WHY does the song, book, or movie strike a chord with you?

Navigating the labyrinth of our memories and scar tissue inside of us is hard. We may want to learn more about why we are the way we are, or why we feel the way we feel, but knowing ourself can be surprisingly hard.

I recently wrote about about how Gretchen Rubin suggests shining an indirect spotlight on what’s going on inside of us by seeing what we’re doing. Identifying external “tells” can be easier for those of us who may not be adept at sensing their feelings, or those who find their own feelings drowned by the feelings of those around them.

Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves also suggest looking outward to develop a better understanding of your internal landscape:

If you’re having trouble looking within to spot your emotional patterns and tendencies, you can discover the same information by looking outside yourself at the movies, music, and books you identify with. When the lyrics or mood of a song resonate with you, they say a lot about how you feel, and when a character from a movie or a book sticks in your head, it’s probably because important aspects of his or her thoughts and feelings parallel your own. Taking a closer look in these moments can teach you a lot about yourself. It can also provide a great tool for explaining your feelings to other people.

Finding your emotions in the expressions of artists allows you to learn about yourself and discover feelings that are often hard to communicate. Sometimes you just can’t find the words to say what you are feeling until you see it in front of you. Listening to music, reading novels, watching films, and even looking at art can act as a gateway into your deepest emotions. Take a closer look the next time one of these mediums grabs your attention—you never know what you’ll find.

It’s strange for a 31 year old woman, but I find myself addicted to Let it Go from the movie Frozen. I listen to Idina Menzel’s strong and and powerful and vulnerable rendition of the song, and it seeps through my porous body into my soul.

Elsa speaks to me. Like I her, I am more accustomed to concealing or suppressing emotions instead of feeling them, of always being pleasant than allowing myself to be human, of being what I am expected to be. But like her, also creating things by plucking the emotions from my heart and drawing letters from them, my castle of words, strung together word by word. Like her, trying to let it go, trying to let go of things beyond my control.

elsaIt’s funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Can’t get to me at all!

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me I’m free!

Let it Go, Frozen

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Do you know what you’re feeling?

feelingsSometimes our inner self is confused, or lonely, or in disrepair. But it can be hard for us to recognize that in ourselves. Like my patron saint, the wise and wonderful Gretchen Rubin quotes: Surprisingly little clues are offered to us about who we are. For some of us, surprisingly little clues are offered into how we are feeling.

I’ve had this experience myself, when anxiety has crept into me, without my realizing till its too late. The same for sadness. Little by little the weight added up, till the burden felt too heavy to bear.

How do we recognize  – and act on – these feelings while they are still manage-able, before they have snowballed into something scarier?

Gretchen Rubin suggests shining an indirect spotlight on our feelings, which can be otherwise hard to put our finger on. While we may find it hard to recognize our squishy, shape-shifting feelings by looking inside, we can do a better job by identifying trends in how we behave when we are feeling a certain way.

For instance, when Gretchen is anxious, she reads kidlit. Gretchen’s sister’s voice shakes when she speaks when she’s anxious. The psychologist Harriet Lerner says she starts under-functioning on the practical, real-world skills, those that don’t come naturally to her.

I realize I go quiet when I’m anxious. I sit on the edge of the seat, instead of sinking in, like I belong. I worry about what I will say, instead of being present in the moment. When I’m sad, I can spend time lying in bed thinking, instead of getting up and starting the day. My purse and my fridge, like my head go messy. Externally, I create an environment that mimics my internal world. And so, to feel better, I start fixing my external world and as I do I find myself being repaired.

A wonderful affirmation from Louise Hay on this idea:

I make housework fun. I begin anywhere and move through the rooms with artistic flair. I toss out the garbage. I dust and polish those things I treasure. We all have a set of beliefs. And just like a comfortable, familiar reading chair, we keep sitting in these beliefs over and over again. Our beliefs create our experiences. Some of these beliefs create wonderful experiences. And some of them can become like an uncomfortable old chair that we don’t want to throw out. I know that I really can toss out old beliefs, and I can choose new ones that significantly improve the quality of my life. It’s like housecleaning. I need to clean my physical house periodically, otherwise it gets to a point where I really can’t live in it. I don’t have to be fanatical. I do need to be clean. Physically and mentally, I fill the rooms of my house with love.

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Respecting the information from the head AND the heart

head and heartYesterday, I wrote about how I struggle sometimes to reconcile the logical part of me with the emotional part of me, erring on the extremes some times. Here’s some useful guidance I came across recently to try and integrate information from my head and my heart.

…people who mainly think with their heads can get the benefits of thinking with their hearts by specifically reminding themselves that we are not just rational machines, and that the emotions can provide vital input into our decision-making.

Similarly, those who are ruled by their emotions can get in touch with their logical, rational side when the situation demands it.

Our minds already do this automatically to a certain extent, but by explicitly thinking separately about inputs from both heart and head, we can get better at making the most important decisions in life.

So, next time, when you (like me) are confused about what to do, stop and ask yourself, What does my head say? AND What does my heart say? You may still be confused at the end of it, but at least  you will not be blindsided later by strong thoughts or intense feelings.

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Making sense of the squishy world of feelings

blessingI have a love and hate relationship with my emotions. There have been times when I have distrusted my feelings, holding them guilty of taking me down a slippery slope. And there have been times when I have ignored my feelings and that has been my downfall. To feel, or not to feel, that is the question, one I grapple with as I seek to integrate my controlled, rational brain with my free yet sometimes tumultuous world of feelings.

One lesson that I am working on learning to listen to the message that each feeling is trying to give me, and recognizing that every feeling has a purpose. Here’s the wise Danielle LaPorte on the subject of feelings in her soulful book on creativity and living, The Fire Starter Sessions.

Imagine that you’re a team coach and you’re giving your emotions a pep talk before the game. “So how’s everyone feeling about the game?” you shout. Enthusiasm shouts back, “I am stoked! Can’t wait to get on the field!” and pumps the air with his fists, smiling, looking to everyone to smile. Anxiety is pacing at the back of the room, in his own world, and looks up briefly to say, “I’m so scared I could puke,” and keeps on pacing. Abandonment issues says, “Look, if we don’t score in the first quarter, we should take the ball and go home–end it before they do, you know. But, hey, I’m in!” As the coach, you’re nodding, listening to each player intently, and assessing which players to put in the lead for your best chances of victory.

Fear stands up. “Are y’ll crazy? If I lose this game, I’ll never play in this town again.” And then Fear starts picking on the other players. “Enthusiasm, it just ain’t natural to be that happy; you gotta get real. And Anxiety! Shit, if you get on the field and have a freeze attack, we all go down.”

Finally, you step in, “All right, Mc.Fearstein, we appreciate your point of view, and you’ve got some good points. Now, let’s listen to the others.” Just like all of your emotions, Fear just wants to be seen and heard.

Confidence, (who is also the team captain) says, “I’m feeling steady. If we stay focused, this win is ours. And when we win, the offers will start pouring in. Insecurity says, “If you want me on the bench, I, I understand, Coach.” Well, if that’s where you want to be, then that’s where you’ll be, you think to yourself.

Pragmatic shrugs and nods at the same time: “Odds are stacked in our favor. Anything could happen.” Love raises her hand. “Listen, you’re all fucking amazing! And I believe in everyone of you!” Woot.

Time to drop some truth bombs, Coach. Time to lead, not accommodate. You can’t let Fear steal more airtime. And Anxiety is hanging out on the edge distracting everyone. Here’s how it’s got to go down: “I echo what Love said. You’re all amazing. We’re contenders. Enthusiasm, you’re in the front; Confidence and Pragmatic have got your back. Abandonment Issues, your job is to trust your instincts. You will know when it’s the right time to pass the ball–we trust you. Anxiety, you’re alert and we need that on the team. You need to stay close to Confidence. The important thing for you to do is just stay in the game–keep playing.

Fear, thanks for looking out for us. Yep, we could fail, it’s possible. This is risky. But we’ll come out on top no matter what, because that’s who we are. You’ve done your job, and now you’ll be playing from the bench.”

Here’s another wonderful tool from Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves Emotional Intelligence 2.0 to help understand the squishy world of feelings. This tool is particularly helpful in picking up feelings when they’re still low in intensity, to listen to the whisper, which if ignored can become a wail or a roar.

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Writing and becoming

Yesterday morning was fresh and promising. It had rained earlier, so when I went to the park for my morning walk, the trees were clean from their fresh shower, shining their true colors more clearly: the dark greens looked deeper, the light greens looked cleaner, and the yellows popped, an absolute delight. The people on their morning walks seemed happier; the showers had broken the harsh heat of Delhi summers. I walked and as I did, I felt myself relaxing. Stray thoughts and worries began to leave me, seeping into the wet earth.

There is magic in walking. Being close to nature fills up my creative well with images; the silence is a relief from the constant input from people and my cellphone and yes, even books; the walking motion is rhythmic and comforting. I feel alive, creative, abuzz with ideas, yet relaxed.


I sit on a bench, the one made of clay and stone, red and white, cool to the touch. I prefer it to the green iron benches; the clay makes me feel one with the earth. I scribble in my little notebook, the one with faux yellow pages and artistic coffee stains, ideas about topics I can write about or sudden insights from thought particles that fuse together as I walk. Sometimes I scribble questions to which I don’t know the answers.

I am lost in my thoughts scribbling in my little notebook on this beautiful morning, and I look up, still half smiling only to catch the eye of an old gentleman, who smiles kindly at me. If you don’t mind, he asks, out of curiosity, what do you write?

He has seen me on other days on this bench with my little notebook and my pencil. I am a writer, I say, and then, because that’s what recovering creatives do, I soften my stance, I write, I say, so just jotting down ideas for my writing. He understands. Nothing like writing in this beautiful park; I used to do that a long time ago.

You are a writer, so start acting like one, is what Jeff Goins says. I have started acting like one. I carry a little notebook for when inspiration strikes, underline passages in books and  copy them down for the future. And yet sometimes, I am scared. “I’m a writer” sounds scary, irreversible, terrifying.

And yet if I look around my bookshelf, I see the signs. If You Want to Write, Wild Minds, The Artists’ Way, What It Is, On Writing Well. Writing calls to me and I have been preparing for many years, reading, absorbing. Whenever my sister and I meet, we have gifts for each other, a blue star studded journal, or a quill pen, or a notebook with silhouettes of women, their loose clothes flying in the breeze. With our gifts, we mean to prod each other, write.

As a little girl, letters and words were a thing of beauty. Letters, their shape, their cursive form, the way they connected, flowing into each other. Each script had its own magic, its own mystery. My father could read Urdu, a language his father wrote in, and though I couldn’t make out what the letters meant, the script was beautiful. It ran delicately from right to left,  breaking the rules, beautifully. Hindi read beautifully too, all the letters hung to a line on top, free below. English, I practiced in my cursive writing book, and the other practice book, more staid and solid. My best friend had given me a single sheet of paper with all the letters in the English alphabet printed out in calligraphy. I practiced drawing the letters at home with a Parker flat-nibbed pen and black ink, writing beautiful quotes on plain paper in calligraphy, and found myself a little bit repaired with every harmonious line that I drew on paper. Today, I type away on the computer instead of drawing with my flat-nibbed pen, but I continue to be repaired, as I was back then, my voice growing stronger, my light glowing brighter, and my feet becoming surer-footed. As I write, I am becoming.

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Crafting a life that feels right – A lesson by Danielle LaPorte

How do you want to feel? This is the question that the wise, lyrical, soulful Danielle LaPorte asks us in her wonderful book, The Fire Starter Sessions.

Why is understanding how you want to feel so important? Danielle says:

Knowing how you actually want to feel is the most potent form of clarity that you can have. Generating those feelings is the most creative thing you can do with your life.

Yet, how many of us set goals based on how we want to “feel?” Aren’t feelings and emotions better left upon the shelf, as Savage Garden said all those years ago? Shouldn’t our goals be set “rationally?” Danielle explains:

We have the procedures of achievement upside down. We set our sights on the babe, the boat, the bucks. We get them. Sometimes. They make us happy. Sometimes. We set a goal, we reach it, we feel great. Unless, of course, we feel empty or flustered or anxious that what we’re doing isn’t working to fill the hole in our soul.

Let me say it another way: Typically, we come up with our to-do lists, our bucket lists, and our strategic plans – all the stuff we want to have, get, and experience outside of ourselves. All of those aspirations are being driven by an innate desire to feel a certain way. What if, first we got clear on how actually want to feel within ourselves, and then designed our to-do lists?

Getting clear about how you want to feel may unearth some surprises – you may find a big dissonance between the goals you’ve been gunning for and the way you want to feel. Danielle says:

Maybe you want to feel “energized” or “joyful.” For years, you’ve been thinking you want a three-thousand-square-foot house in the city and to be promoted to VP. You should want a bigger house and a bigger job, right? Bigger is growth, right?

But maybe those things aren’t energizing or joy-inducing at all. You could be mortgage poor and working sixty hours a week. Perhaps energizing and joyful would come from a stylin’ little condo, and you could use your extra money to see one European city a year and help your nephew through school.

Instead of going after the “the babe, the boat, the bucks,” Danielle advises us:

First, get clear on how you want to feel.
Then, do stuff that makes you feel that way.

As inspiring as this is, identifying how we want to feel – and then living like that – is anxiety producing. What if the way you’ve been living your life is at odds with the way you want to feel? What if you realize that your goals and the striving and the workaholism is not you, but a remnant from another time when you absorbed these messages? Do you listen to these messages which continue to run through your veins, or do you listen to your heart, which tugs and pulls and cajoles you in a different direction? Maybe you want to replace the striving with some play, some soul-itude, some creativity. Maybe a life in which there is time for strolls, for hearing the birds sing, for basking in the sun with the dog who’s calling you a friend. Some time to sit on the bench with a book, barefoot, feeling the wetnesss of the ground, feeling the solidity of the earth. What do you do then, when you feel it is time to make some changes to the way you live your life?

Danielle’s advice:

Be done with feeling guilty for wanting to feel the way you want to feel. Follow your desired emotion. Don’t analyze it too deeply. Just let it roll and rumble a bit. It may be there to humble you, to expand you, heal, surprise, or reinvent you. Anywhere it leads, it’s there for a divine reason.

So, how do YOU want to feel?

If you find this post helpful to someone you feel is trying to find their way,  struggling to get off a road that is not their own, or trying hard to break free from the rat race, do share this post with them. Sharing=Loving!


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Can you tell when you’re anxious? It’s hard for me…

anxiety2Can you tell when you’re feeling anxious? Simple as it may sound, this can be tricky. Many times our anxiety hums and buzzes just below the surface. It is not strong enough to cause panic, but it exists, a backpack we carry without knowing we’re carrying it. How do we recognize this sneaky feeling of anxiety? How do we know it’s not adrenalin?

Gretchen Rubin writes about how she identified her jitters before the release of her new book, “Better Than Before.” 

I don’t feel particularly anxious, but I realized that actually I am pretty anxious — because I recognized my “tell.”

This is my tell: a while back, I realized that when I’m feeling anxious or worried, I re-read books aimed at a younger and younger audience. The more worried I am, the simpler the book. Under all circumstances, I love children’s and young-adult literature, and read it often, but when I’m reading these books as an anxiety tell, I inevitably re-read instead of reading books I’ve never read before. I want the coziness, the familiarity, the high quality of a book that I know I love.

A “tell” to tell if you’re anxious – what a wonderful idea! As we race to meet the expectations that the world has of us, and our own expectations of ourselves, we often lose touch with our emotions, or don’t sit in silence enough to sense them. So a signal would give a clue into what’s going on inside us.

These tells can be very different for each of us. The tells can also vary based on whether we’re feeling “good anxiety” (like in Gretchen’s case above) or “bad anxiety.”

Here’s how Harriet Learner describes her own tells in her wonderful book, “The Dance of Fear.”

When anxiety hits, I underfunction in the realm of practical, “real-world” skills (say, following written instructions or getting Ben to the hospital). I may have difficulty accessing more than a thin slice of my competence in terms of noticing and doing what needs to be done. On the emotional/relational scene, my tendency under stress is to overfunction, which may take the form (if I don’t curb it) of judgmentalness, a preoccupation with what someone else is doing wrong, and unsolicited advice giving.

Knowing our “tells” can help us recognize that something is wrong. That we need to slow down and listen to ourselves, to be one with our thoughts and feeling. I once saw a video in which the wonderful Danielle LaPorte spoke about how her chest would tighten on reaching the entrance of the company she’d started once she’d brought in some people to manage it. Before long, they had taken over the company – Danielle had missed the important information her body was trying to give her.

Our tells may be as different as each of us. For some, it may be going on and on and on, for others, going quiet. For some, it may be strong feelings of anxiety, for others, it may be deadening those feelings and operating as a machine, with a head but no heart. For some, anxiety may involve attacking others, for others, attacking themselves.

Spend some time thinking about YOUR tells. And when you know what they are, pay attention when they appear in your life, and think about what they’re trying to tell you.

If you liked this, do share with those who you think might find this useful. Sharing=Caring.

I’d love to hear about what your tells are, and what you do once you’ve identified that you’re anxious.

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