Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Permission to Live Your Life

Last week I wrote about giving ourselves permission to acknowledge the wounds of the past so they can heal. And just as we are the only ones who can really grant that necessary permission to begin the healing process, we are the only ones who can grant ourselves permission to live our own lives.

Saying we must grant ourselves permission to live our own lives may sound pretty self-evident, but have a look at our formative training and consider how much of what we have been taught makes this difficult. Most of us in the west spend much of our time as children in school where we have to ask permission to do pretty much everything from speak to attend to our bodily needs in the restroom. One way or another we are given a lot of rules- by family, religion, advertisers, teachers, employers- that may or may not allow us to find and follow our own deep knowing of what works for us and what does not. Our feelings have been over-ruled too often.

I’m using the word “feeling” here as Carl Jung did: to indicate the function whereby we know what has value for us. This gets easily confused with sensation (since we speak of “feeling” cold or hot) and emotion (since we speak of “feeling” angry, sad, glad or afraid.) But I’m using the term here to indicate our capacity to know what has value for us and what does not.

Nathan my youngest son is a feeling type. I swear to you he knew what he valued and what he did not from the very beginning. So, when his aunt gave him a new outfit to wear that he felt was confining or silly or just plain ugly he’d refuse to wear it. As I went through the persuasive arguments (it looks nice on you; it cost a lot of money- truly meaningless to a three year old; it will keep you warm; she will enjoy seeing you in it) he would listen patiently and calmly repeat, “I know that, but I don’t like it.” I was in awe of his capacity to know and stick with what he valued, which included (in this case) his own physical comfort and appreciation for what was pleasing to his eye.

Brendan, his older brother (like me) is a thinking type and so could sometimes (sadly) be convinced by a rational argument to over-ride his own feeling function. On the other hand, when I tried to convince both boys not to play with imaginary guns (they were never given any toy guns but they did make them from sticks or their hands) Brendan, by the time he was nine, would offer counter arguments. He pointed out that although I had played with make-believe guns as a child I had no difficulty distinguishing between those imaginary games and real violence. Finally, I let myself just sink into the feeling I had when I watched them play these games (both my emotion and my valuing of non-violence) and spoke (with some weariness) from my heart.

I said, “You’re right. You are not likely to grow up and shoot someone because you use pretend guns now. But when I watch you do it. . . . I feel sick to my stomach.”

Brendan and Nathan both stopped and looked at me, and Brendan said, “Oh, okay. It’s no big deal. We don’t have to play that. There’s lots of other stuff we can do.”

And that was the end of that.

That’s the great thing about the feeling function: you don’t have to justify it or ask anyone’s permission. It just is. Now one thing might have a higher value for you than another and so trump your decision-making process. Clearly, for my sons, my gut reaction held more value to them than imaginary gun play. They were okay with letting the higher value take precedence. They (particularly Brendan) were just not willing to be convinced by a somewhat unsubstantiated and self-righteous argument. I know this gets tricky. We can get confused and sacrifice something of value to us because someone else has a conflicting value. But this particular thing, gun-play, was clearly not valued very highly by either boy.

I learned something that day. I learned that if I give myself permission to drop into my own heart and speak from there, I can save a lot of time, energy and anguish, and may even be heard. There’s no guarantee I know, but it makes me think of all the places where we try to muster convincing rational-sounding arguments where we might be better served speaking from one heart to another. I’m not suggesting we don’t often need to gather and allow facts to shape our choices. We do. But I do wonder how often we make our choices based on something much deeper (and less conscious) and then gather facts to justify our decision.

I also realize that the reason why my heart statement re: gun play had such an impact on the boys was because we had a relationship, one that we all valued. This of course means that if we want others in our lives to be open to hearing what is important to us to personally and collectively (like- the need for time alone or quiet in the morning or concerns about health care and unemployment) we need to be in relationship with one another, need to listen with our hearts to the hearts of those in our lives and our communities.

Do I seem to have wandered away from giving ourselves permission to live our lives? I haven’t. Because often, as soon as we resolve to do just that, we come up against the fact that we do not live in isolation. Ever. We are interconnected. So, granting ourselves permission to live according to the heart’s deepest values, means granting the same permission to others and being willing to engage (at least some of the time) in the dialogue that allows us to find a way to live together without anyone sacrificing that which, to point back to the name of this blog, keeps the green bough in our hearts, alive. Not easy, I know but well worth the effort.


  1. I love the title "permission to live"; as you point out many in our world do *not* give themselves permission to live fully or genuinely according to their heart whispers. There is such an overuse of medication, drugs, alcohol, addictions, because many would rather deny, bury, ignore their heart whispers rather than risk rejection or alienation by honoring and living a heart led life. Many do not know how to live such a life, because it's not something that is typically taught in mainstream circles, in homes; although now some ideas are more widely accepted.
    My personal issue that I work on daily is that I am accepting, compassionate, loving with others, and need to apply the same depth of those to myself. I want *you* to live fully, and I believe you are a mirror for me, so then it's okay for me to live fully as well:)I am learning to embrace that.

  2. I love the subtle but powerful insertion of a hyphen in "over-ruled" ... helping to reveal another layer I hadn't considered before.

    I've been struggling with the issue of nonviolent communication as I continue to read about politically motivated (and motivating) violent communication - and violent actions - that seem to be on the rise in the United States. My impulse is to react with angry denouncements, and I find it challenging to adhere to the principles of nonviolent communication.

    I remember years ago listening to "Your Heart's Prayer", where you progressively reduced the boundaries between "us" and "them" in an uncommonly compassionate response to the 9/11 attacks. I imagine that employing the incremental steps of "sometimes" and "some of us" may help me grant permission to others to live their lives, however strong my feeling that they are wrong ... but I'm not there (yet).

  3. Joe, had not really considered over-ruled in that light- thank you.

    Listening to some of the US news commentators recently I had a flash of fear re: a new civil war. Really- the communication is so violent. It's diffcult (and humbling and uncomfortable) to find that some of us and part of myself would sometimes rather be right rather than anything else- and just how dangerous that can be.

  4. Just want to say hello. Popped by today after googling (for the billionth time) The Invitation. I love it and refer to it often. It is me in a poem. Have you ever considered having it professionally printed as a poster or plaque? I cannot count the # of times I have wished I had it to hang in my home.

    Anywho, so glad I found you here.

  5. Suz, There was a large poster produced and sold by Isabella Catalgue but I believe they sold out and their licensing agreement with Harper Collins expired. Feel free to print up a copy for personal use. Glad you like the poem, Oriah

  6. I try to remember that I don't have to be right (actually, there is no such thing), only true to that wee voice within. Permission has already and always been granted. I just need to accept that fact and get on with my own personal process of listening ever more closely to that inner voice and following wherever that may lead—the work of a lifetime! The life I live will do all of the talking! em

  7. Hi Oriah,
    I have all your books and many time I turn to them to inspire me. I was so excited to see you had a blog. I put a link on my blog to yours. I have the same illness as you so I can relate to your energy struggles. Just yesterday I posted about acceptance on my blog. My life sure got easier when I stopped playing God and allowed others to live thier life without my help. LOL I found accepting people just as they are is so much easier than going around trying to change everyone all the time. I now how more time and energy to focus on myself.
    Elizabeth Quigley

  8. @ Joe and Oriah--regarding what you both wrote (post 9-11 poem to fear of civil war)--I wanted to share this with you which was in the virtual stream and made it my way. It is amazing that when we take away "sensationalism" from reporting (online, print, or TV media) we are left in that space between right and wrong that is just our humanity.

    Here is the link to some amazing photojournalism that, if you have an ounce of humanity in you, you can't choose between us and them and just want it to stop. The Big Picture

    I really appreciate this post, Oriah. Thank you. I want to make "I heart Oriah" badges and wear one and share many! :)

  9. Oriah~ I too have read all of your books and I was amazed when I finally realized I'm not alone. I have always known it in my head, but not my heart. To me, you are one who "has it all together". And yet, you are just like me. You have felt the pains of living and choose to continue on, to seek more. I can't thank you enough for your words and the impact that they made on my life. I was very pleased to find your blog and to see that you are one that actually responds :)
    I lost someone very special to me in 1996 and am still finding it difficult to allow myself to permission to grieve that loss. He was less than nice to me and I still pray for one more minute to hear "you didn't deserve it". Silly really..
    Anyway, I will continue to visit your blog and continue to learn from you... *Namaste*

  10. honourOne,welcome. When I think about grief I always think about a line from Annie Lamott- There is no way through grief except by grieving. I think the thing that surprises us is that we don't do it all at once- perhaps we can't- so it comes and goes over time. Blessings,Oriah

  11. When we include other people in what we do, we can measure how important it is to have something, versus how important we think it is for someone else to have something different, and we can decide, for one moment at least, whether we indulge the part of ourselves that we think of as ourselves, or the part that is someone else.

    We don't owe anyone anything, in my philosophy.

    When we recognize that, I think, we are most free to truly give of ourselves. When we give another person something to make them happy, to give them peace, to indulge their sensibilities, or to lessen their pain (even if they may have created it), when we do it freely, without guilt, without onus, it's truly a gift.

    I don't feel like I have to do anything for anyone, unless I want to.

    That makes me feel free to do something for someone else just because I want to do it, or because I love them, or because I choose to think that what they want or need is important, and I don't need to defend that to anyone.

    You can do anything you want, for any reason you want. You can be cruel or good, or kind, or selfish.

    I believe that in some ways, when you do something for someone regardless of the personal punishment or reward, that it is very different from when you do the same thing because you'll be punished or rewarded. I think it's easier to tell what you really want to do because you love someone, when you do it without being afraid of the consequences.

  12. Ahhhh: "I think the thing that surprises us is that we don't do it all at once- perhaps we can't- so it comes and goes over time." Let me know if your publisher wants all Oriahisms I have collected. :)

    much love,


    Coyote, great thoughts. Thanks for sharing.