Oct. 27, 2020

Listening to Your Life Speak

To live from the inside-out requires us to first understand how to listen to our own lives speak to us. Most of us allow many voices to guide the direction that our lives take except our own inner voice. 

In this episode, I share my own story of how I became awakened to the fact that I was not listening to my life speak to me, and the transformation that happened when I began to learn how to listen. In the Praxis section, I share a simple exercise you can begin to use to listen to your own life.

Share this episode via this episode page.


00:40 - Introduction
02:29 - Revelation & Awakening
09:39 - Burnout
15:48 - Meeting My Real Self
18:05 - PRAXIS: Listen. Ponder. Act.
Available here.

Available here.

- As you listened to me tell my story in this episode, what struck you? 

Choose one thing that struck you most about my story. 
- Can you connect it with something in you own life story? 
- What do you feel about this part of your own life story? 
- Try and name one or two emotions if you can. 
- What do you think your soul might be trying to communicate to you through these emotions?

- If there is a certain event in your own life that came up as you listened and pondered on this episode, list down the various circumstances and happenings that made up that event on the outer rim of the wagon wheel. 
- You can include the reactions and responses of others to you at this level of exterior experiences.
- Finally, spend some time expressing yourself in your journal whether through words or art about how you feel about what has been revealed in this exercise.
For full reflection prompt, see transcript.

Download Wagon Wheel Reflection Resource
Parker Palmer. “Let Your Life Speak: Listening to the Voice of Vocation”
Max Lucado. “Cure for the Common Life: Living in Your Sweet Spot”
Luke Burgis & Joshua Miller PhD. “Unrepeatable: Cultivating the Unique Calling of Every Person”


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Did you know that your life speaks to you about who you are and who you are not? Would you like to learn how to listen?

Welcome to Becoming Me, your podcast companion and coach in your journey to a more integrated and authentic self. I am your host Ann Yeong, and I'm here to help you grow in self-discovery and wholeness. If you long to live a more authentic and integrated life and would like to hear honest insights about the rewards and challenges of this journey, then take a deep breath, relax and listen on to Becoming Me.

Hello again, dear listeners! To live from the inside out requires us to first understand how to listen to our own lives speak to us. Did you even know that your life speaks to you? For the first three decades or so of my life, I had no idea. I was completely deaf to my own life's voice. 

Most of us allow many voices to guide the direction that our lives take, except our own inner voice. As children, we listen to our parents, of course, and our teachers, and they guide us about the decisions that we need to make. And gradually we include the voices of the society we grew up in, in the communities that we belong to as well. There is a never-ending line of well-intended voices trying to convince us about how we should be living our lives and the choices that we should be making.

If we never learn to connect with our own inner self, our core. Then we would forever be swaying to the winds of these external voices. We would never be able to listen to what our own souls are telling us about ourselves and the kind of life, our unique blend of strengths, limitations, and unique life histories equip us to live. 

In this episode, I will be sharing with you my own story of how I became awakened to the fact that I was not listening to my life speak to me, and the transformation that happened when I began to learn how to listen.

And in today's praxis section, I will share a simple exercise with you so that you can begin to use it to start listening to your own life. Okay. So, now it's story time. 

I still remember the day when it struck me between the eyes that I was unhappy. It was such a basic realization. It was amazing how I never saw that before. On the surface, my life was blessed.

There was nothing that I could complain about. I was comfortable. I had been recently married and also recently returned back to Singapore after living in Toronto, Canada for nine years. I was five years into doing a PhD in philosophy of education, which I wasn't very excited about, but I had been able to find a faculty member in a local university here to be my supervisor so that I could do my research here.

In all honesty, I had no motivation to finish my dissertation. Even though I had a wonderful main supervisor in Canada who was really supportive and who was really excited about the topic that I was doing, I myself, wasn't that excited about my topic and nor was I looking forward to a career in academia. How had I ended up doing a PhD, then you might wonder.

It was quite easy, actually. I kind of just fell into it. I had gotten to where I was because one, I had been encouraged to pursue that path by my parents and my undergraduate professors. Two, I had been doing well, and I could not think of a reason not to do it. And three, I couldn't think of something else that I would rather do. In fact, I remember 

at that time when I was being strongly encouraged to apply for graduate studies, I was really hoping that I could find something else that I wanted to do more. But that wasn't such a thing. 

So I ended up doing a PhD program that I didn't really want to do, but which everyone around me seemed really excited that I was doing. But it was more than my studies that was the problem. My life felt rudderless and directionless. That was a lack of meaning and purpose. And every day just felt like it was the same shade of gray.

The only goal I had to focus on was to finish that dissertation - a dissertation that, I suddenly realized that I really, really, hated having to work on. And it dawned upon me that the only reason I have not been able to acknowledge this truth that was staring me in the face - that I really didn't want this PhD or to become an academic - 

was the fear of disappointing all the people in my life that have been rooting for me, all the people that have believed in me. I had not even considered the possibility of quitting my studies because that would have meant that I was unable to finish something that I had started, and that I had spent five years of my life on. The fear of being exposed as a failure and disappointment terrified me.

In fact, that fear, it enslaved me. So that blessed day by divine grace, my eyes were suddenly opened and I realized that I'm so unhappy because I have been living according to other people's wishes and expectations for me. I had allowed my will to be enslaved by my false self, by the fear of displeasing and disappointing others, by the fear of appearing less than successful and radiant.

All of a sudden, a spark was born within me as I said out loud, "Ann I give you permission to quit the PhD studies if you decide you don't want to continue." 

My words were hardly out of my mouth before I felt a great weight lift from my shoulders. And I just started to sob. I had given myself permission for the first time in my life to listen to my own voice without feeling guilty.

The next day I had another incredible realization. I realized that I did not love myself. I did not even like myself and I could not accept myself the way that I was. I realized I really wanted to be able to love myself. I mean, who wouldn't want that? But I had no idea how to do that. I, I just couldn't do it.

So I prayed, and I asked God for the grace to get to know myself. To know myself as the person that He created me to be. And I asked for help to see myself and my life, through his eyes. 

And at the same time, when I had that realization that I did not know how to love myself, I also realized that even though I have had at that point, what I thought to be a pretty good relationship with God, I realized that I didn't really know him either.

And that was a new beginning for me. And although I had in a way, decided to begin again yet for a long time, nothing substantive changed. That was something I gradually had to learn about life and about change that even in the context of spiritual conversion, where many people imagine that with divine help, substantive change can happen instantly,

The truth is that real transformation happens at a pace that is not of our choosing. And for someone with a very impatient temperament like I do, that pace is always painfully slow. 

Still, I felt called in a new direction and so I mustered up my courage and I took leave of absence from my studies and decided to volunteer full time at my parish.

At the beginning, I still felt immensely liberated, from those years of studying something that I didn't really want to study. And I felt deeply called too, because I felt that I was following the path that God was calling me on.

It was still a general kind of path. I was exploring full-time church ministry, but still there was this excitement about a new adventure. And because nobody knew who I was, I felt like there was nothing to lose. But soon the prison walls I have always carried inside me began to come out again.

Although the external circumstances have changed, I was still the same person who needed to appear good at everything and who feared disappointing others. Even God, or maybe I should say, especially God. I wanted to make sure that I grew spiritually as effectively and quickly as possible. 

I wanted to ACE the spiritual life and the life of ministry and mission. As much as I was growing in my relationship with God, I could not help, but try to make things happen in my time and in my way.

[00:09:39] BURNOUT
So less than two years after entering full-time church ministry, I realized that I was burning out. And even then, I could not stop myself. It was far too difficult for me to admit that I was unable to keep up with the workload or that there were tasks that I was maybe not able to perform as well as I would like. Eventually my shiny new beginning began to show tarnish.

And as I went from being a new face with nothing to lose, to becoming a name and a person that was more and more being associated with church ministry, my old fear of failure kicked into overdrive. I did not want to disappoint. Yet, fail I did. At my lowest point, I questioned if I should even be ministering to others.

Why? Because my own inner cracks from old wounds that had never been healed, began to be pushed to the surface by the stress of ministry. And for all my good intentions, I wounded where I had wanted to heal, and I failed where I had most wanted to succeed. And there was a time it took all my will and effort to even show up at work because I felt so defeated and abandoned.

But it was this excruciating experience of failure and loss that taught me to become a contemplative. By contemplation, I mean the practice of looking at the real, stripped off our desires and our need for reality to be a certain way. To be contemplative in the interior journey meant learning to be able to see myself in unvarnished truth.

And to be able to behold this sight without fear. In my faith tradition, this process happens by becoming able to let myself be loved and held in the unconditional love of God. Until I gradually became able to look back at myself with God's love for me, and to see myself anew as deeply cherished and loved, even in my current broken and wounded state.

I always believed that God loved me, but I always felt that I had to make myself more deserving of love. But now, as I grew in my ability to contemplate this way, I found that my ability to let go of control grew. I became less defensive and more able to look at myself and even others with openness and wonder.

As I learned to become more contemplative, I found the peace and courage to listen to my life speak to me. That is, I stopped trying to force my life into a certain shape and form, but instead I started taking a step back to look at what my life was trying to tell me through my successes and my failures.

During my years in full-time ministry, I had needed to do all kinds of tasks from administration to event organization, to writing, teaching, pastoral counseling, giving retreats, to putting teams together and leading them and even managing a small team of assistants and interns at one point. My old insecurity that tags my self-worth to my ability to achieve made it difficult for me to be willing to admit when I am doing less well in a particular area.

But once I found the courage to listen to the truth that my life was speaking to me, I quickly found that it was liberating to be able to acknowledge when I was doing badly. So for example, I found that I was frequently affirmed for my ability to communicate and teach effectively. I was able to hold long and deep conversations with individuals that helped them become more aware of their need to grow in the interior journey.

In fact, I found that these long conversations that often lasted for hours had become such a trademark of mine, that there were young people who even coined a term for it. They called it the "Ann Chat" and they would sometimes casually ask a newcomer into the community if he or she has had the "Ann Chat". I greatly enjoyed these conversations.

And I also knew how important they were in the formation work that I was doing, even when others didn't at the beginning. And the amazing thing was, although these conversations were deep and intense and long, I was often energized through it, even though at the end of it, I was often tired, but still. I would always look forward to the next such conversation with someone.

On the other hand, I realized that I was really terrible at managing a team. I could inspire and give a vision I could mentor, but I hated having to be the one to keep a team on task and the one keeping track of all the various moving parts of a large project. The moment came when things were going so badly that I finally admitted to myself that I sucked at some things.

Maybe you think it's a small thing, but for me, until that point in time, I didn't realize how difficult it was for me to just say, "I suck!" My need to be deserving of praise and to be good at everything was so crippling that I was afraid to even admit to myself where I really failed.

And when I finally was able to say that I sucked, it was so liberating. I finally gave myself permission to stop trying to fit the mold of what I thought a good leader or a good boss or a good church worker was supposed to be. And, and just be myself and see what my life was telling me about where I was meant to go.

It was an incredibly life-affirming experience to be able to be at peace with who I was and who I was not; with knowing with greater confidence, what the gifts are that I bring to the table. And what are the areas that I am hopelessly ineffective in. I learned in time that the true definition of the word "humility", which comes from the root Latin word, 'humus" which meant 'earth', was to be grounded in the reality of who I am in both giftedness and woundedness, in both light and shadow.

The wonderful thing about knowing who I am and who I am not is that I become clearer as to where I am needed, and where I need the help of others. When I started listening to my life, I realized that I had been so busy trying to make myself into some kind of ideal image that I never even knew who I was.

As I got acquainted with my own self, I was surprised at how different the real me was from the person I'd been trying to become my whole life. As I started to become more myself, I was more lighthearted and relaxed and at one point my husband even remarked that I had become more fun to live with.

So how was my true self different from the false self that I had erected over the years? What was the process I undertook? And what resources did I find helpful? It really would take a lot more time than we have in one episode to share on these things more fully. And indeed i will share more throughout the future episodes of this podcast.

But for now, what I will do is share with you in the show notes, some books that have been really instrumental in opening my eyes to the importance of listening to the clues that my life was giving me about who I am and about the purpose of my life.

Let's turn the focus over to you now and look at what you might be able to do to listen to your life a little more closely.

As is our usual practice, here are the praxis prompts for you to be nourished more deeply by today's episode.

One: Listen – as you listened to me tell my story in this episode, what struck you?

Two: Ponder – choose one thing that struck you most about my story.

Can you connect it with something in your own life story? What do you feel about this part of your own life? Try and name one or two emotions if you can. 

And what do you think your soul might be trying to communicate to you through those emotions? 

Three: Act – you can use episode five's wagon wheel diagram for this exercise.

If there is a certain event in your own life that came up as you listened and pondered on this episode, list down the various circumstances and happenings that made up that event on the outer rim of the wagon wheel. You can include the reactions and responses of others to you at this level of exterior experiences. On the spokes of the wagon wheel, lists down each of these: 

A. The emotions you have felt at the time.
B. Any bodily symptoms that you may have experienced at the time? For example, how was your health? Were there any aches or problems that started cropping up around that time?
C. What kind of thoughts kept running through your head during that season? Take a few minutes and ask your heart what it is trying to communicate to you through your emotions, your body, and your thoughts.

Then finally at the center hub of the wagon wheel, write down anything that may have come up when you tried listening to your heart. It could be something about yourself that you had not noticed before or something you have always found difficult to accept about yourself. If this exercise sounds like it is too much for you right now, don't worry about it.

There may be other work you need to do first before this exercise can be helpful for you. But if you try it and find it to be a powerful way of helping you get better acquainted with yourself, then you might want to do this practice more regularly. Remember that it takes sustained encounter to truly know someone.

And that is especially true for getting to know our own inner selves. Well, that brings us to the end of this episode of Becoming Me. I hope that sharing a part of my life story with you will help to open up a space within yourself to start looking at your own life. As always, go at a pace that is right for you.

Do as little or as much as you are ready. Take breaks from this whenever you need to. And don't worry about making mistakes, just try and enjoy the process of getting to know yourself. 

Remember the most important thing about making this journey is to keep taking steps in the right direction. No matter how small those steps might be, and no matter where you might be in your life right now, it is always possible to begin.

The world would be a poorer place without you becoming more fully alive. Don't forget to visit my website at becomingme.sg and to subscribe to my newsletter as well as to this podcast until the next episode.