How To Listen To Yourself

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Luis Hernandez

Objectively, most of the problems that I made for myself in my life came from my inability to follow my own instincts — to even understand what my instincts were telling me. I knew that I was an intuitive person, but for some reason, I couldn’t make heads or tails of what was “meant for me,” and yes, I do realize how contradictory that is.

The problem was that I was completely hung up on doing nothing but what was “meant for me” in a really narrow, really specific, really unrealistic kind of way. So I ended relationships and quit jobs and destroyed friendships over not being able to decipher them as “right” or “wrong.”

I got paralyzed by choice. I could see how a number of options would be viable, and I didn’t understand what I was supposed to be following. What does it mean to feel “right” anyway?

I once read that instinct is only a trace of old experience — of impressions that have imbued themselves on your psyche. You log away everything that happens to you, and when circumstances are right, these things rise to the surface again. In a grander sense, when we do something again and again it becomes habit, when habits persist they become character, and our character raises itself as what we call “instinct.”

This may be true, but only partially so. It seems that there are different instincts, and it’s a matter of knowing which is flaring and whether you should act on it.

There are our animal instincts, our survival instincts, and then there are our “gut” instincts that come from the fact that the nerve endings in our actual, literal guts are intelligent and react with our subconscious (hence why we should listen to them.) But so often, we simply don’t. We don’t listen to our bodies. We deny them because we don’t like what they tell us. Because we get unsure. The voice within is little, and barely a whisper most of the time, because we haven’t cultivated it. Freud once said: “It is impossible to overlook the extent to which civilization is built up upon a renunciation of instinct…” and it’s true. We live in the age of reason. I once heard someone say that humans are the only animals who do everything in their power not to be animals.

But it seems to me that there is some intelligent instinct — or rather, there is some sensation that translates to intellect. At once we know — though we couldn’t possibly know — what is to become of us, and what is to become of our lives. We just don’t know how to make sense of it in a world that has us structured to one narrative, one mindset, one way of intellectualizing things.

And that “one way” is not our own.

First and foremost: you’re not a Magic 8 ball. There are answers you can’t and won’t know until it’s time that you know them. You cannot over-think the surface of an issue and convince yourself you’re analyzing beneath it. There may not be a definitive “right” or “wrong,” only “right for us” and “more right for us,” and if there are such things as fate in play, then we’ll be led to what we’re meant for regardless. Right?

Well. Kind of. Because at the end of the day life is a series of choices, and one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten was this:

“Get to the point where you are no longer choosing.”

It sounds counterintuitive, and strange, and as though you are surrendering your control, and it’s true that it’s all of those things, but it’s also freedom. It’s following lightness.

And I’ve found that beyond all else, you have to begin with the fact that instincts aren’t words. Words come from the mind. Instincts are feelings, and they are light vs. tense.

You don’t choose to follow your happiness, you just do; and as anybody can tell you, happiness is the way in the sense that happiness isn’t something you find one day but also that what’s right for you will feel the best. This is hard for us — to let go of pain, to stop making problems where there don’t have to be any — because we collectively believe that “life is supposed to be hard.”

But is it?

If you can reflect on your life and trace some of the positive things you have throughout the course of their unfolding, you will realize you didn’t always know exactly how they would come into fruition, but you always knew you wanted them to. If you’re a teacher, you knew you liked kids. You understood the essence, not the exact manifestation of it.

And you knew what wasn’t right for you, because you had to justify it. Maybe not to someone else, maybe not even consciously to yourself; but at some level, you were making justifications for your actions. This means you’re convincing yourself that you’re doing the right thing. If that knowing isn’t innate, it’s “wrong,” or more accurately, “not as right.” 

I was disillusioned by the concept that I had all the answers and that it was just a matter of tapping into them and being able to consciously predict everything that would unfold from there. I thought that gut instincts were strong, when they aren’t always. Sometimes they are little whispers you have to decipher through a lot of louder screams that your mind is using to distract you (again, the reason why we make ourselves suffer.) It’s the easiest answer, and yet the most difficult to choose: follow happiness. Follow what feels lightest, best, “right.”

That choice is the only one that you really have to make: to listen to yourself above anybody else, and to trust yourself enough to hear what you’re saying.

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