May has been and gone in the blink of an eye, but boy, what a month it has been! I write this from the patio of my new home, freshly returned from a spot of frolicking in the wilderness of Colorado and the Pacific Northwest. It’s a hard life, isn’t it?

It’s a weird thing coming back from your vacation to the unfamiliarity of a new home. Jetlagged and in desperate need of both a shower and the use of a washing machine, I knew not how to work the shower and scalded myself in my delirious state and my washing machine hasn’t yet arrived. It feels a bit like I’m still traveling; still on the journey. And I suppose I will be until I’ve settled in and made this bombsite feel like home. But in the meantime, I have a south-facing garden that is a heavenly oasis upon which to sip my morning brew. Life could be worse.

I digress! The subject of today’s post is an account of an important lesson I’ve learned. One I want to shout from the rooftops! Schooltime with Kennedy, if you will. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it absolutely has a tendency to lurk in plain sight; fooling us all. It’s the key to happiness; to fulfillment; to contentment. You’re dying to know, aren’t you?

I was stateside this past month visiting friends for the first time in a long time. It was much-needed after a very stressful couple years. So, we packed the trip full to the brim and explored far and wide, leaving little time for twiddling our thumbs. That suited me just fine.

If you’re fortunate enough to have done your fair share of traveling, you’ll likely understand what I mean when I say that some places call to the soul more than others. It’s never logical, either. It’s entirely emotional and mysterious and magical and shouldn’t be stared at too closely. A bit like the sun. These feelings guide us; in tune with our gut instinct and our sense of spirit that drives us from our very foundations, these sensations are to be respected. If you simply don’t like a place – even if you can’t quite articulate why – trust that that’s enough. You don’t need to psychoanalyse all of the sensations. The beauty of our incredible internal guidance system is that it can handle the wheel remarkably well, if only we let it. The struggle comes when we try to slip into manual override as though we know what’s best for ourselves (we don’t).

It’s impossibly difficult to follow your gut instinct 100% of the time, though I believe that it is in these moments that we faulter that most of our mistakes can be linked to. How many times can you recall saying to yourself, “I knew I shouldn’t have trusted him!” or “I knew I had a bad feeling about that car,” etc? If it’s anything like me, your response is “countless”.

If we all learned to follow our guts a little more and our brains a little less, we’d be well on the way to living happier, more fulfilling lives. The whole point of life; all we ever try to do (whether we’re consciously aware of it or not) is to follow our joy. These is no feeling remotely comparable to the immense satisfaction of feeling like you’re in the right place. Where you’re meant to be. It stimulates this sense of home or belonging that could never be matched by bricks and cement alone (no matter how physically beautiful the structure). Akin to the “flow state”, following your joy is the practice of choosing to pursue what feels good, because, well, it feels good.

It sounds easy right? It sounds So. Damn. Easy. But it isn’t. Especially if you’re not in the practice of doing this already. In fact, for most of us it is the complete opposite: a challenge that must be chipped away at, like Michelangelo’s David. Our brains tell us no, but our body is telling us yeeesss (#sorrynotsorry for that). If you’ve been raised to believe you’re a smart girl (or guy) who has always done the logical thing, you’re essentially on a par with a newborn baby in terms of life experience following your gut. Scary thought, huh? Although actually, the baby has an advantage, somewhat. At least they are starting with a clean slate. You might well have to undo years of terrible decision-making and face things like ending your relationship, changing careers or moving halfway across the world to get back on track with your soul’s desires.

But before I scare you off, let me emphasise that any trade-offs end up with you better off every single time. One hundred percent success rate, people! Suddenly it doesn’t seem so bad right? Any uncomfortable, intermediate stages of stress/anger/sadness/frustration are only fleeting, soon to be replaced by better-than-your-wildest dreams kinds of things. Alluring, huh?

The process for following your gut is incredibly simple really; you make all of your decisions based off of feeling rather than logic. It can certainly take some practice though, so here’s a good place to start if you really feel like you have no idea and are, like, totally overwhelmed by this potential lifestyle change.

  1. Start small. Rome wasn’t built in a day and all that jazz. Start with decisions as simple as which brand of lotion to buy, or which hot drink to order in the coffee shop. Practice the art of making choices that are totally in line with where you’re at on any given day.
  2. Get familiar with “the feeling”. If you’re totally out of touch with your gut instinct, a really easy practice to follow is taking some time out in a quiet seat or lying flat on your back. Place your hands to your solar plexus and then, allow your thoughts to drift over the following, paying attention to the sensations that arise in your body:
    1. Your pet
    2. Your partner
    3. Your child
    4. Your favourite vacation
    5. Someone who has let you down
    6. Something unjust going on in the world right now
    7. A time that you hurt someone

You’ll notice that there is a feeling signature assigned to each of the above. You can choose to articulate the emotions either aloud to yourself or written in a journal if this helps. The point is, notice the physical sensations that arise as you think through all of these different things. When faced with a new decision, our gut will echo these sensations. It’s important that we take note and pick the one that is uplifting rather than the one that causes that heavy, knotted sensation at our core.

Life is indeed much like Forest’s box of chocolates. You really don’t know what you’re gonna get. But making decisions that are aligned with our gut instinct will either generate more of the good stuff, or more of the bad. I know which one I’d rather. I encourage you to follow suit.

pub

I’m sat on the bus in my usual spot: front right where I’ve got the extra legroom. I use this extra space to stretch free my limbs after a day under the desk – squashed and sedated. The volume in my headphones rises and the drums sound; I’m excited that it’s Friday. I feel like a kid treated with ice cream for passing her test with an A. I feel the reward for the hard work endured. I feel the release from a week spent in suppression.

As we drive the familiar route home, passing the same shops and pubs that we pass every day, I note the Friday excitement in the strangers buying their beers, relaxing in the sunshine and metaphorically letting their hair down in whichever way pleases them best. I sense the air of freedom, the air of quiet rebellion as we weave through the streets. It’s as though everyone stepped off their platform or bus or out of their car sometime after 5pm and through the portal to another realm. In this place we pursue what feels good, whether that’s raucous or restful doesn’t matter; we let ourselves drift in the direction of pleasure, something we forbid ourselves from during the week.

It doesn’t matter what is planned for the following day: what time you must arise, how trying your day might be; it’s Friday and thus anything is possible. You will find a way to cope tomorrow with that which was done today.

The result? Empowerment. You like the challenge and as such you pursue it. You feel the sense of urgency and this pressing presence, this reminder of your mortality that makes you realise that if you do not pursue that which feels good, what else is there? What are you working so hard for each week if not to allow yourself a small release at the end of it?

From this delectable taste of freedom, chaos is born. It emerges in the form of abusing our bodies with substances, lack of sleep, and those dramas of the early hours of the morning that wouldn’t otherwise happen. When we are caged, we abide; when we are free, we spiral.

Friday becomes Saturday and Saturday, Sunday. In the blink of an eye it’s a ‘school night’ yet again and we climb back in our cages, though it does not feel good and prepare for another week ahead. In case you haven’t realised it yet, we – like any other species – were not born in a cage; we do not yearn to be placed in a cage. It is not our natural state and hinders us from doing what we came here to do. And the polarity of our mind-sets between the workweek and weekend only further remind us how bad the suppression makes us feel. Yin and yang: elation and suppression all in one week, every week.

So what is the kind thing to do? What can we do to look after ourselves? If you’ve got the money saved up to support yourself for several months without employment, leave the job you loathe and pursue that which feels good. If you don’t however – which applies to so many of us, particularly those with dependents whom must be supported – use your free time to do that which feels good and only that. Don’t be doing what you think you ‘ought’ to be doing, but do what makes you feel better. If you’re taking care of yourself, what would the best action be right now?

To put it another way: if you have a close friend of yours who is feeling suppressed in their job, they dread going to work and feel depleted when they return, what would you tell them? Think of someone you truly care about; what would you encourage they do in their free time? It would probably be something like: take a class you enjoy, cook your favourite foods, take a warm soak in the bath, pursue that hobby, and do some exercise for stress relief.

If we fill up our free time with that which feels good, this expands into all areas of our lives. It is natural progression; it is the law of attraction. This ‘taking care of ourselves’ spills into what fills the hours of 9-5pm because that’s all that can happen. Pursuing that which feels good becomes second nature, to the point where we must shape our entire lives around this value.

You have nothing to lose by giving this a go.

Freedom

Photos: Nikolas Tusl via Flickr and António Alfarroba via Flickr