Once we listen with our entire body and mind, loving action arises. ~ Bernie Glassman
One of the most surprising things I’ve learned as I’ve studied and coached over the past several years is that what you do doesn’t matter nearly as much as how you do it. Many clients come to me facing a choice about what they should do in a certain situation. They want to know which is the “right” answer: A or B? What they usually don’t see is that there are really four choices (or double however many choices they think they are facing), because there’s a healthy way and an unhealthy way to do just about anything. Here’s a fictionalized example to show you what I mean: Katie has a younger sister who lives on the other side of the country. They have a close but fairly co-dependent relationship, which Katie, at least, has been seeking to heal. When the sister called to say that she was getting sober (again) and wanted Katie to fly to the East Coast to help her, Katie called me. On the surface, it seemed like she had two choices – to stay or to go. But on an energetic level she really had four choices:
- Fly to the East Coast to help her sister, feeling resentful and used.
- Stay home but feel horribly guilty and anxious about abandoning her sister.
- Make the trip out of love, knowing that it was her decision and feeling clear about her choice.
- Stay home and lovingly offer whatever level of support she could without feeling used.
Clearly, the real choice wasn’t actually about whether she should stay or go, but about the energy behind each of those actions. There was a healthy way for her either to go and help her sister, or to stay home – and an unhealthy way, as well.
But how exactly do you figure out what your energy is?
It’s not nearly as mysterious as it sounds. Energy is something that we’re all familiar with, although we might not be conscious of it. When my energy is negative, I feel it as a sensation of turmoil or buzzing in my chest and throat. You might feel it as a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, a tightening, a pressure, or a burning sensation. Next, listen to your thoughts as you contemplate a course of action. It can help to speak them aloud or write them down. Don’t listen to them for pointers as to what you should do, but to how they make you feel. Feel inwardly for whether your thoughts increase or decrease the sensation of negative energy. These are some of the thoughts Katie shared as she contemplated each of her choices:
- “I always help her and she hardly even acknowledges it. She expects me to drop everything in my life and put her problems first. I can’t believe she’s doing this to me again!”
- “What if I don’t go and something happens to her? I’ll never forgive myself! She really needs me. I know she can’t do it by herself.”
- “She’ll probably be fine on her own, but I really do love her and I want to spend some time with her anyway. I’ll just go for a week and go see my friend in DC at the same time.”
- “I can’t get the time off from work right now, but I can call her on the phone every day and let her know I love her and that she’s got this!”
Can you feel the different energy behind those thoughts? The healthy choices bring a peaceful or calming sensation as you contemplate them, while the unhealthy ones ramp up the anger, fear, guilt and resentment. Even after you find that peaceful place, it’s common to lapse back into negative energy and have to repeat the clarifying process, sometimes many times. Just be diligent in monitoring your energy and examining your thoughts. Ultimately, Katie decided to stay home and help her sister from afar, but she had to continually watch for signs of guilt and anxiety creeping back in. The interesting thing about the energy you put out is that it will affect not only you, but the other people involved in the situation as well. When Katie was able to stay peaceful, she could truly support and comfort her sister in a way that wasn’t possible when she was feeling anxious and guilty. And had she flown across the country feeling angry and resentful, her energy would not have been helpful in that case either.
When you make sure your energy is clear before taking action, the action itself will always be much more effective – no matter what it is.