Susan Johnstone: The wisdom of the forgotten self

I don’t believe in coincidences. So when one of the bloggers in the Wisdom Series dropped out, and Susan ‘just happened to’ volunteer to join the series a moment later, I said yes!

Reviewing her blog, I learned that Susan is a molecular biologist turned mystic -How could I resist?- and a coach. As you will see, she’s a beautiful soul, with a bright and clear writing voice who works from the wisdom of her own experience – and generous heart.

I am pleased and proud to introduce her to you:

* * *

My heart was pounding as I prepared to leave the files on the desk and walk out of the office for good.

“What am I doing?” I asked myself.

This is so unlike me! It’s in my nature to seek dialogue and mediate peaceful resolutions. I’m usually so willing to let things go and give people the benefit of the doubt.

Where was this steely-eyed, unmovable, righteousness coming from within me?

The disrespect from this person in my life had been clearly increasing over the last few months. Terse emails and veiled accusations that I couldn’t make heads or tails of.

And I, in my “usual persona”, let it roll. “He’s just stressed”, I said to myself.

But somewhere inside, a wise and long-dormant part of me was railing against every email and every slur. This part longed to lash out and give back exactly what I was getting or at the very least say a big, loud NO to it all.

I’d been taught long ago that this quality in me was “mean” and “spiteful”. It was inappropriate and not to be expressed.

So it went underground.

It’s a curious thing about humans, that we’re wired up to instinctively mold ourselves according to the likes and dislikes of our earliest care-givers, in order to assure that we get all the love and attention we need.

So they didn’t happen to like “loud”? Send that one underground. They labeled the pure energy of anger as “ugly”? Send that away too.

(It’s certainly not any parent’s “fault”, in any way. It’s more like a natural side-effect of our years of dependence when we’re little.)

And there they lie – so many of our essential qualities – dormant, in the perpetual winter of the forgotten self.

Until one day, the thaw comes.

Suddenly a long-buried quality comes thrusting up out of the ground.

And there I was, caught between my usual “let it go” self and this emerging piece of my persona that absolutely KNOWS that standing in the truth of who I am means saying a big resounding NO to the way I’m being treated, questioned and spoken to.

And I did.

It took several days to prepare and deliver my great NO. This forgotten self emerged just when it was needed most, bringing with it the wisdom of knowing that I am ALLOWED to stand for what I know I deserve and set clear boundaries for the things I don’t.

However, I felt anything but powerful in doing it. I went through the entire time with wobbly knees and my heart pounding in my throat, with a near constant desire to flee.

You see, newly awakened qualities just don’t feel natural right away. All the danger signals, and the adrenaline that goes with them, are still firing.

The internal rules that tell us we’re doing something “wrong” by being this way are still in place. They need to see that we can reclaim this way of being and still be OK before they’ll even BEGIN to relax.

Welcome to the great thaw.

In my work supporting others to uncover and claim the lives their hearts are calling them to, I’m seeing this awakening everywhere.

In almost everyone I know, long-buried qualities are breaking through the softening shell of the self, ready to bring a deeper truth and a greater wholeness to their being.

I believe we’re in a time when not much can stay hidden anymore.

Everything is becoming transparent and available – even the things we’re not so sure we want to see.

In order to navigate this time, we’re going to need to deepen our compassion.

Awakening while we’re still hardened in our judgments – good/bad, right/wrong – is a torment.

It’s like expecting new shoots of bright green growth to break through a hard crust of ground that won’t allow it.

When we breathe and soften our responses, we discover that there’s a natural process at work here that we don’t need to control. The new shoot KNOWS how to reach upward. The ground knows how to give way.

And now we see that there’s no such thing as a “bad” quality emerging – only Divine qualities peeking out from behind negative labels.

See – there’s “empowered” peeking out from behind “mean”.

And look – there’s “enthusiastic” shining behind “loud”.

When our forgotten quality first re-emerges, we’ll tend to apply our old judgments saying “What am I doing? This is so wrong…so unlike me!”

Instead, let these be our code phrases; words that remind us “Oh, yes – this is my wise forgotten self returning.”

It must be Spring!

* * *

For the past 14 years, Susan Johnstone’s work with others has combined the practicality of coaching, the softness of counselling and the inner depth of spiritual direction and one of her most difficult tasks has been to sum it up!

Susan is a molecular biologist by training and a mystic at heart and she specializes in transforming and releasing our inner defenses so we can keep saying yes to Love and to it’s Call in our hearts and our lives.

You can find her coaching services (including monthly pay-what-you-can sessions) and her free e-course “Keep Saying Yes” at the link below. Susan is also working on a forthcoming e-book about resistance and the 4 fires of transformation that Love calls us to.

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Showing 19 comments
  • Mike Simon

    Hey Susan! Well, great writing and great engagement with your responses to posts. I’m looking for some healing about the last Leafs’ season, lol! Any insights? Take care! See you in the ethernet for now! Mike Simon

  • kelly

    “my wise forgotten self,” I like this phrase, the notion that intuition exists for a reason, and that even as we have been taught to ignore it, there are times when it stands up and shouts to be heard.

  • SusanJ

    You’re right Heather, it is a lot to think about for parents. I personally, knowing that children are not a part of my path, don’t know how conscious parents manage to walk with these implications.

    However, what I’ve come to understand deeply in unraveling my own wounds and reclaiming my own buried pieces, is this: even the wounds are PERFECT!

    I believe that each of us comes into an ancestry that has a tendency to bury certain qualities BECAUSE it’s our task to work with UN-burying them. So I’m sure that you and your daughters are in quite a harmonious process of accepting and rejecting all the right bits as perfect fodder for their future paths of healing and discovery.

  • Heather Plett

    There’s a lot to think about in this post… both about what I buried because it was unacceptable, and about what my daughters may be burying because I make it unacceptable. Thank you.

  • Nicola

    Wow. Yes, I know that “No” too. I believe as well that the people who put us in these positions are gifts to us, to help us open up to our truth, although this is usually the last thing we believe at the time!

    I think this is especially true:
    I believe we’re in a time when not much can stay hidden anymore.
    Everything is becoming transparent and available – even the things we’re not so sure we want to see.
    In order to navigate this time, we’re going to need to deepen our compassion.

    Part of our quest for wholeness is about being able to accept and excavate all the different parts of ourselves. The light and the dark. And, as you say, it’s a time when this is even more important as we seek to understand our connection to one another. Compassion is definitely key – towards others but also to ourselves.

    Thank you for this wonderful post.

    • SusanJ

      Thank you for that reminder Nicola! I believe, too, that those who give us these opportunities to say our NO are actually dear souls who are playing their perfect roles in our life and we’re so much the better for our “dance” together. = >

  • Reply

    I love the imagery of being “hardwired” to mold to anything. And yes, you’re right, you can sense the “awakening” of true self all around us.

    It’s high time, too. We’ve forgotten or ignored our untapped spiritual energy for so long, that we were bound to feel the pendulum swing fiercely in a new direction.

    Love this post!

    • SusanJ

      Definitely! And I’m excited to see the pendulum swinging too, although I’d like it to find the balanced middle without going totally in the other direction. = >

  • Kim

    Susan, you are such a beautiful writer and soul and this post so resonated with me. There is something about getting older that makes that “no” a little easier when it feels so right. The consequences of saying no can be difficult, though, especially when others don’t expect it from you. The resistance can be fierce. I agree that this is the time when compassion needs to step in.

    • SusanJ

      Thanks Kim! and I definitely agree about how it does seem to get easier with age to say No, at least for women. I guess we’re slowly learning to care less about the reactions and what others think. Hallelujah!

  • erin margolin

    Oh boy! This is wonderful stuff, Susan. I have a really tough time saying NO and standing up for myself sometimes…occasionally I’ll tell myself, “I’m going to work on that….” and then before I know it, I’m falling back into the old patterns again. I haven’t totally thawed out yet, I guess? I am not great at being assertive, but I really want to try!

    Thoughtful post!

    • SusanJ

      Don’t worry about catching yourself in hindsight right now, Erin. That’s exactly the way all new awareness begins! Pretty soon you’ll be catching yourself in the midst of it and one day you’ll make a new choice.

      It’s also really helpful to know that there’s a part of your brain, the amygdala or “fight or flight” brain, that is designed to distract you with a thought, task, emotion or sensation the moment you decide you’re going to “work on that”.

      I like to joke that this is the part of the brain that gets us standing in front of the fridge with the door open, not remembering how we got there. = >

      I believe the best way to start is by reflecting on the pattern and thanking it for keeping you safe all these years. Seek to understand how it’s been supporting and protecting you and you’ll be on your way to softening the ground so a new part of you can emerge.

  • Reply

    Hello, ladies,

    Great post, Susan, and thanks for the introduction, Amy.

    I very much resonate with this post. When I was young, if we were pouting about something, we’d be told to go sit on the basement steps and “get happy”. Story of my life. I found all kinds of ways to “get happy”. 😉 Drugs were my salvation for awhile there.

    I also noticed at some point that I had more trouble as a woman standing my ground and being assertive because I didn’t want to come off as a bitch. I mean, men are strong, women are bitches. Well, not really, but that was one of my hangups to standing up for myself, for what I thought, and even for what was often just an obvious fact.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing this. I love the way you share your wisdom.

    • Amy

      So glad you stopped by, Patti. 🙂

    • SusanJ

      It’s SO interesting that you would say that, Patti, about feeling like a bitch. That’s exactly what my own judgments were worried about as I was getting ready to take action and say No myself!

      And I worked with my aversion to that label for weeks afterward – because I kept wanting to email someone at the company and explain myself and apologize. But, in the end, I just let the letter stand and supported the inner part of me that felt so rude and bitchy to come along with the rest of me and learn to enjoy the pure feeling of power and authority in my own life.

      And I must say, that the Universe has been responding to me differently every since!

  • Sally

    Oh my gosh Susan (and Andrea too, apparently) ~ is it possible that we’re long, lost Selves Sisters?

    The Selves. THE SELVES!! My life changed (and some say, my sanity) when I started to view all aspects of Who I Am as independent Selves that float diaphanously within me until something triggers them to make sometimes unexpected appearances to ‘man the switches’ when the Self I presently have in charge is doing a lousy job.

    For instance, my Dancing Self takes over whenever great music is playing – and also, when I appear to be locked into a dance of another’s making, one that no longer serves me, others and/or both of us. When I find myself reacting by rote vs consciously choosing a suitable response – Dancing Self floats up to ‘change the dance’ so to speak and shift circumstances back to empowering win/wins, where possible.

    I also have Twirling Self, Frustrated Self, Magic Self, Cautious Self, Inspired Self – and so on.

    Over time, I have learned that it is very dangerous to take any one Role we happen to be playing as a definition of who we are. I parent so much more effectively, for example, when I allow Playful Self to join Responsible Self in a collaborative effort to both seek, and ensure, understanding for the safety, growth and development of my children. (And, me.)

    I find your Spiritual Makeup fascinating ~ a molecular specialist practicing as a Mystic. This certainly renders you as a real Go To person in my eyes, being that the Universe is made up of energy at varying vibrations ~ and who better to navigate someone through challenging life aspects than you?

    It’s been a pleasure meeting you Susan. Thank you!

    PS: I’m not nearly as insane as I come across. I have flashes of ‘normality’ from time to time and have been greatly influenced by the study of Archetypes, their Powers and Shadows and the wonders of the Universe in general. I’m also a Gemini – so, for me, more than one personality was written in the stars …

    • SusanJ

      This sounds perfectly sane to me, Sally! My life also changed when I was taught to be the compassionate witness to all my various selves – I call them “parts”. As the loving witness, I’m in a unique position to console them and help them heal and integrate themselves into the bigger ME.

      I also learned an exercise where we would switch from one “part” to it’s opposite, as a way to break up old identities and patterns of habitual responses That’s REALLY fun!

      And thank you for your comment about my “spiritual make-up”. I have struggled in the past with the sense that the scientist in me can come across as less “lyrical” or “poetic” than other heart-centered writers, but I believe I’m coming to a new peace with that cross-section.

  • Andrea Maurer

    I love this post! It’s kind of my mission to help people find their forgotten selves, the stuff they folded up neatly and tucked away in a drawer somewhere so that they could be get on with the business of being “successful” and “responsible” and other very grown-up things. It’s time for us to step into all that has been forgotten and foregone and hidden away. It’s time to remember who we really are.

    • SusanJ

      Thanks Andrea. I totally agree! And like you said in your last post, it’s the stuff on the inside that changes EVERYTHING!

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