How do you know if your ‘gut instinct’ is your intuition or fear?

I have a confession to make. It’s hard for me to trust.

Mostly myself. The runner-up is usually God.

As a recovering control-freak, I like everything ‘just-so’, which means leaving room for the unexpected, even if it’s a better outcome than what I had planned, is hard.

I’m really good at mapping it all out, and while sometimes that’s useful, often it’s useless. The doubt still sneaks in; is the thing I figured out, the choice I made, really good enough?

So then I bank on you; anyone else but me to have the answer. Eyes darting to and fro, looking for safety whenever I can’t find center anymore.

A few years back I asked a mentor, “How do you know the difference between your intuition and fear?” I asked because I wanted a simple way to discern what was real wisdom inside me, and what was just a shit-storm of emotions. I wanted rules, or at least guidelines to help me make my choices.

Except that desire to follow someone else’s way of doing things, was just another symptom of what made it so hard to trust in the first place.

This year I spent many days and weeks with a weight on my heart, a gnawing in my stomach, an overall feeling of ‘blah’. Something didn’t feel right. I wanted to go.

“Go where?”, you ask. I can’t tell you. Just anywhere but here; in this house, on this street, in this country, with this weather, in this marriage, with myself.

The desire to go floods my body, leaving me in a pool of tears.

The pain in my heart, something I gladly want to run away from. Move back in with my parents. Immerse myself in village life in Africa. Get a job with a compelling organization in New Mexico.

The options, while enticing, never quite bring a sense of peace, leaving me once again in this dance of, ‘should I stay or should I go now?’. The all-consuming heartache feels oh so very real. Yet the simple, almost silent ‘stay’, has an equally magnetic force.

I choose to stay, and in the status of ‘stay’, begin to see.

The inexplicable grief, unwarranted despair, and the whirr of the sleepless nights… while I am for sure living that experience, it also is not fully me.

Dr. Gabor Mate defines trauma as ‘disconnection from self’, and while I was very viscerally connected to the pain in my body, I also was not connected to the heart of me.

When I asked that question a few years ago, I wanted an answer that said something like, “When you feel bad in your body, it means the situation you’re in is bad for you. When your body feels good, you can trust you’re in the right place.”

Another binary way of interpreting life as either-or, ‘good’ or ‘bad’, that misses the possibility of a 3rd option, the both-and.

Instead of, “I am in pain, this is bad”, (and let me try to make this stop), “I am in pain, AND I can choose to stay with the pain so I don’t ignore it, numb it, or try to fix external circumstances to make it go away.”

Here’s another one. The instinct to stop the pain is a protective mechanism that’s useful, AND sometimes what we’re feeling are stale left-overs from an old story that’s past it’s sell-by date. Sometimes the pain resurfaces when it’s time to say good-bye and create a new story.

Not only is trauma the state we’re in when we’re disconnected from the core of who we are, in the space of that disconnection, we can loop through a variety of fear responses, because we think controlling everything, running away, or pretending it’s all ok with either get us back home to ourselves, and/or keep us safe.

And in those moments, because your response worked so well last time, the fear can feel very familiar and trustworthy.  It’s also likely that it’s not really the advice that deep down you want to listen to.

In my case, the idea of running away is enticing. I can go ‘find myself’ in a warmer, sunnier climate, in a community where everyone speaks my spiritual language of house music, and my partner never leaves a trail of salt and pepper on the counter when he seasons the meat.

While that sounds delicious, running away also comes with a price. It perpetuates the addiction to self-righteousness. It allows for the story of ‘my way is the high-way’ to keep looping in my life. It gives me permission to keep shaming that which I decide is flawed.

Fear, even when it’s coated in really pretty icing, doesn’t always taste good. Because it’s missing a key ingredient: Love.

And Love, at our core, is who we truly are.

So when Gabor Mate says ‘trauma is when we are disconnected from who we are’, he might as well be saying, trauma is when we are disconnected from Love.

And when I was asking the question, ‘how do you know the difference between your intuition and fear?’, really what I was asking is, how do you know the difference between fear and love?

I will borrow from the I Corinthians description of Love to help answer that question as I see it. Perhaps this invites you to come up with your own way of discerning the two.

Love is patient: Rushing? Frenzied? Fear, not Love

Love is kind: Putting yourself or others down? Not Love.

It does not envy: Feeling behind? Wishing you were further along? Not Love.

It does not boast, not arrogant, or rude: Thinking you’re better than everyone else? Not Love.  

Does not insist on its own way: Control-freak? Not Love.

Not irritable or resentful: Those thoughts that make you pissed off at everyone? Not Love.

Does not rejoice in wrong-doing: The scheme to come out on top at the expense of others? Not Love.

I read this list, and think, ‘oops, I did it again’.

Of course I did, because at some point, those ‘not love’ responses were the things that helped me succeed. And so I trusted them.

Thankfully there is more: Love bears all things (even the grief, the heartbreak, the knot in your stomach), believes all things (even when it’s hard to trust), hopes all things (even in a year like 2020), endures all things (even as you resolve your trauma, step out of the patterns that you’ve come to rely on, and find your way back home to yourself.)

As we go into the second week of the  ‘24 reasons to Celebrate 2020 Advent-ure’, (join in on Instagram, Facebook, or email) it may feel like, “But wait, I don’t want to be boasting about myself.” Here’s the thing: this isn’t just about celebrating you.

Because, for all the times you chose….

Care: when you could’ve shut down and neglected yourself.

Courage: when you could’ve stayed quiet and in hiding.

Joy: when you could’ve harped on all the ways the situation wasn’t good enough.

To let the spirit move you and Create: when you could’ve numbed out with Netflix.

To Trust: when you could’ve fought your way out, ran away, or stayed frozen waiting for certainty.

Rest: when you could’ve burned yourself out trying to prove your worth

To Receive: when you could’ve shut down and cut yourself off from the gift that was right there waiting for you.

…you were choosing Love.

So as you find 24 reasons to Celebrate 2020, really, you are celebrating Love.

As you notice the moments where Love wins, you are also celebrating the Source from which all Love flows (whatever name you have for that is great), the ways in which it shows up and reveals itself, and the moments when you reconnected to who you most truly are… an expression of Love itself.

Remembering who you are and where you came from… this is how you learn to trust.

Photo by Bart LaRue on Unsplash

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