There is a pervasive emptiness that afflicts a great many people in the modern world. On the heels of last week’s post and in response to the number of my clients who share that they feel like they’re living with a hole or numbness inside, I’d like to offer my prescription for filling your inner well when it has become dry. For nobody is born with a dry well; it’s our birthright to experience life in all of its richness, to open our hearts to the sadness, joy, and awe that are our constant companions on this planet, and to feel wholly alive. It’s only in response to pain and without skilled caregivers who can guide us on how to keep our hearts open through the pain that we shut down and go numb. It requires real commitment to learn to fill your well, to unravel the walls around your heart that began like soft gauze and, over time, hardened into plaster.
Before I offer my prescription, it’s essential to understand that any of the following actions can be approached with a mindset of avoiding and protecting or of learning and softening. For example, you can approach meditation with an intention to avoid and transcend the pain and messiness of life or you can approach it with an intention to learn how to accept and breathe into what is. The same is true for connecting with others: You can seek social stimulation as a way to quiet your restlessness or you can socialize as a way to genuinely share time, experiences, and your inner world with others. As life cannot be split into black or white terms, it’s likely that your intention may be a blend of both sides of the coin. And as intention can shift from moment to moment, setting your intention isn’t a one-time choice but a moment-by-moment examination of what’s motivating your actions.
If you feel empty or restless and have a sense that you’ve been using people or substances to fill you up, it’s likely that you’re operating from a self-abandoned place, meaning that you’re hoping that something else will fill you up and rescue you from your pain. No matter what happened or didn’t happen as a child – no matter how present or absent your parents were – the path of true healing requires that you let go of wishing that someone else would take the pain away and recognize that, as an adult, the only person that can truly show up for you is you. Living life from a self-abandoned state where you’re handing your inner self/pain/soul over to others creates emptiness.
So before you engage in any of the activities below as way to fill your well, you must first establish a connection inside, find the courage and willingness to feel your pain (and I’m using pain as an umbrella term for any uncomfortable feeling, including disappointment, frustration, loneliness, helplessness over others and outcomes, vulnerability, loss, fear, anxiety, etc), and orient your mindset in the direction of learning, growing, and softening.
How do you fill the inner well? There are many paths, and what works for someone else may not work for you. But deep inside you have a sense of what floats your boat, what makes you tick, what sends a quiet or raucous quiver of YES reverberating through your being. As you read through the following list, notice that sense of yes inside of you. And then take the actions that call your name.
1. Being in Nature
And I really mean being in nature, meaning that you can approach nature with an attitude of accomplishment or even conquering or you can allow nature to be the medicine that fills you up from the soles of your feet to the tip of your brain. There was a day last week when I felt so disconnected that before I even had time to think my legs were leading me down to the creek where I sat down, fully clothed, in the rushing water. This natural body of water is my medicine. I needed to sit fully in it – not near or by or next to but in, submerged, like being on fire and allowing the coolness to douse the flames. Inhaling and exhaling I could feel my soul incrementally relax, my brow unfurl, my body soften. Nature is the Great Mother and when we allow ourselves to surrender into Her arms, she catches us like a soft pillow.
2. Music and Dance
Like nature, music and dance offer free, easily accessible remedies for the restless soul. I don’t know many people who, deep down, don’t respond positively to music and dance. Music opens the heart via the channel at the top of your crown and dance opens you through the infinitely wise and naturally free vehicle of your body. If you let yourself, you can dance your way to freedom and serenity.
I’m always inspired and amazed when I ask my clients what they enjoyed doing as a child. Occasionally someone will say, “I don’t know” or “Not much, really,” but the vast majority will say, “Oh, I was so creative as a child. I loved writing stories and putting on plays. I painted and worked with clay. I was always engaged in something creative.” Where did that go? Does natural creativity die with age? Absolutely not. There’s an ember inside of you that’s waiting for you to fan it into fire. Everyone is creative. If you dream, you’re creative. And if you’re anxious, you’re evidencing creativity gone awry (the endless “what if” scenarios you create in your mind are actually creative!). You may not have accessed your positive creativity in many years – or ever – but I assure you that there’s creative expression inside of you waiting to be known. And when you touch into it and allow it to blossom, you’ll experience an aliveness unparalleled on this earth. Creativity unleashed is the elixir that calms the misguided longing for romantic love. When you’re tapping into your creativity, the need for a partner to fill your hole falls away.
A dear friend of mine once said that spirituality is very comforting for the anxious mind. I would widen that statement to say that spirituality is very comforting for any mind. By spirituality I don’t mean religion, although religion can certainly include spirituality. By spirituality I mean cultivating a direct, meaningful, personal relationship to Spirit (God, Nature, wisdom, love, light; whatever word works for you). Every single person on the planet has direct access to the wisdom and comfort that is Spirit. You don’t need a church or synagogue or priest or any person or place to connect to this wisdom. It’s around you just as much as the air you breathe. It’s riding on your breath. In fact, close your eyes right now. Put one hand on your heart and another on your belly – “the two most loving hands in the world’, as my yoga teacher says – and take one mindful breath. And now take another breath and imagine that love is all around you. For one moment, let yourself experience the divine light that is always surrounding you. Allow yourself to derive comfort in the fact that you are not alone.
5. Meaningful Work
Like creativity and spirituality, we are all born with innate gifts, ways that we’re meant to serve the planet. For some people, these gifts may manifest as work that generates income; for others it may be creating a beautiful and nourishing home for a family, tending a garden, or devotion to a meditation practice. When you’re connected to your purpose for being here, you naturally feel the waters of your well rising.
6. Acts of Service Studies now show that people who regularly volunteer or serve are happier than those who don’t. We think we need to fill up by taking in some way, but it’s actually through giving that we’re offered one of the greatest sources of satisfaction.It’s important to remember here the importance of intention, as it’s certainly possible to give with the hope of filling up, which is actually giving with an agenda or giving to get instead of purely giving to give. By the way, not only are these some ways that you fill the inner well, but they’re also antidotes to anxiety.
Breaking free from anxiety requires a three prong approach where you’re attending to your mind, body, and spirit via daily practices like journaling, mindfulness, prayer, meditation, dance, yoga, eating healthy food, and unleashing your creativity. Sound hard? Well, yes, it’s not the easiest work in the world and asks a lot more of you than spending your time on Facebook. But if you’re looking to quiet your mind, open your heart, still the restlessness, and experience the fullness of your being that is your birthright, there’s no other way.