In March of 2017 I took a solo trip to Japan to visit my family. On one hand I was bummed that my wife and kids couldn’t go but I knew this was a rare opportunity to spend some quality time with my original family and country.
But in the first week of my stay there, I noticed that I wasn’t having a great time. A little soul searching revealed that I was feeling guilty about spending time and money to have travel on my own, leaving my family behind to fend for themselves.
Now, I need you to know that my family never did anything to send me on a guilt trip. Sure, there was some anxiety and trepidation to have me travel so far from home. But I went with their full blessings. The discomfort of being unjustified was all of my own making. My identity and self-worth are apparently wrapped around the concept of serving others. That may sound like a noble thing but when it’s a threat instead of an intrinsic desire, it can suck the life energy instead of creating it. I needed to challenge the idea that I am a good existence only when I’m actively serving others.
It’s fine to think that cognitively but it’s quite another to really change your mindset. Telling yourself to have a good time doesn’t seem to change much when deep down you don’t feel justified to.
But this is where my recent lessons from my coach Tom Volkar and the author Michael Brown came in handy. I knew that this feeling of being unjustified is rooted in some kind of emotional conditioning from earlier in my life. And the way to process it is to fully embrace it and pay attention to it.
So in my moments of private reflection, I first acknowledged that it was good and necessary that I felt what I felt. Then I simply paid attention to my feeling of guilt. I apologized to my wife and kids in my mind, begged for their forgiveness. I confessed that I was being a bad dad for leaving them behind. Note that I did this not because that’s what I really believed, but because it expressed how I felt. The guilt was a feeling and it would have been less effective to argue with it, condemning how I shouldn’t feel that way. Feelings only get unstuck when they are allowed to flow. So my apology and confession was my embodying the underlying emotion — not an admission that such belief was correct/true.
After that, I also started paying attention to the fun I was having during the trip. I gave myself permission to feel the joy. And such permission takes more effect now that the conflicting blockage was on its way out. The wall around my heart began to thaw from then on, and in the end I had a terrific time in Japan.
I was so glad that I had learned this lesson, as my guilt could have smoldered and smeared my experience. Instead I was able to use it as an opportunity to shed more of my internal blockage. Our attention is the currency we have, and we can use it to both release the burdens of our subconscious imprints and grow our capacity to feel the way we want to feel (and it’s more effective when we do it in that order).
So the next time you find yourself unable to enjoy life, stop and take a look at what you’re actually feeling. Once you identify the underlying emotion (even if you can’t name it using words) then you’ll be able to dissolve that blockage, using the process I described above.