Saturday, February 13, 2010

Book 9: Finding Your Own North Star

A former colleague recommended Martha Beck's Finding Your Own North Star to me several years ago. I've read it a few times now. Sometimes, I think we hear messages, get hints about our path, and we ignore them. Then, when the stars align, when the universe is ready, when we're ready, we finally listen to the message. This time, I think I was ready to listen to the message of this book, to trust what Beck calls "The Essential Self."
Beck theorizes that all of us have an essential self and a social self. It is the social self that keeps us out of jail, in the Junior League, and coloring in the lines. The Essential self is who we are at our core, who we are meant to be. And the idea is that the two play nicely together and share their toys. In reality, many of us allow our social self to take over. Yes, it keeps us out of jail. But it also keeps us in the Junior League when we'd sooner walk barefoot over hot coals than attend one more committee meeting, because it is what we're expected to do. Allowing the social self too much control makes sure we only color in the lines and are appalled at even suggesting that we freehand something.
Beck's premise is that we have our own internal compass, our own north star, comprised in part of our essential self. If we listen to this essential self and follow this internal compass we are healthy, wealthy, and wise. Yes, I'm boiling that down a bit. And I don't mean to sound flip about it, or go all "The Secret" and talk about laws of attraction and that stuff. I don't think Beck intends that either. I believe that what she intends is that if we listen to our true wants and needs, and do what we can to meet those, then we are holistically happier, healthier, and wealthier people.
I've been going through quite the contemplative stage for the last year or so. What do I want to be when I grow up, and what do I want to leave as a legacy? When I posted on Harry, A History, I mentioned the emotions that it brought up in me. The giddy, childlike excitement I felt at the Harry Potter series. How HAPPY it made me. Beck thinks that if we are in touch with our essential selves, then we know our path because it evokes those same giddy, happy, passionate feelings in us.
I lost that a long time ago. I haven't truly felt things in a long time. I've merely existed, doing what is expected of me. I don't want that to be all there is, so I took Leonard Cohen's advice. I couldn't feel, so I'm learning to touch. After this third? fourth? reading of North Star, I'm finally starting to pay attention to my essential self.
Martha Beck is right. When you ignore your essential self, your body reacts differently than when you let this essential part of you guide your actions. I made the conscious decision earlier this week to go with this "gut feeling." I was faced with a question where I knew what the socially preferred answer would be "yes, I'll give up this free time on a holiday to do something that really can wait." As soon as I heard the question, my body tensed . My stomach clenched. I didn't want to give up time on a holiday for a non-essential meeting. I swallowed hard and said what my essential self was screaming at me to say. "No." And immediately, the tension left me. I relaxed. I was proud of myself.
This book is peppered with exercises and activities to help discover one's true path. I'm working through those as I have time. I'm beginning to experience what Beck means when she talks about how much better it feels to be authentic. I figure better late than never, but maybe, just maybe, I'm on the path to creating my own happiness.

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