I Do What I Want

Earlier this week, I walked into my kitchen and was surprised to see an orange kitty lounging on top of the hutch. Holly has been known to maneuver her way to the ledge above the cabinets to get a better view for stalking an intruding bug or mouse she’s intent on hunting, but this was an usual spot for her to just be resting.

Before I could even ask the question, I heard her voice ring sharply in my mind’s ear.

“I do what I want.”

She continued to stare at me without blinking, as if daring me to try to reprimand her.

“Okaaaay,” I said. I left her to enjoy her moment, whatever it was about.

 

I Do What I Want | Little Lessons Blog Post Series from Jill of Ark
That’s the funny thing about rules. Sometimes we don’t really know what they’re about. We only know that we’re supposed to abide by and enforce them.

Some rules are in place to keep us safe. Imagine trying to navigate local roads without traffic laws to determine who has the right of way. Others are aimed at keeping things fair and encouraging us to be honest and integrous, like rules that set requirements and standards or deter against stealing and cheating.

Many species in the animal kingdom instinctively set rules that maintain harmony and allow for survival. Dogs and wolves, for example, follow a strict pack hierarchy for which there can only be one leader at a time. Puppies are taught by their parents and older pack members to respect these rules, for an unruly dog who defies them can become a threat to the entire pack. Geese know to fly in a “v” formation and rotate leadership in order to conserve energy and support the entire flock to travel long distances at a time.

Rules like these are necessary and important. But the unspoken, often fear-based rules we are tricked into following have a much different function. They keep us small and in line–not because we’re crazed, chaotic people who need to be micromanaged at every step (most of us aren’t), but because we’re liable to catalyze big changes if we’re allowed to stand too long in our own power.

It’s easy to see how other people’s egos can demand that we abide by certain rules to keep them satisfied with the status quo. It’s a little more difficult to recognize how we’ve chained ourselves to these rules voluntarily.

Let me tell you a story…

Over the past three years, my treatment for chronic Lyme disease has racked me up more than $30,000 in medical debt. Cutting back to a part-time work load had a parallel impact on my salary, but I’d managed to keep up with what my doctor was prescribing by putting the bills for it on credit cards–that is, until my credit line reached its max, leaving me with about $12,000 in unpaid invoices for IV antibiotic therapy. The minimum monthly payment plan the infusion company was willing to accept from me was impossible for me to meet, so I’d hoped to appease them by sending checks for $50 to $100 every few weeks. When I received my first collections notice in the mail, I was absolutely horrified.

There’s a rule that you’re supposed to pay for what you use. There’s also a rule that when you receive things in advance, you’re supposed to square up for them at an agreed upon time. I’d broken both of them, and there were consequences. I didn’t like being in that situation, but it was what it was.

What tormented me was the self-imposed rule I’d broken–the one about how good, honest, hard-working people aren’t supposed to have collections companies after them. I obsessed about it day and night, envisioning all the phone calls and letters and hassle I was about to be bombarded with. I was ashamed that I was so far in the red and couldn’t seem to find a way to increase my cash flow. I felt guilty spending money on anything that wasn’t one of those bills and worried about being busted and forced to pay more. I felt guilty about leaning on Dan as much as I was. I felt guilty for getting sick and burdening these companies in the first place.

Shame, guilt, and fear are the ego’s trifecta of disempowerment. Mine was seeking the two things that egos often desire: to be right and to keep me safe.

It wanted to be right that I failed–that I was a bad person and deserved whatever bad, stressful things were coming to me. It wanted to be right about how awful and scary my life was going to be until I paid off the last penny. And it wanted to protect me from calling too much attention to myself as an irresponsible, low-life ower, so it convinced me not to talk to the collections company or research other options or do anything that might deter me from my path of determination to resolve this as quickly as possible, even without having the resources to do so.

See? I became a life coach not because I think I’m above anyone, but because I need to stay grounded in this work for myself. Working with my first coach helped me sort out the truths from the lies in the stories I’d concocted about the relationship between my illness and my spirituality so that I could focus on getting better my way, not the ways other spiritual people demanded from me. My second coach–a fellow alumna of the training program that spoke loudest to me–is helping me rewrite my story about being chronically sick and broke. She burst my “it’s a hopeless nightmare!” bubble by explaining how collections companies actually work.

Upon discovering that the collections company wasn’t necessarily hired to be the henchman of the vendor to whom I owed money like I’d feared all along, I finally called and explained my situation. They were not only very nice to me, but also extremely willing to accommodate the payment plan I requested, interest-free.

If I have to pay this entire amount at the rate I’m currently paying, it’s going to take me years to bring it down to $0, but that didn’t matter. The simple realization that this wasn’t nearly as dire as I’d been imagining was enough to shift everything for me. I moved from “I’m stuck and there’s no way” to “hey, I think I’ve got this.” That’s a much more empowered place to be living.

When you’re aligned with your inner wisdom instead of the superficial knowledge of the ego, new pathways can come into view. When you’re committed to doing things your own way instead of the way you believe you must do them, new opportunities can pique your attention. The shackles are an illusion, but you still hold the key.

When you allow your feline fatale to show you that some rules (especially your own) are made to be broken, you have probably not changed anything at all because…well, cats are cats. They’re living proof that you can’t control everything, so why waste so much energy trying?

 

Lesson:  Live your life your way, not your ego’s way. 

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