I mentioned in our conversation last week that I had been listening to Brene Brown’s “sister strong summer series” where Brene and her twin sisters discuss and reflect together on the book The Gifts of Imperfection.
We’ll join in for a bit and see where it goes.
I read this book some time ago and found it helpful and insightful and it’s recently had a tenth anniversary edition published with, apparently a new foreword and some new tools. I don’t have that version, so I’ll be using the original for my reflections and – who knows? – it might also whet your appetite to read the whole book.
One of the first things I’ve noticed in returning to the book and listening to Brene, Ashley and Barret talk is that helpful insight doesn’t automatically translate into transformed habits/outlook/attitude even for the woman who unearthed and pulled together the data and drew the conclusions.
I don’t know about you, but I found that deeply comforting.
This is journey material, not destination or goal oriented – in fact I’m pretty sure how we journey actually determines where we will arrive.
That’s important because what Brene discovered from bringing her attention to the patterns of people who life life with their whole heart is this:
How much we know and understand about ourselves is critically important, but there is something that is even more essential to living a Wholehearted life: loving ourselvesGifts of Imperfection, preface
We have to be kind and gentle as we discover who we are or else we initiate our own shame shit storm and get stuck in trying to prove our worth or hide out in our unworthiness. There’s another sentence I underlined in the preface (yes, we aren’t even in chapter one yet) and that’s this:
We can’t give…what we don’t have.
So probably the first thing to do here is to take a few minutes to visit the Brene Brown page and take the wholehearted inventory test.
This will give you a snap shot of where you are now with regard to the ten guideposts for letting go of perfectionism and embracing reality and it’ll show that as a ‘how full is your tank’ kind of measure. Do that now, just remember it’s a snapshot, not a fixed level so it’s neither a cause for smugness nor despair. And don’t forget kindness and gentleness as you are honest with your answers.
OK. So, with those levels in mind, there are three basic tools/gifts to work to bring into awareness and to be intentional about practising and cultivating:
These are daily practices for the journey of life and they are how we cultivate worthiness.
When we let them slip, it shows up in how full our tank is for wholehearted living. That might sound like you have to make a lot of extra effort to remember to practice but the truth is that we are so beautifully imperfect, so gracefully flawed that we all have multiple opportunities every day to recognise our weakness, our vulnerability, our need and our fear and therefore to practice courage, compassion and connection.
I’m onto the introduction pages now, and there’s also a useful note in here about Digging Deep. For most of us, digging deep means: ignore whatever your body is telling you about your energy/stress/fear levels; pull forth from any possible reserves whatever it takes to meet the deadline/ keep up appearances/ make others happy/ not let the team down/ push through/ soldier on/ suck it up; deny limits and also feelings of resentment, rage, fear, grief etc. – shut down emotional awareness as much as possible as this will interfere with pushing through.
Pause to reflect: What’s your usual digging deep method? What’s the usual fallout from this – not just for you, but for those who love you/live with you/work with you?
Brene offers a wholehearted version of digging deep: when exhausted or overwhelmed get deliberate and intentional; inspired to think outside the box and look for new, creative options; going with the intentional, new action. There are wholehearted digging deep prompts for each of the guideposts to help put legs on engaging in the practices.
Courage, compassion and connection work together.
It takes courage to reach out to another person and be vulnerable, to share something that feels risky and recognise the need to be heard, seen and accepted in that moment. When that happens connection surges and fear and shame lose their grip on your sense of worth. You know you are loved and valued because someone has stayed with you without judgement, without fixing or jollying. Someone has stayed with you in shared vulnerability, because “being with” is hard, risky and vulnerable too.
Pause to reflect: When you encounter pain – yours or someone else’s – what’s your usual self-protection mode?
Do you look for someone to blame? Do you get judgemental? Sympathetic (oh poor you, you must feel awful)? Do you go into denial/minimising/look on the bright side mode? Do you attempt to one up or offer a counter story? It’s good to recognise what you usually do, so that you can be deliberately kind and gentle with yourself when you do it again. And so you can recognise growth when you choose a different response!
Pema Chodron also has wise things to say about compassion:
In cultivating compassion we draw from the wholeness of our experience – our suffering, our empathy, as well as our cruelty and terror. It has to be this way. Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness can we be present with the darkness of others.The places that scare you
Pause to reflect: What’s your sense of your own darkness – your cruelty and terror? How aware are you of your ‘shadow side’, and what are the thoughts, emotions, experiences and attitudes that you push out of sight/are (or were) not allowed to have?
Following on from the last post, Brene is also really clear about how compassion is inescapably tied to accountability and boundaries. Compassion is, at heart, acceptance. The more fully we are able to accept ourselves and others, the more compassionate we become. And accepting self means recognising your own worth.
It also means you recognise that it’s difficult to accept others when they are hurting you, taking advantage or walking all over you. Compassion allows for us to be kind but firm, calm and clear, respectful both of ourselves and of others. But there is discomfort in the space where compassion requires accountability and we are often confused about what holding people accountable entails. Instead of focussing on the behaviour, we can get caught up in resentment or frustration with the person themselves.
It’s also impossible to practice compassion from a place of resentment. If we’re going to practice acceptance and compassion, we need boundaries and accountability.B. B.
Lastly, connection is defined as the energy that flows between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.
We need connection. We are born needing it and there is never a time when we grow up into self-sufficiency and no longer need others to feel truly connected (seen and heard and valued). The willingness to offer help doesn’t easily flow into the willingness to reach out and ask for help.
Until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgement to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgement to giving help.B.B
Pause with a poem
This poem connects with suffering and presence, with longing, giving and receiving, with needs and joy and wholeness. As you read it, perhaps there is one stanza that stays with you, or is jarring or otherwise catches your attention. What is resonating in your life, in the depths or in what is hidden in shadow? Journaling might be helpful as you follow the threads and tease them apart….
The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing. It doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dreams, for the adventure of being alive. It doesn't interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life's betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain! I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it. I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, or to remember the limitations of being human. It doesn't interest me if the story you're telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. I want to know if you can be faithful and therefore be trustworthy. I want to know if you can see beauty even when it is not pretty every day, and if you can source your life from God's presence. I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of a lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, "Yes"! It doesn't interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done for the children. It doesn't interest me who you are, how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back. It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away. I want to know if you can be alone with yourself, and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.
A self compassion practice
We’ve touched on these before, but as always re-visiting can be helpful and sometimes the practice takes a few rounds before it starts to stick.
The first part of the practice is about noticing when you move into fear and judgement. There will be thought patterns to watch out for – re-runs of shaming events or anxiety about the future or what others will think/say about you – and also bodily sensations that can clue you in to what is happening. Look out for your tell tale signs and then do one of these:
- 3 deep belly breaths, breathing out for more counts than you breathe in.
- Put a hand on your heart or to your cheek in a gesture of kindness, acceptance and comfort. You can accompany this gesture with some words you say to yourself. Find what works for you – it could be something along the lines of ‘may I be loved, may I be held, may I be at peace’, or ‘I am loved, I am seen, I am heard’, or ‘I am here, I am not alone, I am loved’
- Listen to one of Dr Kristin Neff’s guided meditations of self-compassion practices
For many people, asking for help is really hard. Reaching out feels risky and needy, even to the people who we trust and love and want to feel safe with. So, if that’s a challenge for you what’s a small step you can take towards someone else? How would it be to tell a story that reveals some vulnerability? Or to hold back your usual refusal of help and accept something from someone? How would it be to share the simple admission of tender feeling? What if you consciously choose to reach out and not to stifle or distract yourself from that need and desire?