I remember one afternoon, years ago, sitting in my living room with a woman I deeply respected. I talked to her about my then-struggles, about my longing to be a better wife, a better mom, a better person. I told her how I read nearly every book I could get my hands on, trying to make sense of the situations in which I found myself, trying to improve my perspective, trying to change my behavior, trying to change, period. I confessed that I quickly purchased almost any self-help regimen that promised me the results I so desired if only I’d follow their simple 1, 3, 5, or 7-step plan. And more than just read, I’d actually do what they said! I applied every principle and precept. I followed every rule. All to no avail. I listed off the conferences I’d attended for all of the same reasons. And I named the speakers, subject-matter-experts, and guru’s of one kind or another who I was convinced possessed the necessary “x” for my life. In all of these, I was completely certain that if I did exactly what I was told, surely the change I longed for would be mine.
She listened, patiently, and then said words I have never forgotten:
“Why do you look to outside experts for answers that already exist within you?”
I’m pretty sure the room started spinning. She might as well have told me that my two beautiful daughters playing at my feet were alien creatures from outer space. It was information I couldn’t take in, couldn’t comprehend, and resisted almost viscerally. This thought had never crossed my mind and I was almost 40 years old.
That conversation was nearly 14 years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday…and…I recall and apply it every day – hardly having mastered her advice.
The lure is so incredibly strong to seek for answers externally, to trust in someone else’s experience and wisdom above our own, to assume that someone older, wiser, and at least more successful knows the “secret” that will change everything broken or ailing in our lives.
And yet, were we to actually listen to our very self, our deepest soul, our strongest intuition, the before-the-dawn-of-time wisdom within (that I passionately and resolutely believe in) and then, most importantly, trust what we hear, all that we need would already be ours.
An important disclaimer: When I say “all that we need would already be ours,” I do not mean that finding sought-for wisdom within magically equals never lacking for anything, expecting success at every turn, and being profoundly honored and loved at all times. I do mean that there is no lack of wisdom within us.
The seeming trick is figuring out how to call this wisdom forth, how to access it, how to see/hear/feel/sense it in the first place.
As our conversation ended, I remember putting my infant girls down for naps (so that they wouldn’t act like creatures from outer space) and then sitting down at the dining room table with a stack of college-ruled notebook paper and a pen in front of me. I presented my question/concern at the top of the paper and then did what I’d done hundreds, thousands of times before: I wrote. I wrote exactly what I thought, what I felt, what I wanted, what I knew. Everything. No editing. No censoring. No holding back.
This was nothing new. I’d been journaling for years. What was new was that I half expected to see answers, assumed its accuracy, and trusted its authority. My answers. My accuracy. My authority. All of these appeared – and then some. Instead of being thrilled with this revelation, I was terrified. If my wisdom was right, if I actually knew, then I’d also have to act.
The real trick is trusting the wisdom itself, once found, enough to actually follow through!
This is the collective reality that most women live with. Steeped in a world that has caused us to second-guess our own knowing in deference to those with power, we struggle to hear our own brilliance, let alone express it.
Groomed to value objective reason, to trust our head over our heart, and to rely on facts over emotions, it’s not that surprising that we can barely even hear the voice, the wisdom, the wealth within, let alone follow its advice. Though our wisdom is deeply intuitive, it feels counterintuitive to trust it.
So what are the countermeasures? What are we to do?
We MUST find and rely on the expertise of other women.
It’s possible that this sounds antithetical to what I said above; in direct conflict with the sage advice I received so long ago. I assure you, it is not. It will be through our relationships with other women that we will not only come to find, hear, and trust our own wisdom, but also have the ability to walk headlong into it. We must look to other women for they are the ones who will point us back to the wisdom we already hold within ourselves.
We must discover and listen to the stories of other women so that we can see our own wisdom, our own choices, our own stories mirrored within.
We must hear the wisdom of other women and recognize it as our own: a shared knowing, a DNA-like thread that roots us to one another in soul-and-spirit ways, a gravitational and sacred force that binds us to one another – past, present, and future.
We must be in relationship with other women so that we have the courage to make hard choices, walk thin lines, and
traverse endless deserts.
14 years ago I didn’t understand any of this. 14 years ago I didn’t realize that this woman was offering me her wisdom so that I could find it within myself. 14 years ago I had no idea the choices I would yet be called to make, the lines I would yet be required to walk (and cross), the endless deserts I would yet traverse. And 14 years ago I could have never imagined being surrounded by the women I now know – face-to-face, virtually, and the ancient, sacred ones who companion and guide me in ways that continue to humble, astound, and transform me.
The wisdom you seek is already within you. Find the women who know this to be true, who can point you back to your own north star, who see and affirm beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt their profound belief in what you already know. And be that woman to others.
The more that we can and will do this, the sooner we can leave behind a world of experts who peddle their wares and step into one of shared truth, compassion, creativity, strength, and hope.
May it be so.