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?

Life Lessons from ACL Music Festival

Clouds like music, too.

As any of my Instagram followers are all too aware of, I spent this weekend at Austin City Limits music festival. This post is about the life lessons that can be found at music festivals but can be applied to everyday life, insecurities, bad moods and anxieties.

Choose Your Stage

ACL has quite a few stages and they do a good job of balancing it out so that you can hear the group you are watching. Sometimes, like when Steve Earle went on, other bands like Bassnectar seemed to have more than their fair share of sound space, but that’s all right. When you walk around between stages, there are times that you can hear more than one band at once.

During some of those times, you are thinking, “Where should I go?” Maybe you don’t know any of the bands enough to make a choice based on the past, so you have to just go with what you feel.

That is an awful lot like feeling various moods starting to happen and realizing that you have to make a choice, isn’t it? If you’re like me, you can sometimes feel the little tingle of a bad mood or fit of grouchiness long before it gets a stronghold. You probably see some signs. The slight overreaction to stubbing your toe, the scowl on your face when you realize that it’s too humid for your liking. Whatever it is, you have a sign.

That’s sort of like hearing the strong bass of a song nearby, and wondering if perhaps you’d like to go join the people there. Maybe at the same time, there is a mellow bluegrass jam happening in the other direction. In terms of moods, that would be like noticing that even though you sense the bad mood, you also see the dog’s smiling face, the sunshine amidst the mugginess, the feeling of the ground, anything that is not the grouch-mood.

You can walk towards one song or the other based on what you feel  in the moment, which is little bits of both. If you acknowledge the existence of multiple stages, multiple moods and feelings, then you at least have a bit more of a choice, even if you can still hear little bits of Bassnectar when you are really focusing on Steve Earle.

The Things You Don’t See

At a music festival, there is plenty that you don’t see.  Our neighbor gave us wrist bands that got us into certain backstage areas, so we got to see things from different angles than most. During one of the smaller bands, I spotted a girl doing Yoga in the safe darkness under the stage.

Some wires going into the ground.

I’m sure nobody on the other side of the stage thought about her existence or even considered it. If you asked them, “Hey, do you think there’s a girl doing Yoga under the stage right now?” They probably wouldn’t doubt you too much, but it would just be something they never even considered.

I wonder how many things like that are happening at this very moment. There’s always something unseen, unthought of, undreampt. Does anyone else find that to be comforting?

What Does The Downpour Feel Like?

During a band called the Big Gigantic, there was a rain storm. Since I don’t have a good phone case, I don’t have pictures; but the crowd was wild and we were in the middle of it. It was surreal to see people getting extremely happy during the downpour. Maybe next time an intense mood or bout of anxiety happens, I can enjoy the intensity of it, the sheer power of it, rather than judging it as “bad” or “good”.

Standing in the rain and not being afraid of it or running away from it was incredibly fulfilling. Feeling it on my face, my hair, soaking my clothes, getting all over my stuff; there was simply nothing that could be done. The rain simply felt wonderful in that moment because it was clean, new, wet, alive. There were people, there was music, there was a sky and a ground and things were just lovely because they were there.

Comparisons Don’t Work; Leave Room For Being Surprised

This may just be my brain, but when I’m in a group of people and feeling some anxiety, sometimes the comparison-function starts to kick in.

This was the first big festival I’ve been to in many years, and I’m almost 30. Since most of the crowd seemed to be made of attractive young people, my brain started beating me up rather quickly.

For awhile, my self-esteem sank to the very ground that everyone was trampling. I’ll never be as in shape as these people, I’ll never have awesome shiny hair like these people, I’ll never get to be young again, yada yada yada. It took awhile for me to seriously put a halt to all that nonsense.

A new friend brought us up to a platform on the side of the stage. It gave me a perspective that was hard to come by in such a literal sense in that crowd, but easy to come by metaphorically during other times, like right now. I think it’s called “taking a step back.”

Enjoying a beer and waiting for the Chili Peppers

I looked at those people and started to realize that maybe things weren’t so bad for me and my aging self. Maybe there were benefits to getting older, to having experience, to not being 15 and hormonally insane.

The crowd stretched farther than a picture could capture. There were people excited to be in the front, happy to be in the back, and happy to be behind the stage, watching the show on a TV screen around a circular open bar. I watched through the sides of the stage, watching the crowd going mad over the music. I was happy to be where I was, and everything somehow worked. Like a giant puzzle. Everyone brought their own little piece, and no two bodies were occupying the same spot at the same time. It all worked and everyone was different, with their own beauty and their own grace. It felt so clear; we were all in this together.

 

My Intentions
I would like to always leave a little room for my mind to be surprised by what is happening. I’d like to have fewer expectations and comparisons and gracefully step up into the older years of my life without fighting them, because they are coming for me anyway. And I would like to never forget that. I may not get to be a teenager again, but I can watch the youth of today having fun just like I can watch the Chili Peppers crowd dancing and jumping while I enjoy the whole thing from a different vantage point.

I can look at the same mood or mindset differently, experiencing the intensity like a rainfall during a wild song, feeling it as exciting instead of scary or uncomfortable. Life is happening always; might as well experience as many stages as possible and from many angles while I still can.

How About You?

How about you guys, have you gone to many music festivals lately? Do you feel like you can pick between moods like different stages, or is it more like you are in one crowd and the band keeps changing on you?

Do you feel like your brain compares you to others too much, not enough, or just enough?

When’s the last time you felt a real raindrop falling on your face?

 

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!

What Makes Your Voice Valuable?

If you want to make a living doing something you love, it needs to be valuable. When that something is writing, it comes down to your voice.

As a new writer, I think an awful lot about my voice. Where is it coming from, what does it offer, and why is it useful to anybody?

What all this leads up to is, will anybody want to pay for it?

When I think about what to write, what to do, or where to draw inspiration from, sometimes I find myself with an incessant thought.

I am limited by the choices I made in my life.

It may seem obvious, and perhaps it doesn’t bother you like it does me. But I wonder how it would be if I spent more time learning about writing when I was younger. How would it be if I had never gone to school and just traveled instead? Will I ever get to see Amsterdam? How can I find my true voice if I cannot live out every possible option and learn from them all?

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When Did Your World First Expand?

These are some of the most beautiful flowers I have ever seen, and yet each one is different, and they grow like crazy around here! No special seeds or fancy fertilizers needed; these bad boys grow in people’s gardens and alongside the highway.

Sometimes, the most personal of our experiences are actually the most universal. One of my most potent memories is of the first time that I realized the world does not share my town’s concept of what is beautiful.

I was in California, waiting for my friend Adam to arrive. I was sitting on the boardwalk in Venice Beach, smoking cigarettes and people-watching. A boy approached me, and he was clearly a traveler. I just didn’t know how to label him yet.

Let’s take a step back for the sake of context. Before that point, I had not ventured far from Suburbia except to go on family vacations to various places. On those vacations, we would always camp instead of using hotels. From those trips, I had an inkling of a notion that there were different types of people in the world; but my predominant experience of my town would stomp those notions out rather quickly.

My town, Glastonbury, was a mixture of mansions and farms; but most of the people there had money. Kids at my school (are any of you reading this?) for the most part, placed a big emphasis on financial wealth, brand names, pretty faces. My face was never pretty. My skin always looked dirty, courtesy of my thick Italian heritage. My hair was frizzy and unruly, and I didn’t know how to wear make up. My elbows were dry and my teeth had a space in the middle. Needless to say, I was one of the kids that got picked on a lot, until picking on people was no longer cool. I chose to turn inwards, and I am grateful now that I did not fit in to that world and let my spirit become corrupted by it.

Because of the teasing and whatnot, I think that part of me gave up on the idea of ever being “pretty.” If someone aside from my few closest friends would talk to me, I knew better than to really get too excited. Often times, there was a joke on me waiting to be played. I was cautious and a bit pessimistic.

But then I went to Venice Beach during the summer of my first year of college to meet up with Adam. My world blew apart. There were all kinds of people! And this traveler, he was walking up to me, ready to bum a cigarette.

His clothes were perhaps the dirtiest I had ever seen. They were turning into rags, falling off of his body. Yet he did not walk like he was ashamed of them. His hair was a mess, turning into dreadlocks that were not made in a salon or intentionally. His face was smudged with dirt, but also somehow cleaner than any I had ever seen.

“Where do you come from?” he had asked me.

“Connecticut,” I answered, always embarrassed of that boring, tiny, judgy state.

“No, I mean, where do you come from. Your blood. Your nationality.” his voice was deadly serious; and he was smoking in a way I had never seen. Taking quick little puffs of the cigarette, pulling them all into his lungs at once, and then letting them out in one silky stream.

“Italian and Austrian. Mostly Italian.” That answer was burned into my vocabulary. A lot of people asked this questions, since I had ridiculously think dark hair, and my skin turned a crazy sort of brown when it got enough sun. In Spain, people wanted to think I was Spanish. In my town, people wanted to say that I had dirty skin.

“I knew it. You are a Unique, like me. Not like these people.”

“What’s a Unique?”

“A person that comes from many places, many races. A person that is like no other. Not like these people, these people are a dime a dozen.” He swept his hand across our view of the boardwalk, the pretty people walking around. They were clean and pressed, they were sparkling in many cases like the people from my town. The people that took the time to straighten their hair in the morning; the people that knew the difference between a fancy brand and a knock-off. I had never seen someone judge them as inferior before.

“Oh, yeah, I guess we are Unique.” I wasn’t sure what to say; wasn’t sure if he was experiencing extreme mind states or if he was just passionate about this topic. I just wanted him to be the one right person in the world.

“Someday,” he continued, “we will make a place of our own, and have children, children that are Uniques as well. They will be the most beautiful of all.” he went on about this idea, this paradise.

For the first time, I felt that my strange appearance was not something that was necessarily a bad thing.

The darkness of my skin felt like a magical weapon; my thick hair felt like a famous and rare signature. I felt like my body itself was not an item worthy of just casting away, was not a mistake, a falling-short. It was different than most of the people I had seen; and that is what made it precious and interesting. Suddenly, I was as much a part of things as other people were.

For me, that was the first real moment of feeling that I could, in some people’s eyes, be something other than an ugly mess. If I could thank that boy, I most definitely would.

I wonder if other people have this experience, if they have one particular moment where they first remember feeling that their previously accepted world just got bigger; or if they just gradually transitioned into new states of being.

I’m sure we all have our own insecurities growing up, and our own ways of overcoming them. This is also a process that continuously unravels throughout our lifetimes.

Do you have any memories or experiences you want to share about when your smaller world view first expanded? Was it a pleasant experience, or an unpleasant one? Did it happen all at once, or gradually? Is there someone you would thank if you could? I would love to hear them, and I’m sure others would as well! You never know who might get inspired into a new way of seeing things.