
It was the same way I’d left my “good” job that wasn’t good for me. I was listening to myself. I was walking on holy ground wherever I was.