A lazy weekend of reading in bed brought me to an old but brilliant Autostraddle article: a roundtable of writers thinking about the future in terms of how they want to feel, instead of what they want to do.
I haven’t read the book which inspired this piece, but the idea of envisioning goals in terms of feelings, rather than achievements, really struck a chord.
In the little apothecary, “how do you want to feel?” is the question I most often ask when helping people choose a remedy, or some suitable natural skincare. It works so much better than “what do you want?” Out of all the products in the shop – let alone in the wider world – how do you even begin to choose what you want, or figure out what you need? Identifying how you want to feel is a good first step.
So: how do you want to feel?
Once you clarify that, it becomes so much easier to check in with your feelings each time you need to make a decision. In a way, it’s a lot like divination: creating space to peel back layers of thoughts and emotions in order to see what is really going on. How do you really feel about this decision, and does that fit with how you want to feel?
It’s no secret that I’m at a crossroads right now (actually, I’m not sure I’m even on a road), so I set aside some time to ponder this question. I’d expected the usual soul-searching and agonising that usually comes with planning for the future, with me, but the answers came amazingly easily:
Intentional is not a pretty word, but it is just the right word for what I want. Clear intention is at the core of magic, of ritual, of making things happen. For most of my life, I have felt pulled in too many directions, unsure of where and how I should be spending my time and energy. It too often results in me feeling lost and burned out, and letting people down.
In my working life, I have a habit of leaping from one opportunity to another, without a clear sense of where all these leaps are leading. The only direction in life I have mastered so far is ‘away’. Feeling intentional would mean consciously deciding what I will do, and when, and where – and even why (my biggest challenge). It is the feeling of saving up for something special, of keeping on working towards a dream in spite of setbacks, of maintaining clear boundaries, with compassion and without shame. Feeling intentional about my life would mean putting a stop to all of the ‘could’ and ‘should’ and ‘ought to’ that hound my waking thoughts, replacing them with ‘can’ and ‘will’ – and a judicious amount of ‘will not’.
I want to feel grounded because I have neglected my natural earthiness for far too long. I get so much joy from walking the pathways in this landscape, cooking good wholesome food, growing things and making things. Anything that deepens my connection with the community and landscape of my home, the cycle of the seasons, and the physicality of my body, is welcome.
There is a very Venusian element to this, for me, about beauty and value and physical expression. Growing up, I seem to have internalised a strange ‘Sunday Best’ mentality of locking away all the loveliest things in my life for a ‘later’ that never quite arrives. So, instead, I am learning to ‘use the good bath oil‘ – to adorn our scruffy little terraced house with creativity and beauty, because it is our home, and there is no point waiting for everything to be perfect before I start enjoying it.
And I want to feel helpful because I grew up feeling pretty useless, and still feel that acute awkwardness in situations where I don’t know what to do. Unlike my aid worker partner and doctor friends, I have not consciously chosen to dedicate my professional life to helping others. At the moment, for example, I work in a shop – but through my experience in retail, I have learned that the best way to be helpful is often simply to be fully present and aware in my interactions with others; the rest follows. Help is often given and received in small, unassuming ways, and these are the ways I want to cultivate. And to complement it, there are definitely practical things I want to learn, which would all contribute to feeling helpful: first aid, sign language, skills of making and mending and doing…
It strikes me that identifying these ‘core desired feelings’ is a way of giving myself permission to go ahead and do the things I want to do, instead of the things I feel I should be doing. And that, right now, feels pretty revolutionary.