Do you remember a time when you felt really good and really close to God? Maybe you were hiking through a lush green forest that opened into a vast valley of golden grass and felt enthralled by the beauty around you. Maybe you were having drinks with a friend at a favorite bar, and the bourbon was warm and the conversation flowed for hours.
Maybe you were praying alone one morning and the early light of sunrise through your windows helped you to feel renewed and connected to all of creation. Or maybe you were just reading a favorite book or listening to the Ramones full blast in your car, hitting green lights all the way to your friend’s house.
Now, contrast that feeling to those times when you felt nervous, angry, or disappointed, when you felt as if your clothes didn’t fit right or you were upset that your favorite restaurant was out of chicken tortilla soup.
Think of a time when you were worrying about your health or obsessing over a rude comment. Think of the panic you feel when you wake up at 3:33 a.m. in the middle of night anxious about your job.
Big difference, right?
Usually when we feel good, we feel God present in our lives. We feel empowered, excited, and full of life. We feel the Holy Spirit coursing through us. We feel more loving, compassionate, patient, and kind. We might explode with creative ideas or well up with gratitude for all we have and do.
In contrast, when we don’t feel good — when we feel confused, lethargic, sad, or irritated — we feel stuck. This can lead to negative thinking and negative actions, which can ultimately lead us to create our own little hells in life.
All of us go through ups and downs, and to be alive means we run a gamut of emotions on any given day. We might be frustrated one hour and then later inspired to begin a new project. We might vacillate between sadness, happiness, and plain old boredom. But if you could choose, which feelings would you want to experience most often?
Feeling good in our bodies, minds, and souls is a pathway to God and hence a pathway to freedom — from pessimism, from confusion, from denying who we really are, that is, holy children of God. This is not to say that we must be free of all discomfort, pain, or suffering.
Many of us suffer from chronic conditions that wear away at our bodies and minds. And as the crucifixion and Resurrection teach us, we can find new life in suffering. But feeling good, and feeling God in this particular way, is about experiencing an inner state of awareness, gratitude, and balance.
When we think of heaven, we don’t think of commotion and mayhem; we think of peace and joy. To desire to feel good is simply to desire just a little more heaven on earth.
Part of this path to feeling God more closely in our lives is walking the road to self-acceptance. While other people may criticize us or try to make us feel stupid or irrelevant, it is our own thoughts about ourselves that block us from feeling this connection to the divine.
We might look in the mirror and think we look old. Maybe we are. But why does our mind always have to offer an opinion? Why can’t we just observe? If we look drowsy and run-down, this might be our body’s way of saying we need more sleep or we need to watch what we eat or drink before going to bed.
That’s not a bad thing at all. Our bodies often reflect back to us what we are feeling inside.
Maybe we made a minor blunder at school or work. Our minds can quickly label the situation as negative, which, let’s face it, it probably is. But maybe that mistake brought to light an even bigger error that may have gone unnoticed. That little mix-up could be a lifesaver in disguise.
Don’t belittle yourself. God never puts you down. Withhold judgment of the situation. Accept the mistake, do what you can to fix it, and make an effort to avoid similar mistakes in the future. It’s simple advice, but it’s advice that unblocks the Holy Spirit from actively working in our lives.
Over the years, I’ve talked a lot about “microshifting.” That’s a word I use for making small changes in our lives. One really effective microshift to help ease feelings of self-judgment is to practice something called “no opinion.”
Today, try to refrain from judging yourself or others. Leave the judging to God if God is so inclined to cast judgment. If you wake up feeling overwhelmed by all you have to do, try not to label the day as busy or insane. Don’t wallow and say to yourself, “I don’t know how I’m going to get all this done.” Just say, “No opinion.”
If you’re dreading a work function then have no opinion about it; just accept it as something you will do and be the most charming person you can be. If someone cuts you off on the highway but nobody gets hurt, don’t get angry. Simply say, “No opinion.” Wish the person well, send a blessing, and focus on getting to your appointment.
If you’re watching the news and someone says something insane, don’t attach yourself to insanity by getting upset. Just say, “No opinion,” and turn off the TV.
Practicing “no opinion” isn’t meant to make us boring. Nor is it about ignoring injustices around us. I certainly don’t mean we should never have any opinions. But sometimes we just need to give our minds — and our souls — a rest. It is a method for microshifting our awareness to help us cultivate an understanding of how we react to situations both internally and externally.
It’s also a way of taking our attention off of troubles and allowing that space inside us to fill with God instead of anxiety. The more control we have over our reactions to the world around us the happier we become. As Ralph Ellison wrote in his seminal novel “Invisible Man,” “When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”
And who you are is a beautiful child of God.
Gary Jansen is the author of “MicroShifts: Transform Your Life One Step at a Time.”
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