By Yana Hoffman
I'm a therapist. A lot of therapy focuses on guiding people towards being happy and secure in life: What we do. Who we do it with. Who we are when we do it. Many decisions we make to that end are based on what makes sense or what is logical—this can get us in emotional trouble.
Making decisions with logic (which I am defining as a progression of choices that build upon an accepted premise) allows our thinking part (our head) to feel comfortable and secure that we are making the “right” decision. But is it always the “best” decision?
Decisions can lead to doubt and confusion when they make sense but don’t really "feel" right. Because without questioning our assumptions and examining the origin of the premises we build our logic on, comfort may only live skin deep. For people who want to live from a more authentic place, who endeavor to be the author of their life not just the copy editor, skin deep is not enough.
Many years ago I became pregnant when my then husband and I were separated and working to reconcile. We were in an unstable situation and questioned having another child. The consideration of an abortion snuck its way into an already complicated situation. I didn’t have a social stand regarding abortion. I accepted women having one, but I was very, very clear it was wrong for me. Now, I was faced with considering it for myself.
To say I was agonizing would be to minimize the heavy sense of responsibility I felt in figuring out what to do. I ultimately had an interview at a major hospital and was easily approved for the procedure by the panel in charge of these matters. It would be a "legal" abortion. But when the day came I was not aligned with the decision to go ahead. I was stuck. Dismissing the seriousness of getting to the hospital on time, I went to the beach. I walked and walked and walked. Stuck. Stuck between two flawed choices.
What more could I do? Return to my friends whose opinions I had already heard? Re-examine my pros and cons list that had failed to reveal a clear choice? Discuss it with my husband who was firm he didn’t want another child? Everyone else had a clear position. Lucky me, I had two and while either one could be supported logically neither one was tenable for me. Clearly I was on my own. Just the beach and me. I walked and walked and walked some more. I stayed on that beach for almost eight hours. Since my head had failed to return a sustainable verdict, I turned to my body sense, my body wisdom. I was listening for the answer to come from within. This was serious. I knew there was potential for years, if not decades, of self-questioning, doubt and even self loathing or recrimination if I enacted the "wrong" decision. I felt torn apart.
After many hours of walking, using my mindfulness practice experience to still the voices in my head and just be, and long after I had missed my appointment at the hospital, l felt a decision. Truly it was a felt sense. It was not a new thought or point of argument that won me over. It was not a "should" or judgment from my accumulated body of morals, mores, or peer expectations. It was a settling in my belly. And as I listened unencumbered by judgment and expectation, I heard a small, still voice, and had a sense of peace and "right action." It had nothing backing it up but its own authority and was undefended by any words. There was no narrative, no images. Just a deepening of my sense of contentment.
Even decades later as I now write this, I feel tears and wonderment about who that child might have been. What I don't feel is doubt. And through the years, whenever my monkey mind wanted to dredge it all up again and seduce me into evaluating and debating my decision, I didn't get hooked. My "gut", my deep belly sense of balance, order and right action, had clearly and decisively spoken to me on the beach. The verdict hadn’t been reached logically; the path of logic had failed to deliver redemption from this agonizing dilemma. Yet, it was "the" answer for me and some 30 plus years later I still trust I did right.
There have been countless times I've been filled with gratitude for the time taken to persevere past the positions offered by my head and get to an answer I accept without doubt. This was a decision no amount of debate could land in a stable place. Yet the feeling of the rightness of the answer spoken by my body has given me unwavering peace of mind.
In my therapy practice many people struggle with decisions. Often several conflicting principles or priorities express themselves at the same time. Sometimes our own fears or self-doubt keep us from being able to discern what is true for us. True for us if we weren't trying to also accommodate everyone else's opinions, expectations and judgments. It's a challenge. On the one hand we are social beings who want to be accepted and included. On the other, we long to evolve into adults fluent in expressing ourselves and free from shame, fear and undue influence.
In my experience, our gut can be the guide in this. Gut takes experience, thought and imagination, digests it all, and puts the end product out as direction we can take. When right direction is present we feel a “yes” that requires no thought to validate it. The gut has already incorporated relevant thoughts. The direction may not necessarily be "right" in a different or universal context, or be the way to reach every decision. Nor should all decisions be made unilaterally rather than in concert with others. But like any good negotiation, it's good to come to The Table of Life knowing what's right for YOU.
And sometimes the best place to find that is in your gut.
Feel at a loss as to how to start tuning into yourself? You are not alone. "Feeling" what we want is often clouded over by years of trying to figure out what is expected of us. To begin to turn your attention inward and be more self directed there are simple things you can do. Thirsty? Don't put it off for another second. Get a drink of water. Gotta pee? Don't hold it till it's more convenient. Go pee right now. Have an impulse to smile, touch a loved one, take a five minute break by yourself? The more and more quickly you respond to simple body requests, the more you grow your connection to your gut rather than your thoughts. Either one can bully us. Practice mindful awareness towards yourself and your life and you can bring yourself towards more balance and choice.
All the best to you on this courageous journey.
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Yana Hoffman is a therapist in private practice. She works with individuals and couples both face to face and via Internet sessions. She can be reached at email@example.com
For an entirely different perspective on “Trusting Your Gut” in making important decisions, have a look at Trusting Your Gut: An Excuse For Not Thinking?
Which appears in the Caveman Logic blog by my partner Hank Davis.
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