This has been quite a week in the life of me. Things had been pretty difficult lately. Despite my best efforts I didn’t seem to be able to catch a break. That was causing some considerable stress, not only for me, but also for those closest to me. That all changed this week. And all thanks to taking one big decision. To sign up for a course I have been toying with for the longest time.
Having teetered on the brink of an anxiety cliff for too long, starting to despair at the failure of each attempt to move life forward, I finally decided enough was enough. I can either stand here waiting for panic to run at me with all its force and take us both over the edge, or I can say “Screw It!” and jump of my own accord.
So I sent in my application, I had my interview to see if I was a suitable candidate, and this week, on Thursday, I got my offer letter. I knew this was the right thing for me to be doing, because it made me feel light as a feather and full of positive energy. I haven’t felt that way for some considerable time.
There were a great many difficulties attached to taking this decision. It didn’t resolve many of the things that had been causing a rising nausea within me of late – but it gave me a clear purpose – something to throw my energies into – something I know I will love and will hopefully guide me to the next stepping stone I need to take.
Some years ago, when I found myself at a loss, I was guided by a friend to a week-long retreat being hosted at an Ignatian Retreat Centre. Though I certainly am a spiritual person, I do not identify myself as a Catholic (despite being from a Catholic family). I was assured this didn’t matter. The retreat was for people who had lost their way in life, and that was all I needed to know.
On this retreat I learned a great deal about Ignation spirituality, and I did find it helpful. In particular I found the guidance around good decision making very useful. Known as discernment, this concept is described as follows:
“Discernment of spirits is the interpretation of what St. Ignatius Loyola called the “motions of the soul.” These interior movements consist of thoughts, imaginings, emotions, inclinations, desires, feelings, repulsions, and attractions. Spiritual discernment of spirits involves becoming sensitive to these movements, reflecting on them, and understanding where they come from and where they lead us” (IgnationSpirituality.com)
Ignation teaching aims to help us examine our different thoughts and inclinations, discern whether they are guided by good or evil spirits, and whether they have been formed within feelings of consolation or desolation. This was described to me as follows:
“When examining a decision you may take, look within yourself to see how it feels within your body and soul. Does the prospect of taking this path feel like warm water gently entering a sponge? Or does the prospect of moving forward in this direction feel more like cold water hitting a stone?”
A very simple little idea, but one I have used ever since to test out with myself if a course of action I am taking feels right within me or not.
Now, whether you are a person of faith or not, I think such checking in with yourself when making big decisions is advantageous. Rather than thinking of the factors influencing your thoughts as good or evil spirits (if that isn’t your thing), I liken it to whether it feels like they are being driven by fear or ego (both of which can get pretty uppity about things and use very distorted arguments if left unchecked), or whether they feel like they are coming from our true authentic selves – our sincere souls – who want only the best for us and will guide us accordingly.
Having recently been reacquainted with my own inner voice through counselling, using mindfulness to connect with what is going on within me at any given time, and coupling this with the tools I learned on my Ignation retreat, I now feel far more confident when making big decisions – able to discern if they are being made from a sincere and honest place within me, if they are for my highest good, or if what I am hearing is just my Ego having a monumental strop.
And so, my decision was made. Suddenly, the vacuum I had been inhabiting had a ray of light shining through it. And just as I was resting in this light, grateful that finally one piece of the puzzle had been revealed, the whole darn jigsaw box landed on my head.
Just as I was thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great if ….” And, “Now all I need is …” further good news followed – I was thanked for a contribution I had made to someone else’s work and was delighted to have made this really positive connection. And then later, the very same day, was offered some work of my own which will sit perfectly alongside my upcoming course. Suddenly my path went from having an uncertain and somewhat empty landscape surrounding it, to being full of positive things to throw myself into.
And what of my friend anxiety? Yesterday he was somewhat confused. He turned up as usual, searching for the evil ivy that sometimes creeps across my mind (and that he likes to get himself all tangled up in). He found the garden had been cleared of weeds. He didn’t know what to make of it at all. This, unsurprisingly, made him anxious. He scrabbled about under rocks and behind walls but no mean spirited tendrils could be found. And then I had a word with him and said “Remember Thursday? Remember those things that happened? Don’t you think you’ve earned yourself some time off” Anxiety shrugged dejectedly, and quietly walked away closing the gate behind him.
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