We all have a life-loving core self deep in the center of our being. This healthy core self wants to both express its interests and connect emotionally with other people. It creates your individuality and draws you into relationship. When we follow its inspiration, we feel balanced and whole.
We move in and out of this positive core state, often without noticing as we pass through it. This is because we attribute it to a passing mood of momentary happiness. We don’t realize that our core-self is a permanent interior state we are visiting, always there and always accessible. From the vantage point of our limited consciousness, these good feelings appear to visit us, when the truth is that we visit them.
For many people this is a radical concept. Life may not feel like we already possess a happy, fulfilled core self. Connecting with it from time to time feels like a fluke. It’s as if we don’t realize that we have access to an open-hearted, joyful child-self living within us. Because we are not identifying these deeply satisfying, core-self experiences as part of us, they slip by us unnamed, as though they were accidental visitations we were lucky enough to bump into. We call it the luck of a mood when it is really a deep connection with who we are.
Why are most of us unaware of what moves us in and out of these fulfilling core-self experiences? Think of it as if we are disoriented in a dark room, startled and pleased whenever we brush against a light switch and turn it on, but with no conscious recognition of what we did to make the light happen. Before long, we might bump into the switch again and unwittingly turn off the power. We remember that the light happened, but we didn’t notice—and hence don’t remember—what caused it to come on.
To keep the light on in our daily life, we have to pay attention to what happened right before our light went on or off. When did we feel the best? With whom? We might begin to realize that certain beliefs and people make our light come on faster. And finally, we learn that dark times or dark people mean that it’s time to feel around for that switch. Now we know what to do—or whom to be with—to turn the light back on.
Many of us are raised to believe that happiness can only be had through hard work and self-sacrifice. Somewhere along the line, instead of joy being our birthright, it got tied up with whether or not it was earned. We were taught that we must run through a checklist of guilt, shame, and deservingness before we feel free to let our hearts bloom. If our joy survives this critical self-assessment, we might allow ourselves a flicker or two before it’s time to get back to business. We haven’t been taught how important it is to stay in that good feeling as long as possible. No one has told us that pursuing happiness is what feeds your energy and gives you strength for growth.
It is crucial to figure out what you think, feel, or do that turns on your feelings of security and self-confidence. Your inner wholeness doesn’t come from something outside yourself. It’s not something you accomplish or even a place you go to. It’s not even that new person you met. It’s a deep truth about your true nature: when you feel safe, you let your core self open up and love the moment. If you feel joyful, there is something about the situation that says to your core self, it is safe to come out. The radiant, balanced core self is always there, but too often we think that enjoyment is only possible when everything is going perfectly.
There is no need for us to live in that dark room: we don’t have to flip the off-switch because this feeling is “too good to last.” Feelings of well-being and happiness never put a time limit on themselves; someone else has to put a stop to them. We stop our happiness with self-criticism, score keeping, and perfectionism. Somehow we have gotten the mistaken idea that being an adult means to give up that core-self connection. Fun is for kids, we think. Actually, adults have much more need for fun than kids do. But if we stop looking for these experiences, we won’t find them.
If you make a point to name it when you are in your core state, you will know what to look for next time. You will find experiences and opportunities that make it safe for you to be in deep connection with your core self. You will come to know the core state by its feelings of self-confidence, autonomy, lightness, ability, and connection with others as an equal among equals. You will feel its vibrant wholeness and deep sense of competence. Once you are familiar with the experience of self-connection, you naturally will move toward the situations and people that protect and value this self-connected state.
By definition, the more you value and explore your good feelings, the longer you will stay connected with your core self. You just have to be conscious of what it feels like when you get there. Study your happiness and its antecedents. You will find out what helps you feel safe enough to experience your natural state of peaceful wholeness. Spend more time figuring out who and what makes the light come on, and you will have no more need for the dark.
Lindsay Gibson, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist. For information, visit www.drlindsaygibson.com.