“Tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”  Have you ever said those words to a therapist, doctor, or anyone from whom you were seeking help?

Maybe you receive a suggestion to start a yoga practice and dutifully show up to class four times a week. The problem is, you don’t really like yoga, and you go through the motions rather than connecting to the experience of the practice. Each class, you count the minutes until it’s over.  A month later, you wonder why yoga isn’t making you Zen, even though you are doing what you are “supposed to” do.

To heal means “to make sound or whole.”  But how do you make yourself sound or whole if you are going through the motions rather than connecting to your experience? I believe this is where many people go wrong in trying to heal from the past. When we are uncertain about who we are and what we like, it is easy to fall into the trap of “tell me what to do” in order to find relief from suffering. However, the healing process is about connecting to self, nurturing your likes, and experiencing the world from the inside out. This is how we develop a sense of joy.

Long-lasting healing, whether physically, emotionally or spiritually, requires building and sustaining a lifestyle of connection to ourselves and others. To be effective, the foundation of that lifestyle must be built organically and with an innate sense of freedom and comfort. In order for the healing journey to be sustainable, the connection needs to be built slowly so that our bodies can integrate these new experiences.

We can’t “just do” healing. Taking the time to learn to listen to yourself, to feel your response to the new action, and to adjust accordingly for increasing connection are keys to creating successful and sustainable change. Healing happens at the intersection of your nervous system and emotionally regulated states. When we rush through this process we run the risk of substituting one maladaptive behavior for another. For instance, you may quit drinking but then begin an exercise addiction if you haven’t learned how to connect with yourself on a deeper and healthier level. Healing is truly about how we rewire our nervous system to have greater resilience to manage our day-to-day stressors.

What do the first steps of a healing lifestyle look like? Building a healing lifestyle means making a commitment to building your unique container of safety. I believe the foundation of one’s container of safety is comprised of community, connection and safe attachment. With these ingredients, we can move towards gratitude and grace in our day-to-day experiences and create the space to nurture our curiosity.

To learn what relationships and activities will help you cultivate your container of safety, start by noticing which interactions and activities give you a sense of expansion. Do you notice when you have lunch with a certain coworker you always return to your desk with more energy? More connected? More relaxed? That’s a big clue that the relationship expands you.

On the other hand, does calling a certain critical relative usually have you picking a fight with your spouse afterward or retreating to space out in front of the TV? If so, that means that relationship is depleting you. To build your container of safety, you might seek out more connections with your co-worker and draw boundaries around your interactions with your relative.

Life is not suppose to feel as though you are pushing a 500-pound boulder up hill. When we are moving towards healing, things begin to feel more fluid and spontaneous. We become less concerned about what we did or did not do yesterday or tomorrow and more focused on our present experience.

To being creating a healing lifestyle, get curious about what you are experiencing. Simply the act of noticing this will bring you more into the present. With time and attention, you will choose friends, jobs, and activities that expand you and limit the ones that deplete you. You’ll be able to direct your life and feel a greater sense of freedom even when you experience stress. You won’t resort to maladaptive behaviors to cope. You’ll be able to put your needs first without being influenced by other people or societal expectations.

For me, the biggest change that I’ve seen from creating a healing lifestyle is having the confidence to know that regardless of what is going around me, I will be okay. Before, I would get caught up in the dramas and fears of others. Their fears would become my fears. Now, when there is chaos around me I know I am safe.  I am able to tolerate others’ discomfort without feeling burdened by it. I can accept what is without trying to control it. A healing lifestyle builds resilience and allows you to feel safe, even in the midst of the pressures around you.

Today, pay attention to where you feel safe connection and expansion. I invite you to reach out to two people you feel are safe connectors and engage with them. Notice that when you have safe connection, you have more gratitude and more ability to be present. When you build a safe community with others, you also build community amongst all the parts of yourself.