Falling in Love With Vulnerability to Experience a Wholehearted Life

When you make banana bread, it ends up with those little magical black lines in it. They are always spread throughout and organized so precisely. They are how you know it’s real and that it shall be delicious. Maybe moments of challenge, sadness, heartbreak, and anger are like those little lines in an overall happy and healthy life. Maybe remembering this in the moment can help us to jump in bravely at some opportunities for vulnerability, rather than instinctively shying away from them without realizing it.

This post is about connecting Brene Brown’s work on Vulnerability with the Happiness Trap’s version of “happy.” I’ve been enthralled with both of these notions for the past few weeks and they are helping me to feel that lots of little routines are easier to spot and change, so I’d like to share some of these connections with you guys.

The Happiness Trap

Let’s look at the components so that this makes sense. We’ll start with an excerpt from The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris. They start by addressing the fact that we all tend to chase, strive for and crave “happiness”. They mention that the most common definition of it is “feeling a sense of pleasure, gladness, or gratification.” They talk about how feelings of that type of happiness never last, and in fact, “the harder we chase after pleasurable feelings, the more likely we are to suffer from anxiety and depression.” Then they go on to talk about the other meaning, which is something I try to hold in my head a lot of the time:

“The other far less common meaning of happiness is ‘living a rich, full and meaningful life.’ When we take action on the things that truly matter deep in our hearts, move in directions that we consider valuable and worthy, clarify what we stand for in life and act accordingly, then our lives become rich and full and meaningful, and we experience a powerful sense of vitality. This is not some fleeing feeling- it is a profound sense of a life well lived. And although such a life will undoubtedly give us many pleasurable feelings, it will also give us uncomfortable ones, such as sadness, fear, and anger. This is only to be expected. If we live a full life, we will feel the full range of human emotions.”

Brene Brown’s Work On Vulnerability, Shame, And Wholeheartedness

Now let’s look at Brene Brown’s work. She has several books out, and I’ve been watching her TED talk videos and others that she has on YouTube. There is a link to the first video HERE and you can then find the rest. You would probably enjoy her work if you like this blog.

Basically, she has found through doing work on shame that everyone has shame, but some have less. The people with less shame tend to have more vulnerability, and they tend to be living in ways that are that second meaning of “happy” and wholeheartedness. They have a feeling of being “enough” and being worthy.

The Connection

I see a connection between these two bodies of research. The more that we are willing to be uncomfortable, the more chances we have for happiness of the second variety- the deep, full, meaningful life type. That deep and meaningful life will not always be fun, but it will be rewarding and satisfying. We just have to be vulnerable..but what does that even mean? Are there various types of it, are there different styles? Can we learn it in a book,  and can we master it like a science?

Falling in Love with Vulnerability

I find that for me, it helps to learn a concept by falling in some sort of love with it. Looking at it from all angles, viewing it through a lens of poetry, thinking of it in my spare time, writing poems about it. So that’s what I’ve been doing in some ways with vulnerability- falling in love with it.

Vulnerability is not very comfortable. Sometimes a certain thing, like sharing our feelings publicly or telling someone we love them, is a vulnerable thing to do at first or in a certain context. After that, we get used to that one thing, or we will. But we haven’t mastered vulnerability. There will be something new after that until we cease to change and grow.

That is what I’ve been trying to work on this past week. Embracing my own many flavors of vulnerability and noticing the many areas that it arises for me.

I would like to find and read more of Brene Brown’s work. I’m curious to learn about the types of vulnerability and how they relate with each other. Also, how conditioning comes into play- if you are rewarded for being vulnerable, does it become easier? Can you reward yourself for it if this is the case? And do you get more familiar with the feeling in general or is it always going to be moving to a new place in your life if you overcome it in one area?

Like her, I tend to strive to find a method and a list. It’s harder for me to accept the mystery of the whole thing, an observant blogger Ktismatics artfully pointed out in a comment on last week’s post about priming. I like to pretend that I can gain fully conscious control of my world, but that will never happen; which provides me another chance to openly feel vulnerable and come through the other side with a greater willingness to do it again!

The Results of This Food for Thought

Since thinking about these things, I have noticed changing patterns in my life. I would be more aware of a choice arising in me based on avoiding certain feelings, and often times those feelings were about something bad happening. There were patterns of dog walks that I would take, patterns of places I’d do my work, patterns of plans I’d make for after work. But then I started changing.

I brought the dog to a new trail in the woods that I was previously afraid of. I made plans with people I was shy around, I reached out. I finally cleaned up the piles of mess because I looked at how much a book case actually costs instead of assuming it was too expensive. I noticed some moments when I would feel a sense of pressure based on fear or avoidance, and I would make efforts in such cases to try and step out into those feelings and through them to see what happens. Maybe I get rejected, maybe horrible things happen- or maybe they don’t, and another bar on the cage of routine is seen for the colored mist that it is and evaporated as soon as it comes into contact with my fearless hand. More will arise to take its place, and I will try to fall in love with the feeling of swiping my hand through them just to realize their illusion of solidity, over and over, until the day that I die.

So I invite you guys to watch those videos, learn from that amazing woman, and to read “The Happiness Trap” if such things intrigue you. I know that for me and some of my more stubborn anxieties and avoidant habits, these two bodies of knowledge have been very useful in a rather concrete way leading to action-based change.

How about you?

Have you been aware of Brene Brown’s work in the past? Were you strongly affected by it? Do you recommend her books?

Do you know the places in your life that are a bit caged in by routines, and what would those bars look like if you could see them holding you in place? Would they be made of purple sparkling bars or misty bars or hard steel? A mixture?

Do you feel like you notice when you are moving away from a choice in fear, or is it something that just happens outside of awareness?

Magic Words for Moving Things

We live in a funny world. Many people, myself included, use things more than is necessary. White sugar, caffeine, hand sanitizer, and words.

We are taught that practicing affirmations is beneficial and that we can influence the future by the power of attraction as long as we clearly say what we want in word form.

These things are great.

But how often are we taking the time to truly feel the words we speak?

 

 

I think about gratitude a whole lot. I think about the things I am grateful for before I go to bed and I wake up thinking about being grateful. The word itself is like my mind’s coziest sweater in its little repertoire of favorite outfits.  But the other day, I took a whole few minutes and just closed my eyes and tried to feel grateful. 

I learned quickly that there is a difference between feeling the gratitude that hits me after a near-miss car accident and the gratitude I feel as I go to sleep each night while saying the words in a semi-rush as dreams rush in. I don’t always feel the words I speak, even when I think I do.

This matters. This matters a lot.

Why Meanings Matter

How can I manifest my reality if I’m using words without meanings? How can I write about some aspect of life when I am habitually and unconsciously feeling a shadow of it?

There are no magic words for moving things. In order to make any word magic, you have to feel it. You have to close your eyes and give it a whole minute of your time. Or find another way that works for you.

Some feelings happen on their own. You bump your head and feel angry, you see a familiar face and feel joy. You almost get sideswiped in your car and you feel grateful. But choosing to feel joy or choosing to feel grateful or choosing even to feel angry is something that is a little harder. It’s more than a word.

What Things Can Words Move?

Maybe words can be used to move objects.  But I think that they are far more effective at moving mindstuffs. At moving feelings and thoughts; mental states and situations. By choosing to actually feel some of my words, maybe I’ll stand a greater chance at shifting a nasty mood or climbing out of a depressed state. Instead of convincing myself that I’ll be calm in a few hours, I can imagine the feeling of calmness now; cultivate it, allow it, embody it.

There is a really, really big difference between saying I feel happy and thinking about what those words mean. Maybe it’s not happy; maybe it’s elated, excited, jittery, confused. Maybe it’s even sad; I may feel happy because I’m sad that I have to leave.

Having an awareness of what we do actually feel can be great, and learning to make it go the other way around also seems useful. Choosing to feel grateful, gentle, generous, content. Choosing to feel your mental-state-of-choice for a few moments. Just not happy because really, what does that even mean.

What About Bad Feelings?

While I was flying from Austin to Connecticut a few days ago, something pretty cool happened. I was terribly scared. It had been years since I’d flown, and the idea of being thousands of feet in the air was rather terrifying. But the more I tried to push it away and feel “calm,” the more scared I got.

So I tried something new. I tried to feel as scared as I could. I invited the feeling in like an old and somewhat awkward or annoying friend. As I invited it, I looked at it from all angles; like glancing in that friend’s bag to see if they were bringing too many samurai swords or something. I let the feeling in, and in return, it stopped banging down my windows. It ceased to ring the doorbell and yell to make itself seem bigger than it was. It just came in, had some tea, and chilled out.

Letting the real feeling happen made me realize that the words of “ohmygodwearegoingtocrash” and “oh no oh no oh no oh no” really were just words. They weren’t real, and the situation wasn’t scary. In fact, once I really just got curious, that fear turned into elation and excitement that I was zooming thousands of feet in the air, staring at clouds and cities, living in the future that someone long ago would have only dreamed of.

The magic words for moving things weren’t just the words that were freaking me out, they were the words I told myself to remind myself that it was only words freaking me out, not any real thing. Confused yet? Welcome to my world.

Finding The Stuckness

Habits are sometimes pretty stifling. We get in physical and mental habits all the time. They turn into patterns of stuckness, which can be quite physical, as any massage therapist will tell you.

Maybe it would be fun to move objects with words, but maybe it would be even more fun to spot the mental objects and move those. The familiar sight of the sentence “I am not a good artist,” for instance. Maybe I can put it next to the curb with the power of words like a shabby couch that has ceased to serve a purpose. The big dresser of “Nobody will ever love me” sitting in the corner, rotting and stinking up the place. It’s time for it to go, I’d say. The repetitive thoughts or feelings that stick with us are just as in the way as an old item that is no longer useful or needed.

Do you have things that you would like to move with magic words? Are there magic words that you use already, such as affirmations or the power of attraction?

Do you think that it matters how long you feel the power of a word, such as gratitude or love? Do you think that you mean every word you say or write, and perhaps it’s only a select few people that say words without always meaning them, unintentionally?

I would love to hear your thoughts!

Also, I have been on a rather internetless trip for the past week, it will continue a bit longer, and I look forward to seeing what you all have been writing once I return!

Blogging As A Mindfulness Practice: Why I Left You A Comment

Awareness

Everything you do can be used to help you wake up to the present moment. Why not make blogging into a mindfulness exercise?

 

This blogging world is pretty new to me. It’s so new that I don’t even know if it’s obvious that it’s new to me or not. I’m still learning everything from how to keep track of posts I like to finding a blog a second time.

When I first started making posts and actually putting effort in, I got a handful of followers. Some of them, who are probably reading this, were great people who actually read the post, actually liked it, maybe commented, and in either case, kept coming back for more.

Other new followers had blogs which I instantly checked out; I found something rather peculiar. A tiny handful of them had somewhat interesting posts, sure, but they also had loads, and I mean loads, of comments which were unanimously: “thank you for following my blog!”

Oh, that’s what this is, I thought. People aren’t following me because I’m an as-of-yet-undiscovered-genius; they are following me so that I follow them. Then it hit me, aha! I have had this feeling before!

I was sitting on the dirt next to a tree on the sidewalk in downtown Madison, Wisconsin. It was night time, so the only lighting was a juicy mix of streetlights and store lights, maybe some Christmas decorative lights as well, even though it was the later part of sweet early June.

I was selling necklaces that I had made; living out of a van with my guitar-playing gypsy boyfriend and a new puppy. A girl came up to me that evening and spent a lot of time asking me about each necklace; where I was when I made it, where I got the beads, how they would affect someone’s energy, and so on. She just wanted to know it all, and I was incredibly touched that a stranger was so kind and curious; and yet there was something strange. She was asking question after question, but wasn’t really engaging with the answers. I was just happy to be talking to someone.

After about a half hour of this flowery girl talk, she told me that she had come to tell me that there was one true savior and that he wanted me to be saved. My heart broke. It broke in half and fell to the bricks, oozing down into the crevices with leftover cigarette ash and dog pee. It made me hate her and anyone like her. I would not have minded had she walked up to me with a bible, stating her point, even if she wanted to yell at me or make fun of me. But she took the trouble to engage me in conversation, to find what mattered to me, and only then tell me her true purpose for starting the conversation.

That was the feeling I got when I looked at a person that had just started following me and realized that they had made a day of following any blog that had made a new post. Except the girl at least had looked me in the eye.

Now, it’s really not such a big deal. I may even be imagining that there is anything wrong with that approach to blogging; maybe it is just a common practice and I am in the dark.

My concern that since habits start to form around the ways we relate, the more time we spend on social network sites, the more that these patterns become part of the fabric of our being. We start getting careless and mindless in one arena, and slowly that mentality spreads like a stain on the rest of our lives. I believe that we can use the act of blogging, and of doing anything on the computer, to become more aware of the present moment.

My suggestion is that we all spend a teensy bit more time being aware of the things we do and the way we relate to people on our social media network. The quality of the things we write; the effort that goes into them and how that effort ends up impacting us when we leave the screen. There are so many things we can pay attention to in order to enhance the other parts of our lives. For instance, the more honest and clear I can be with a comment, the more it helps me to express certain feelings in my novel. Here is a list of a few things that you can pay attention to as you blog:

  • Your posture as you read, write, and work.
  • How you eat your food, if you eat by the computer. How you chew, swallow, and digest.
  • How it feels when your eyes move from the screen to the surrounding areas of your home.
  • How  it feels in your body when you stop to pet your dog or cat or pay attention to other people in the room.
  • How your stomach feels right in this moment.
  • How your feet feel on the surface or air that they are touching.
  • How it feels in your belly or chest when you think about a sentence that you want to type; how it feels to type it.
  • How it feels in your body when you listen to the noises happening around you.
  • What the air smells like.
  • How high above you the ceiling is; or the sky.
  • The feeling of your head on your shoulders.
  • How tense your shoulders are.
  • How tense your upper arms are.
  • How tense your forearms are.
  • How tense your hands are.
  • How tense your pointer finger is.
  • And so on.

There are literally endless aspects of this moment that you can pay attention to. So why not try it? Why not try out how it feels to follow other blogs mindlessly, and how it feels to read a random post, read what it says, and comment on how it affected you even if it is a post you never would have read otherwise?

Since trying to leave more meaningful comments and make more meaningful relationships with my blogging world, I have felt better in many writing-related ways. I have gotten over a huge blockage I had in regards to working on my book, and I feel more able to write my silly articles without bitterness for my job because I can take little breaks and leave a meaningful comment or two. It is my little exercise of verbalizing how I feel from a present state of mind.

The internet is a fabulous tool, a wonderful way of getting your voice into living rooms, coffee shops, parks, and minds all over the world. Pay attention to how you relate to it; and maybe you will learn more about how you relate with the rest of your daily scenery and relationships.

So let’s try to add a dose of awareness to the cocktail of all the things we are doing. Let’s be aware of our intention, our attention, and our inattention.

Sometimes it is tempting for me to read a post and love it, and simply hit “like.” But when I do that, the person doesn’t get to know how their words really affected me, sitting here in my hot little city with my feet on a dog and a glass of iced wine at my side. So I try to be honest and clear. It helps me in the rest of my life; and I think that those that don’t take advantage of such opportunities are missing out. That is why I left you a comment.

Communicating About Communication: The Value of Learning When to Ask a Question

The bulk of your social interactions consist of communicating with others. You do it through personal interactions, phone calls, emails and social media updates. Sometimes you are communicating directly to someone else and can see their face, other times you cannot. Lots of the time, you are not even aware of the subtle things that people are picking up from you. They might be making an assumption based on your body language, or on your use of punctuation in your status update.  Many people forget how important the art of communication actually is, and lots of us have just plain forgotten some of the basics. Furthermore, there is a higher emphasis placed on it in some progressive communities that is not shared with more traditional communities. This can create problems.

There are some things that I have been noticing lately about the art of communication and how infrequently people are actually taking advantage of their wonderful ability to ask questions and seek the truth. Most importantly, it is becoming clear that many of us are just not sure when to admit to ourselves that we do not know what someone else is thinking, before we take an action based on an assumption that we made about their reality.

One of the most painfully obvious examples is the over-use of texting and the assumptions that it can create, which only end up creating further assumptions that then get layered on top of the old ones to make little assumption babies that breed nothing but chaos.

We have all made this mistake. We send someone a long and what we believe to be heartfelt text. We get a curt reply, and we assume that the person is angry, disinterested, judgmental, or anything else. We then base our next action on that assumption. The person could have been stuck in traffic that just started to move as they began to answer, the person could have just gotten horrible news from someone and done all they could to text us at all, or the person may actually be disinterested. The point is that we do not know, and we have to ask. Asking directly is the only way to find out. The only way.

Another completely horrifying thing is that someone might not text us back at all. This is just utter chaos and confusion for all involved. They must be avoiding us, they must be sleeping with someone else, they must be telling us indirectly that we are the scum of the earth and they never want to see us again. Or, our text didn’t go through. But it makes far more sense to assume the worst and get a little resentful at them for not answering our infallible text message.

Then the person who didn’t answer, for whatever reason,  picks up on your resentment and make their own assumptions. They act accordingly. Thus, chaos and misunderstandings are born and nurtured and sent off to an Ivy league school for the preservation of their future.

This type of thing is hard to catch when you are doing it yourself, and very easy to see in someone else. The thing to remember is that you always should be aware of when you are making an assumption based on less-than-enough evidence. And you should learn to ask questions.

Now, here is the problem. Asking questions seems easy enough, it’s nothing like trying to leap from one high building to the next, watching the cars crawling like ants below. But then again, it is an awful lot like that. You are taking a chance, you are entering the unknown. You are leaping from something you know to something that you are not sure you can reach, because you are not even sure what it is.

All texting issues aside, there are countless others. There is no way to bring clarity to them all; but one key thing to keep in mind is that if you are using a big word that has lots of meanings, such as love or relationship, you cannot have a clear conversation without establishing the details.

Most people are not psychic. If you say that you want to have a relationship with someone, they might agree, not knowing what that even means for you. They think it means what they think it means, and you think it means what you think it means. If you say open relationship, these issues multiply by about a thousand.

Because everyone has different ideas. Everyone things these ideas are obvious. But so do the people they are with. And this, to say the least, can cause some problems. The same is true for committed relationships. No one knows your boundaries, no one knows your triggers. They know what they know, and they are hoping to God that it is the same thing that you mean.

The main point is that it is possible to acknowledge how scary asking questions can be, and to do it anyway. Maybe it is embarrassing to tell your partner that you don’t mind if they flirt with people in public, as long as they go home with you. Maybe it is embarrassing to tell your partner that even though you don’t mind if they are intimate with other people, you would prefer that they are focused on you when you are together, and that they would give you a heads up if they were planning on being with anyone else. Instead of dealing with this embarrassment, you might want to just say “Let’s be in an open relationship,”  or “Let’s be in a relationship,” but this is saying nothing about what you expect from it. You have to ask the questions. You have to state the details. Most importantly, you have to know when you are making assumptions.

The past is a tricky thing. It is gone, but it is also always present; at least, the most painful and pertinent parts. If terrifying and harmful things have happened to you, then the slightest reminder of those things in the present can sometimes call those feelings back in full-force. If you say something vague, and your partner things they understand that you mean, they may act on those assumptions and it can cause a major problem for you, who has just been triggered. Learning your triggers is up to you; communicating your triggers is up to you; it always has been and always will be.

The easy thing to forget is that big words mean a lot, and there are countless definitions. Look up the definition of loquacious and you will find one thing, look up the definition of love and you will find another. You cannot assume that your partner or your friends can understand you and your triggers if you do not explain the details. You cannot expect that yo know theirs unless you ask for them.

It is somewhat of a one-sided street. If you understand the importance of talking about communication, you may be one of a pair of lovers or friends who is in that particular loop. They may not ask what you mean by “I love you,” and the moment where it is first said is perhaps the wrong time to ask blatantly, “what do you mean by that?” However, if they get mad at you the next day for saying you love someone else over the phone, you may realize that you need to ask them what they meant by saying it to you. Did they mean that they expect you to no longer say it to others? This is something that some people include in “I love you” and that others do not.

The key is to know when you have made an assumption. They are like the latest flu that is all over the news. You can keep your eye out for flu symptoms to avoid catching it; keep your eye out for symptoms of assumptions. Most importantly, if something does happen, such as a misunderstanding about a text message or the use of a big word, make a point to communicate about communicating. Tell the person that you acknowledge there has been an assumption that has led to the misunderstanding, and learn to talk about how to prevent this in the future. If you establish the grounds of communication between you and those who are most likely to have misunderstandings based on assumptions, such as lovers and dramatic friends, then you are going to be changing your world for the better.

It is something you are doing for humanity that you may never get credit for. You are teaching people that it is safe to jump from the building of asking a question to the building of dealing with the answer. You might not get an award, but you are helping to heal the gaping wound in society that has built up around this issue. And you are, most importantly, learning about your own triggers and shortcuts to your past traumas that you can communicate to your partner or friends so that they are, at least, aware of them.