Are you acquainted with The Path of “Shoulds”?
You know you ‘should’ have a certain job. You ‘should’ spend time with a certain group of people. You ‘should’ go to professional school. You should be married by a certain age and live in a certain kind of house, in the driveway of which you should park a certain brand of car. You ‘should’ have a child — or two, or three or seventy-six. You ‘should’ volunteer for the committee.
You would be so pretty, dear, but you ‘should’ lose some weight. And color your hair. You ‘should’ cross your t’s and dot your i’s and take out the trash daily. And, please, for the love of God, you should not let anybody know when you are upset with them. Just say please. Say thank you. And smile. (And, while you’re at it, shouldn’t you whiten your teeth just a little, teensy bit?)
‘Should’ is a four-letter word.
I liken The Path of the Shoulds to an overbearing elder neighbor from Long Island. She is fictional. She wears fuchsia lipstick. Time spent together is driven by a litany of what you ‘should’ do to make yourself a ‘better’ person. She talks. You listen to her tirade like a patient pinned down for an emergency root canal. Your soul is contorted into something resembling Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream.”
You tell yourself it does not bother you—and maybe it doesn’t, at least not on the surface—but The Path of Shoulds is like death by a thousand little cuts. Somehow you have learned to repress your natural emotions. The ‘Shoulds’ lodge themselves in the energetic field of the body, in the gut, the area around the second, or sacral, chakra.
I am well aware of the feeling.
From what source does The Path of Shoulds emanate in your own life? A friend? A family member? The culture at large? Your own psyche?
The Path of Shoulds is not comfortable with who you are as a person. She (or he) is always trying to change you, so that you may ‘fit’ in better. You may know this neighbor. You may know somebody like her. You may experience her doppelganger in your own mind, in less-than-confident moments.
Like blue eyes or curly hair or a penchant for being wonderfully uncoordinated at team sports, The Path of Shoulds is often passed down from generation to generation by well-meaning parents, teachers, clergy and politicians who wanted us—their children, students, congregations and constituents—to be safe. In their minds, cause equalled effect more often than not. The Path of Shoulds was like carrying a lucky rabbit’s foot.
The Path of Shoulds is alive and well in American culture, particularly the advertising industry. My favorite example: the popular woman’s magazine in the grocery check-out line. Like a tenor on a yearlong concert engagement, its arias and arpeggios are variations on a single theme — What is Wrong With You and How You Should Improve Yourself.
This may consist of ‘How To Get a Flat Midsection,’ ‘How To Meet Your Dream Guy,’ and ‘The Five Things You Should Be Doing Differently For Your Health.’ Advertisers will always create new ‘shoulds’ to drain our self-esteem along with our checking accounts.
And there is Facebook. I have anecdoctal proof that the devil exists in the form of “Look. Look! I have done what I should have done!” status updates or endless updates on relationship statuses: “Wow, I’ve had a productive day today. I did the dishes, cleaned the bathroom, mowed the lawn, took the kids shopping, baked five dozen brownies for the bake sale. Now I am exhausted.”
Do you know the path of ‘The Shoulds’? How does it drive your own life?
Do you force yourself to stay inside and clean the house on a beautiful spring evening when you really want to sit outside and stare at the sky? Do you force yourself into marriage, a ‘good’ job you vehemently dislike just because all of your friends are doing it? Do you dread answering phone calls from a certain person but do, and spend most of the evening, just because you feel as if you ‘should’? Do you compare yourself to others?
What is the irony in this? Tragically, we become more rigid, more vulnerable, when we dismiss our own intuition and knowing for the false ‘safety’ and security promised by The Path of Shoulds and eschew the Path of Intuition. I think of that Robert Frost poem: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.”
To internalize these ‘shoulds’ is to compromise our physical, mental and spiritual health in some profound ways.
When true emotions are not expressed, these ‘Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda’ feelings become ‘stuck’ in our lower abdomen, the sacral chakra area, site of creativity and self-expression. Water is the element associated with this chakra, fluidity one of its guiding principles. When blocked, one can experience fatigue, perhaps a low-level malaise.
An overabundance of ‘should’ people, situations and beliefs forces this energy center to contract. We take on commitments that do not benefit us. We overindulge in the care-taking of others. Instead of supplying light and sustenance, this chakra becomes like a little black hole, excessively susceptible to suggestion.
A weak second chakra can cause one to become risk-averse. This can be common to certain populations. The pioneering ‘can do’ American ethos of expansion and exploration is experiencing a period of economic contraction and stagnation. Young adults resist ‘striking out’ as we once did. Many eschew meeting new people because social networking sites like Facebook make it easy to just play it safe.
We cling to the past, to who we ‘should’ know, and a job we ‘should’ be doing. I believe many of us feel guilty about this. We feel as if we ‘should’ be so much further along by the time we are in our twenties or our thirties.
The Path of Shoulds can wreak not-so-subtle havoc on the subtle energetic body. It is no wonder that digestive ailments, such as gluten sensitivities, have become so prominent in today’s world.
It takes courage to eschew the Path of Shoulds for the Path of Intuition. But it is well worth it. Fellow yogis and yoginis, let’s jazz up our sacral chakras. Try some Warrior II, Cobra, Pigeon, Baddha Konasana and Upavista Konasana to restore a sense of fluidity.
Editor: Andrea B.
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