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?

Priming: The Science Side of Goals and Intentions

Last week I wrote about intentions and promised to add some science into the mix, and I mentioned the use of priming.

Looks like a giant eye to me.

Priming is basically when your response to something right now is affected by something that happened before. If we spend ten minutes looking at purple things in a book, you might be more likely to see the purple things while you go for a drive in the next hour. It gets much more complicated, and ends up relating to the discussions on intentions.

An Interesting New York Times Article: Priming Experiments & the Subconscious

There is a  NY Times article on priming  which explains an experiment where people held a cup of coffee for a stranger. Sometimes the coffee was hot, other times it was cold. The people then rated a hypothetical stranger that had nothing to do with anything. Those who held the cold coffee were more likely to judge the hypothetical person negatively than those who had held the hot coffee.

That article goes on to explain many little other ways that priming can work. People are more likely to tidy up if they smell a faint scent of cleaning liquid, they say. We are more likely to be stingy if we are playing a monetary game on a table with a briefcase on it than if the table has a backpack.

Priming & Goals

The article goes on to talk about how the “goals” that we have, such as to exercise, drink coffee, or mate, are like “neural software programs” that can only be run one at a time. That’s intense, right? The article itself is very intriguing and I recommend reading it if this kind of thing interests you. Here’s where my brain went with it:

Choosing The Things That Prime Our Brain

There are all kinds of things happening, all the time; the world is a huge collage of life and mess and beauty and pain. To some extent, we can choose what we want to notice most. The article makes it very clear that we cannot completely control this, and that is not what I am suggesting.

I do, however, think that since none of the cited experiments controlled for levels of mindfulness, there could be interesting findings if “time spent meditating each day” was taken into account, especially in relation to some of these goals. So let’s pretend that there is more hope than they make it seem like there is, shall we?

Right now, I can choose to focus on the sleeping dog, the sound of construction outside, the pretty tapestry on the wall, the bills in a stack that belong to someone else. Anything. According to that article, these things all may affect my actions in subtle ways. They may affect the words I use next, the way I feel about the first person who comments on this, or what I decide to make for dinner. According to me, I get to pick which ones are most important, at least sometimes, if I remember to.

Back to Intentions: What is My Background Goal Going to Be?

One of the ways that I use intentions is to have a vague sense of a goal. If I hold this goal or theme in mind sometimes, then I feel like I’m more likely to notice opportunities for it during my day. I also feel like there are certain times where I know this has happened.

An example:

Let’s say that I have a few goals currently. They include getting more exercise, getting more social contact, finding inspiration for short stories, and working on dog training. I don’t want to do them all the time every day, but they are general things I’d like to work on.

Now the day begins, and I have to get my work done on the computer. I have a few familiar choices. I can do it at home, I can do it at the coffee shop across the street, or I can do it at the coffee shop that is a bus ride away.

If my over arching goal of the day was to get more exercise,  I might be more likely to realize that the coffee shop a mile away allows me to get exercise before and after getting work done if I walk there. If my goal for the day was to focus on dog training over everything else, I might realize that saving time by not leaving the house would allow for extra dog training time. If my goal was to get inspiration, I might realize that the bus ride will be fun because I can people-watch there and at the faraway coffee place.

Does that example make sense? Because of the intentional attention I can pay to the thought “Today I would like to get more exercise,” I can be more likely to notice the opportunity for exercise as it naturally fits into the fabric of the day. This is the best explanation for how to use intentions, and it seems that the experiments are making it more clear than ever that these little things do matter.

How to Control the Little Things

These guys have been blooming for so many months; I adore them.

I guess one of the most daunting aspects of this whole thing is that the stimuli that seem to actually affect our minds are not always things we would even notice.  They say that trying to prime yourself is like trying to tickle yourself and it won’t work if you know you are doing it. However, I like to think of it more like planting seeds. Maybe intending to get more inspiration for short stories won’t necessarily lead to such a thing happening. But it might cause me to have that inclination to get on the bus indirectly, or at least to be more open to having the stories find me.

How do you feel about these studies? What kinds of things do you think may be influencing your subtle awareness at this very moment- a dirty dish near your computer? A clock ticking by your ear? The book you read last night? The video game you played yesterday?

Do you think that you can use the scientific notion of priming to achieve goals more effectively or would you prefer to do things without thinking about experiments?

How does the air feel on your face at this moment?

Six Morning Intentions to Reduce Bad Moods & Increase Mindfulness

Learn from the dogs.

 

Ever since I stopped smoking I have been in a much better mood upon awakening. Even still, I like to have a few intentions that I make before I get out of bed. They help me to feel grounded and to remember that living a mindful existence is much more nourishing than constantly escaping the present moment. I would like to share some of them with you guys, in case you can benefit as well.

~Today I will look at my face for at least 3 seconds in the mirror without any judgement whatsoever. I will try to do this at least 3 times during the day.

~Today I will let a few voids exist without filling them with technology. I will try to pet the dog instead of checking Facebook at least a few times today.

~Today when I drink my first cup of water, I will take my time and acknowledge as I take each sip the fact that I am mostly made of it. I will ponder this until it temporarily freaks me out, and then I will know that I pondered it deeply enough.

~Today I will remember that things can happen one at a time, and they can even happen with a little space in between in which to appreciate the bigness of it all. I do not have to rush.

~Today as I eat meals and snacks, I will take at least a full minute beforehand. I will look at the food I am about to eat, and think about what it would take for me to make this food on my own. I will imagine growing the vegetables in the sun, I will imagine growing the wheat and pounding it into flower, I will imagine until I know that I cannot possibly fully imagine what goes into the food I eat, and then I will allow myself to feel gratitude for the thousands of pairs of hands and thousands of spirits that have contributed to the food I am eating, directly and indirectly. I will feel this gratitude and sense of connection as I chew, at least sometimes, today.

~Today if my computer freezes for a few minutes or my phone acts funny, I will pause before getting upset and realize that these are technological masterpieces, and a few extra minutes of waiting is nothing compared to the immense convenience that these things are offering me each and every day.

Now, I don’t fully verbalize all of these before getting out of bed, honestly. I sorta just think, “water, food, mirror, computer, rushing, dog-not-facebook.” I tend to make up new ones, but these are six keepers. The food one is particularly intense. I find that I do it each time I eat wasabi peas. I am still not sure how those are made, and wow, it would be intense to make them on my own. Having a sense of awe and appreciation for the things that we take for granted can be really nourishing. It can help us to stay awake and aware, and to help others to do the same.

I would love to know other little things that people do when they wake up to try and have a good day!