The Well of Self

IMG_4378We all carry within us a well of Self. We can’t see this well, but we know when the waters are clear and full or when they’re low and flecked with the dark matter of the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves. We know when the waters are warm from the time, interest, and compassion we pour into ourselves or cold from being ignored. Like a child, the Self thrives under the sunlight of focused and loving attention, and withdraws when you, as the loving parent, make everything else in your life more important.

When the waters are cold, dark-flecked and low, the sides of the well magnetically attract unwanted thoughts, worry, perfectionism, and self-doubt. A flame of thought darts into the well and, without the waters to absorb it, it clings to the side and burns there. Without a full Self to douse the flame with truth-waters, to turn inside and calmly, reassuringly answer questions that can swarm into a vulnerable mind, the thoughts take hold. The negative fire is fanned by negative attention. Suddenly the question, “What if I’m gay?” or “What if I hurt someone?” explodes into a bonfire of obsession. You’re now even more removed from your well, which craves only one thing: the light of your loving attention.

On the other hand, when the waters are full from knowing yourself and loving yourself you can answer such questions with clarity. The clarity of a full Self douses the thought-flames. The dart cannot ping into the sides of the well because the water is there to absorb it. When the waters of Self are full you don’t need to turn to others for reassurance. You don’t worry about making mistakes. The flow of water inside reflects the river flow of life: you trust yourself like you trust life, and this trust is the North star that allows you to navigate your life and make decisions big and small with confidence.

We’re all born with a full well. It’s our birthright. But early on we’re taught to externalize the well, to hand it over to others. We’re conditioned to believe that someone or something else carries the keys to the faucet that fill the well with lovely, warm water.  You learned to abdicate those keys early in life, to hand them to all of the big and small people – parents, teachers, doctors, siblings, peers – who seemed to know what you needed and what you liked. Fed on the cultural value system of competition and comparisons, you learned to climb the desired social ladder – or fall off of it. You later learned to climb the corporate ladder – or fall off it. You learned that it’s climb or be climbed, bully or be bullied. You learned that everything that matters is out there. You learned that everyone else has the keys to your happiness.

Nobody has those keys, except you. You’ve always had it. It’s the keys to your self-trust, your self-love, and your self-knowledge. If you could learn to retrieve those keys, your life would transform. You would learn to listen to the songs that float in your inner waters. You would learn to love your own company. You would learn not to fear making mistakes and to allow the gifts that long to travel into the world to find expression. You would learn what it takes to fill your well of Self.

There are many ways to fill the well, but we cannot know what the well needs until we slow down and turn inward. We cannot listen to the whisperings that emanate up from the depths of the well, from the chortling of the water, when we’re running and ruminating and working and talking and hooked into screens and living our lives from the head up. Everything our culture tells us we need to be happy is wrong: it’s not the city or job or partner or face or body that fills the well. It’s not staying busy and climbing and achieving. We all know that sometimes the people who seem to have it all in the world still live with an empty well in a state of misery and despair.

The well is filled by listening. It’s filled by dropping out of head and into body. It’s filled by becoming an archaeologist of Self where you become fascinated by the maps and pathways that comprise your labyrinth. A good cry fills the well with the purest waters on earth. And when the well is full, the intrusive thoughts are washed away on the river of your tears, absorbed in the shimmering spring filled by your own loving.

Are you ready to begin the journey that will help you take back your keys? Are you ready to learn the tools that will help you break ground and fill the waters? Join me on the next round of Trust Yourself: A 30 day program to help you overcome your fear of failure, caring what others think, perfectionism, difficulty making decisions, and self-doubt.  Join me as you learn how to reclaim what is rightfully yours.

23 comments to The Well of Self

  • Sim1

    Beautiful as always Sheryl. Lately I have been really trying to fill my well by turning inwards and seeing what is needed. But I’m finding myself stuck at the moment. I disengaged from the fear and found myself in the empty state you talk about it , I sat with it with compassion and something amazing happened, I had the most profound period of clarity and gratitude, I was so open hearted it felt amazing and then after this window fizzled out I was left with the core feelings that lurked beneath my anxiety this whole time, the feelings my anxiety has been covering- fear if losing my partner, fear of uncertainty and fear of not being in control. I have this deep sad awareness like I never had before, it’s different from the emptiness, I feel like I’ve really reached my core feelings but now I’m at a loss, I don’t know how to tend to these big feelings, I feel like the longer I leave them untouched the more I slip back into fear and emptiness.. I feel the only way to truly fill my well is to tend to these feelings but I’m unsure how to .. Any advice or articles or exercises you can suggest would be highly appreciated as I don’t want to slip back into fear.

    • It sounds like you’re doing really deep work, Sim, and I encourage you to keep going with exactly what you’ve been doing: move toward your big feelings with compassion. Moving toward the fear is the same as moving toward the emptiness is the same as moving toward the fear of uncertainty and not being in control. Breathe into it every time you notice it’s there. Become curious about it. Write from that place. Channel it into something creative. These are all ways of compassionately being with whatever arises.

      • Sim1

        Thank you Sheryl I really am thankful for your wise words. I will move towards these big feels as if they were fear themself which in a way they are! Il try putting myself into something more creative, something I’ve been doing lately is every time I feel the fear creep up I try switch to gratitude for my partner instead even if I don’t feel it in that moment , I find it helps a lot 🙂 thanks for the reply Sheryl!

  • Clara

    So lovely Sheryl. I felt my well filling sa I read it! I remember using the words “reservoire of Self” many years ago. I first became aware of this reservoire when I was 22yo and travelling / working overseas for the first time by myself. With all my crutches and false refuges removed – all my friends and family and distractions thousands of miles away – I had only myself to rely on. And I realised that was a lot actually. It can be a real blessing in disguise to be stranded without our usual external supports.

    • It’s so interesting that you say this, Clara, as I’ve been thinking so much lately about how expansive and life-changing travel can be for people. I’m thinking about my clients who have lived in foreign countries and that it changed them, opened them, softened them in a way that nothing else could have done.

  • Aliya

    Thank you, Sheryl, that’s beautiful. I love that verse from Rumi. Over the last few months, self-care has slowly been incorporated into my vocabulary. Being appreciative of caring for one’s self, without the socialisation of guilt, entrenched by the negative connotations of the word, selfish,is still a constant challenge. But blogs like yours, are beautiful and comforting reminders to nurture ourselves. And Clara, thank you too, “a reservoire of the self” is poetic!

  • Katrina

    Wonderful article. Thank you.
    I am currently revisiting the last 30 day Trust Yourself course – which I didn’t complete because when I listened to myself I decided I needed to step away from learning and information – that in and of itself is different as usually I charge on with the learning regardless of how I feel..
    I must say the first 10 days which I had followed, and am now revisiting, had a huge impact on me. When i listened I realised that I wanted to step off the treadmill of London life, to stop drinking alcohol, to be in bed by 10 every night, to re start meditating and juicing,I also felt a strong need to come off the contraception pill – all of this because I have started listening to my body and I felt compelled to get still to be with myself and fill my well….I have even started the blog I have been wanting to start for ages – first post “diving into my well of self”…..And it had felt more natural than all the time i have been trying to force myself to love and trust myself somehow….
    So I wanted to say that I have enjoyed all your 30 day courses and for me this one has had a most profound impact – I think I needed permission somehow to get off the treadmill, surrender and get still and go within – changes are happening now I am doing that…..I feel like I am touching the edges of the treasures within more and more…
    Thank you so much for your powerful work – I love it so much!

  • Katie Linville

    Those words are something we all need to hear. Thank you so much for the work that you do. I have been on a great spiritual journey the past few months and it started from relationship anxiety, which is when I found your website, which helped a lot. I am happy to say I have grown so much from the help that I have found, and it all starts from the relationship with yourself.

  • Liza

    Beautiful writing and ideas! I love your refreshing approach to living life to its fullest. This post indeed is inspiration to overflow our wells.

  • Denisse

    Hello Sheryl,

    I took the conscious wedding course a few months ago and I am still working on myself.

    I have a question, a doubt or dilemma that has walked along with me for a long time. When you say: “Everything our culture tells us we need to be happy is wrong: it’s not the city or job or partner or face or body that fills the well. It’s not staying busy and climbing and achieving. We all know that sometimes the people who seem to have it all in the world still live with an empty well in a state of misery and despair.” I seem to be caught on this search for self-development, spiritually , professionally, financial but I feel more insecure than ever, thinking I am not doing (or could ever do) good enough or reach that great “success”. My BF always tells me to relax, and I get frustrated because I see him too relaxed and not “super driven” as I expect myself to be. And then I think: Well I seem to be obsessing with all this attemps, happiness should not be about achievements, but then I question myself: is accepting myself equals to slow down, stop trying hard to improve my lifestyle, stop thinking about goals?, not going for big dreams because that is only a cultural demand? Which is this delicate line that divides these concepts? I mean for example, you have accomplished a lot and that is because you have worked hard, that is what I am setting myself to do but then, why does it feel so depressive?

    • The loving approach is to continue to pursue your goals and dreams but from a gentle place inside as opposed to the place of “should” or the belief that achieving those goals will make you feel more worthy. Yes, I have achieved a lot, but I had I chosen not to devote energy into my work I would be just as happy. So it’s not my work that makes me happy but rather my work is an expression of a well-being and internal state of connection that live inside of me. The important place to look as is your intention: are you striving, pushing, achieving to try to prove your worth or are you pursuing goals as an authentic expression of your passions and gifts?

  • Nina

    Lovely. I read this book: “How full is your bucket for kids” to my son’s kindergarten class last year – they gave them all buckets filled with drops that had everyday compliments you can give each other. it was a very powerful, yet understandable, way for my son and his friends to be able to articulate the feeling I think you are describing above. he still will sometimes say “that made my bucket get filled up” or “my bucket feels empty.” so glad he can feel both states and we can articulate what helps us to get it full ourselves and with the help of others.

  • Heather

    As Pema Chodron says, “Will you take maybe 7 minutes to make friends with yourself?” Beautiful as always.

  • stephanie

    oh, how i love your work, sheryl. i’ve become great friends with my journal. i take it everywhere. i write to it like a best friend. i tell her when i’m scared, uncertain… happy…

    just last night while journaling, i thought, “i’m really happy right now. i really like liking what i like. i am thoroughly enjoying processing my own thoughts right now.” my well of self was peaceful and full.

  • lisa

    Hi Sheryl,

    Could you write a post sometime elaborating on this idea “We’re all born with a full well. It’s our birthright.” As someone who has no memories of ever feeling that full, and now as I have a child (who unlike my other child) was very clearly born predisposed to anxiety, this is difficult for me to understand and accept.

    All the best, looking forward to the Trust Yourself course I have signed up for:)

    Lisa

    • We are all born full regardless of temperament. Yes, you can see that certain babies are prone to anxiety, but being prone to anxiety and having a full sense of self are not mutually exclusive! You’ll learn a lot more about this throughout the program.

  • onedayatatime

    Though this isn’t a new message for me I had to come back to this article tonight because filling my well really needs to be my priority. I needed to prepare for an interview tonight and started having trouble with concentrating and negative critical thoughts (including anxiety for the interview). I was so frustrated I couldn’t even cry and I knew I wanted to. I was able to eventually have a pretty good hard cry in the shower (including grieving my Grandma’s recent diagnosis of cancer and being pretty ill) and worked on some exercises for my thoughts. I immediately picked up a blank journal and wrote in it “My love journal to myself” and just as I was writing the first sentence to myself a memory came to mind and I was saying out to myself “you’re a looser”. I didn’t even consciously register what I was saying to myself until I was done and it immediately changed the state of how I was feeling about writing to myself and I didn’t want to continue. It amazes (and angers) me how strong my inner critical/wounded voice is. “When the waters are cold, dark-flecked and low, the sides of the well magnetically attract unwanted thoughts, worry, perfectionism, and self-doubt.” This couldn’t me more true for me and I know that part of my struggle is taking the action necessary to actually fill my well and show my inner child that she is loved and worthy. Just as you write often (or at least I read often) children don’t just learn by what they are told but by what they see, the actions and the behaviours modelled to them. Well my loving adult has not been modelling loving behaviour even though she may have some loving compassionate words to say. It is slightly frustrating and defeating when my critical * wounded voice can jump in SO quickly an SO easily. Is it okay to be angry at the wounded self or does that inhibit growth and healing?

    • Yes, it’s okay to be angry at your wounded self as it’s coming from frustration that it occupies such a big place in your inner world. But I want to encourage you to connect to an imaginary figure inside when that voice comes up that criticizes (your grandmother, perhaps) so that you can reflect back your essence. It also may be important to allow that critical voice a voice and explore where it comes from while holding the tether to a loving figure.