Last year, a starving feral cat claimed my garden for his new home. Of course, the food we offered him made his decision to stay much easier. Time passed and now he lives in my home and has become quite social and domesticated. Although his life has drastically changed, what has taken longer to change is his relationship with food. He is still overly concerned with eating and is not a cat that contains himself to a few bites. If there is food in the dish, he eats it all. If the dish is empty, he is constantly checking it even though he is not underfed and knows when his meal times are.
I recognize that once physical hunger has entered one’s experience, the memory of it is long to erase. The same applies if we are deprived of affection, appreciation and love — the result is a triggering of a deep hunger from within.
Our human reaction to emotional hunger often moves us to withdraw from social interaction and community. Our withdrawal from others further alienates us from learning healthy, as opposed to needy, relationship skills. However, the inner pull to belong and to be loved is extremely strong and we may find ourselves driven to “seeking love in all the wrong places.” Relationships, cultivated out of our hunger, attract what we are able to offer — and neediness is not love.
At the core of human relationships exists a simple truth — like attracts like. I am referring not only to superficial similarities such as compatible interests (golfing, gardening, reading, hiking, cooking, etc.), which build the foundation of friendship, but also to shared core values. Our personal values are our principles or judgments of what is important in life and drive our behaviour accordingly. When we are aware of what we value we tend to make decisions that support these principles. In essence, we take responsibility for how we act. When we are unaware of our personal values, we are more likely to act in ways that subvert what we value, which leaves us internally conflicted and confused.
My own personal values are peace, love and joy. When I am operating from all three of these principles, I feel authentic and content. When I am not, I feel confused and conflicted. Gaining clarity around my ‘personal brand’ was only the first step to living more authentically. What followed was discovering those behaviours in my life that resulted in peace, love and joy. In time, the old conflicting behaviours gave way under these new practices. However, it did not happen over night.
As my yogi teachers have repeated to me, first it gets better, then it gets worse, then it gets different. That is, at first we are inspired by the new possibility, which resembles the tip of the iceberg. This new knowledge energizes us and we feel better about our lives. Then, it gets worse because our old conflicting feelings, thoughts and behaviours pull on us to react in the old familiar but unfulfilling patterns. Here, the challenge and struggle is to pause and remind ourselves to react in new ways that bring us what we value and are good for us. When we no longer feel the pull of the old ways of feeling, thinking and doing, then it gets different; we are different. One of the main differences — we are no longer trapped in the endless pursuit of pleasure or the avoidance of pain. We feel, think and act from a different place, a place of wisdom and love, instead of neediness.
If you would like to know and use your personal values as a decision-making filter leading you to greater authenticity, click Your Personal Brand. For each one of your three personal values, identify an action you can begin to practice, which will bring you fully into your authentic self. My three daily actions are meditation, yoga and writing.
For more on emotional and spiritual growth, click here.