I am about to tell you a goofy, true story about myself and how I learned to find my heart.
On a crisp fall morning about four years ago, I was walking along on my standard route to the coffee shop, when, suddenly, I stopped in my tracks. Lying on the ground in front of me was a dead squirrel; its eyes closed in eternal sleep. I stood there, transfixed, staring at the lifeless being as other pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists stared at me. I was so very, very sad for that squirrel. One minute it was living its life, gathering acorns and climbing trees and doing its squirrel thing, and the next minute it was all over. No more acorns. I felt for all that the squirrel had lost, and it made me so sad that I started crying. In fact, even now, the thought of that squirrel makes me cry.
This sadness was a very, very good thing for me. You see, I can be quite stoic in my life, squelching down my feelings about things that are way more important to me than squirrels. I can get uncomfortable with feeling a lot, so instead, I used to focus on the details and logistics of a situation. A high-performance machine—that’s me.
You would for sure want me on your team if you were going to war or planning the funeral of a loved one or stranded on a desert island.
But the bummer about being stoic was that I didn’t get to experience the whole ride of being human: the deep love and deep sadness and deep joy that come with having a well-exercised heart. Instead, I often felt quite numb and a bit empty.
I learned about this tendency of mine in coaching four years ago, and so I set out on a journey to get to know my heart better. To pay attention to what I was feeling, celebrate it as part of the ride, and fully feel what it means to be alive. For the first few weeks, this was a frustrating endeavor, as I really didn’t feel much of anything. But that all changed when I came across the dead squirrel. I felt deeply sad for that squirrel. And while it didn’t feel comfortable to be that sad, it also felt darn great to be feeling so deeply. In that moment, I understood what it meant to listen to my heart, and since then, I have heard it much more easily.
Last week, my boyfriend went into the hospital for surgery on his arm. My inner stoic suited up for battle, determined to avoid feeling anything about it. I focused on my email inbox instead of on feeling the encroaching sadness and fear that arose each time I pictured my man helpless and unconscious on an operating table.
Then the oddest thing happened. At the very hour of his surgery, I heard my dog barking and looked up to see that a squirrel had fallen out of a tree in our backyard, breaking its hind leg. The sad creature was desperately trying to hop its way to the nearest tree. It was clearly in a ton of pain and would take one or two hops and then collapse, exhausted and panting, for a few minutes before it would try again. Just like that day on the way to the coffee shop, my tears finally came. This time I knew it wasn’t just for the squirrel but also for a person truly dear to me who was also suffering from an injured limb.
Squirrels, it seems, are a wake-up call for me to let myself feel deeply. Maybe if I can remember to feel deeply on my own, I can save a lot of squirrel misery on this planet.
Life is intense and vast, and to not experience the whole ride, feelings and all, is to miss out on our most precious gift.
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The heart is like the battery for all our dreams, and so by amping up the heart, we charge up our whole lives. Who of you stoics out there want to come join me?
As President of Handel Group® Life Coaching, Samantha Sutton leverages her analytical skills and deep care for others to bring Handel Group offerings to anyone who is ready for change. She leads and manages a team of twenty talented Handel coaches who teach that the path to fulfillment comes from overcoming limiting thoughts and beliefs and designing new ones that work better. Samantha has a PhD in Biological Engineering from MIT and uses her structured engineering outlook to help clients engineer better lives for themselves.
Tune into your own heart and figure out the dreams you most want. Register for our Design Your Life Weekend this Fall.
*Image courtesy of Tomi Tapio.