To indicate the space between the platform and the subway, London signs warn travelers to pay attention to the gap. On a quest to explore vulnerability I must bring up the subject which plagues families, communities, and businesses. If there is a gap between what we hold as values and what we actually do, shame can flourish and disconnection occurs.
"Many of us have gaps in our own lives. Sometimes it is the difference between what we know and what we actually do or the gap between our goals and what we actually accomplish. These gaps can be reminders of ways in which we can improve or, if ignored, can be stumbling blocks in our lives." Barbara Thompson, Oct. 2009 General Conference
The Parable of the Dishes
A mother of five lived each day with many chores, too many to manage. She, rightfully, enlisted the help of her children to do the dreaded chore of washing the dishes. Personally, this job was her least favorite and so she made a job chart and hounded her children to get their turn finished by bedtime. Weeks turned into months and often the dishes were still stacked on the sink as she started breakfast, which made for a depressing beginning to her day. The reminders changed from charts to words to all out shame attacks. The highlight was the morning she walked into her son's high school first period and told the teacher she was taking her son home to do his dishes. Obviously her children did not love her since they could not do this simple chore once a week.
What this mother, name withheld, did not mind was the gap. She thought she was teaching the value of cleanliness, cooperation, and work. Instead she modeled her own dislike for the very chore she hoped they would embrace. Why did she dislike it so much? It was one of the few jobs her own mother asked her to do. When she didn't come to do the dishes her mother frequently accused her of being lazy. There was a wash of shame to this mundane work. It was loaded with baggage. She had successfully passed on the shame to her own family and had failed to mind the gap.
The story ended well. The mother saw her own weakness and started washing the dishes as a mindful experience. She rebuilt the connection with her own desire for a clean space every morning and her willingness to do the work. Her children noticed and improved. They still to this day talk of the Parable of the Dishes.
If people are pulling away from each other at home, at church, or at the workplace, it mostly likely means there is a gap and it is being ignored. Read more in chapter 5 of Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.
No one likes talking about shame even though we all feel the warm wash of these two statements rush through our bones. After all, we don't feel shame because we haven't done anything wrong. But shame for wrong doing is not what we are really exploring, it goes deeper than that. It has more to do with who we think we are.
I went off to a large university when I was eighteen thinking I was pretty smart. I had a debate scholarship for two semesters and when it came time to register my blood ran cold. Who did I think I was posing as a debate student on a university level? I knew I wasn't good enough so I did not register for debate. I should have sought the help of a counselor in choosing my classes but I was ashamed to admit to them that I was not using my scholarship money correctly. So I made some more mistakes which added to my feelings of not good enough. I took a college level English class in high school so I registered for sophomore English the first semester. I made it through with a B grade. Second semester I registered for a junior level romantic poets class. Not a good choice. I received a D on my first paper. The teacher wrote," You write like a freshman" on the top of my paper. I felt traumatized when I sought him out to admit that I was. Instead of dropping the class I pushed through never quite understanding the daily assignment. He kindly gave me an incomplete. Even as I write this, I still feel the shame of that first year in school. What a young vulnerable girl I was and how I wish I could have given her some shame resilience. She survived, but the two tapes in her head stayed with her for years and still play the same tunes. Who do I think I am to presume to write music? Who do I think I am to teach piano without a music degree? Who do I think I am to teach a yoga class to fifty women when my body is way less than exemplary? Who do I think I am to even write a blog about vulnerability? The only answer I have is that I want to do those things and I show up every day to do them and to do them better than the day before.
My role model is way cool. His name is Jesus and he models whole-heartedness to me in everything he did. Imagine him in his hometown synagogue, reading out of the Torah about the coming of the Messiah, and then boldly declaring who he was. His neighbors and friends tried to shame him by scoffing at his declaration. Did he armor up and rebuff them with his superior knowledge? Did he strike them down for their insolence? No, he stayed vulnerable and open so that he could feel the sting and understand the pain of rejection. His wholehearted submission to his Heavenly Father required that he take the sorrow and stay the course. I am in awe that he always knew who he really was. I wish I did.
Once on a trip to Germany to visit my daughter I confessed to her that I was all about being safe and coming across the Atlantic felt like a very vulnerable thing to do. She laughed and told me she knew that trait within me and wondered when I was going to grow out of it?
Securing safety is a legacy I inherited. Oh no, am I going to blame my parents for this? I hope I don't but as a child the quest to feel safe was very strong. I often felt I must gird myself for the eventuality that I could be lost, abandoned, or rejected. None of this ever happened so I wonder why I planned so many ways to prevent it from taking place. Could it be I took on the fears of my ancestors who lived through war upon war, times of hunger and loss, and extreme vulnerability to the whims of extreme leadership in government?
This said, perhaps you can see why I have latched on to the book, Daring Greatly, which opens the door between fear and shame to the view of living wholeheartedly through vulnerability. The author Brene Brown describes her shock to see the antidote of shame being vulnerability. She was making a list of the traits of people who she interviewed and who were struggling with fear and shame and compared them to the traits of those who lived whole-hearted lives. Perfectionism, being cool, being well thought of, working too hard, feeling scarcity of time, talent, and ability, these were coming out of the list on the left. She saw herself there. On the right, the list of traits of people who lived more vulnerable lives, creativity appeared on the top. That made her angry because she often looked down on people who made time to explore things which seem more ethereal. "You may have your ART, but I have a JOB." I love that quote. She saw how much she desired control over her life. She told a counselor that she needed help embracing vulnerability. Out of that work came the book.
So if the joy is not safety and control how do I lean into more scary places? There is a deep resistance to doing any vulnerable activity. I fight that sticky resistance every day. My gut says it is getting over myself and looking outward. I recall a rather magical evening, (click here to read about it) when a guest at dinner turned out to be a renowned piano teacher who specialized at improvisation. I sat next to him and played freely matching his enthusiasm. How did I do that? I didn't over think; just jumped in and I felt the joy.
So here are some vulnerable places I have leaned into this year:
Losing 30 pounds
Riding my bicycle all over town
Going to the dentist after four years
Visiting a physical therapist for a body alignment issue
Driving to Houston, Texas in our 11 year old car
Giving away my baked bread during December to further my Artisan Breadmaking Project
I had three projects this month of December. Three creative pursuits that would include, organizing materials in which I had an interest, deciding on a new creation using these materials, and doing them at least three or more times a week to reach for new mastery.
Project One: Bread Making
I am improving on a recipe for Artisan Bread. This month I made two loaves every time I baked. One for us and one to share. The recipient of my gift would be whoever was nearby while the bread was still warm. The loaves were plain white, rye with white flour, with garlic, with cranberries and walnuts, with rosemary, and with chocolate and coconut. This was by far the best gifting I did. I will always remember Jenny clutching the warm loaf to her chest and insisting that she might not be able to share. Twelve loaves to give away in twenty-four days was very satisfying.
Project Two: Images to accompany the twenty-five New Testament Mastery Scriptures.
This was an Internet countdown towards Christmas day. I challenged myself to take original pictures for each day and I only cheated twice; once when I photoshopped a painting and one when I used a marvelous image which fit the scripture too well to resist. The editing process was most engaging as I learned to merge two pictures into one, to make collages with many images, and to leave just the right text on each image to leave a clue to scripture. I feel I know the scripture message ever so much better now.
Watch an amaryllis grow from bulb to spectacular flower. True, this project required little effort on my part, but the anticipation was just as great. I did not know what the flowers would look like and each day the growth was noticeable. Perhaps my amaryllis was a metaphor for my other pursuits.
I have asked myself why I do these kind of projects and the answer lies in a deep need to create. There is a strong pull within me to make something new from materials I have around me. I have many more ideas in my head than ever come to fruition and I celebrate the ones that make it through the whole process. The process is always daunting and mid-way I have to fight through the urge to give up. Resistance is my constant companion. The "they" in the gallery always vocalize negative comments. "They won't like it." "This is stupid." "Others can do it much better." No matter how old I get the process does not change but what has changed is the bravado to just keep going. I am getter bolder with age.
There is a shop in my town called Frame of Mind. To frame a mind means deciding how to see daily life. Will I see that I have enough or will I yearn for something I don't have.. To frame my mind to see "enough", I think I need to be wholeheartedly showing up, at home, at work, and at church.
Daring Greatly has taught me this truth. The opposite of scarcity is not abundance, it is being and having "enough" to give my heart, wholly, to those I love and to what I do. The culture I live in right now makes me feel like I don't have enough time, money, or energy to be who I want to be. I believe that to be another deception. Buying into scarcity makes me hold back, waiting to see if the future will bring me what I need. It makes me shy to step forward and be on board. Unfortunately, waiting may strip me of what I already have. That is the message of the parable of the talents. (Matthew 25:20-30) The traveler gives his servants talents and leaves for a undisclosed amount of time. The one to whom he gives 5 talents goes out and increases his amount two-fold, as does the one to whom he gives 3 talents. But the one who receives only one talent feels his master will take away what he has given. He feels scarcity of goods. He feels anxiety and fear before his master and chooses to hide that which he is given. At the time of accounting the two who increased their gifts are praised but the third who proudly presents the master with the original talent is condemned. It seems harsh but by hiding his talent he judges his master in a negative light. So, the question I ask myself is; when I refuse to give my heart wholly do I indicate that my God cannot be trusted to supply my needs? Is it a control issue to clutch what little I may think I have to my breast and refuse to feel open joy?
Looking through the window at the frame shop I tried to photograph the pretty things in the window. But, what I saw in my photograph was me. I may actually be "enough" to show up in my life and be wholeheartedly present.
Every four years or so, I take some fellow girls to the Pacific Northwest Nutcracker Ballet. It started when my daughter was dancing and continued when I had a first grand-daughter and now when I have two old enough to enjoy this experience. Ballet is obviously not just for girls, but our girls activity is a special family event.
It means something to be the older cousin and teaching a younger one what is going on and what to expect. To have their pretty aunt, the dancer, along is also most engaging.
I find something new and fulfilling, whether it is the music of Tchaikovsky, or the dancer, the sets or the countless children who participate, to think on and admire.
This year I was listening and watching for the Mozart Divertimento to be played during the Christmas Party scene. I missed that in years past. There is something special to see and hear live music. It is remarkable.
We all respond so differently to this experience, depending on our age and mindset and it changes as time changes our lives.
My favorite will always be the snow scene with the snowflakes. I find the combination of the dance, music and scenery breathtaking.
Earlier this morning I was sitting in a dentist chair having a filling repaired. The assistant asked if I would like to try "laughing gas" and I started to shake my head, when I remembered the neck pain I experienced during my hour long exam three weeks prior. I thought I was relaxed and my neck begged to differ. What the heck, I said, I would try it to see if it would curb the edge of panic when they put in the dam into my mouth. I had my i-pod with me and I intended to listen to an interview with Brene Brown while I endured. So here I lay, breathing in gas, and listening to a shame and fear researcher talk about her book Daring Greatly. In a nutshell, this book is about how we can become more resilient against the shame and fear triggers in our lives. Breathing in Nitrous Oxide is not her recommended antidote. I love the irony! Enough about my dentist visit, I really want to talk about Daring Greatly.
Many on my Christmas list will be receiving a copy, I ordered them in bulk. Why, because I have been changed by this topic and by the way Brene Brown writes. In several posts I will go through the exercise of writing my summaries of her main ideas. Perhaps you will feel that I said enough and you won't read it now, or it will convince you to get a copy. Shame is a loaded word and fear comes in a close second. I didn't think I felt shame but I knew fear and sometimes it stopped me from trying things. Reading more helped me to see that I am also acquainted with shame. It is that dark feeling of not quite being enough, of thinking others see you as less, and of feeling unlovable as you really are. It stinks! It is a deception and I am standing up against succumbing to it as well as using it as a way of handling people. Shame therapy shows up in all walks of life, in our schools, churches, and in our homes. It is not guilt. Guilt comes from something you may have done, shame comes from who you think you are. In this first post I want to write about what Brene found accidentally as she interviewed countless people. The antidote to shame is vulnerability. That took me by surprise. You would think that to counteract shame one would armor up and be tougher, But the opposite is true. The people who feel the least amount of shame and fear are those who are the most open to vulnerability. And this gift leads them to live open, wholehearted lives. This is a bit to chew on and my jaw is still numb from the dentist so I will close with the link to the interview which filled my head this morning and encourage you to listen. Please? Just click on Radio podcast in the left top corner. Link here.
It was just before seven when I stopped by my friend's house to be in the presence of a true believer.
She sparkles when she tells me about the magic that Santa Claus brings to her life. I feel the joy and the unmitigated happiness of years of believing in this jolly old elf.
I grew up without this tradition. I put out my shoes on the sixth of December but the Nicholaus who filled my shoes was without too much personality. He did come on Christmas Eve, but he roared up the stairs with a sack of coal and an angry low voice, while I cowered in the corner. How naughty had I been that year? I was relieved to find out it was my Dad, all dressed up and that I was always given a reprieve and indeed granted the opportunity to open my gifts that night.
But, back to my friend, her Santa Claus has lovely compassionate eyes and she adores him and welcomes him into her home as soon as Thanksgiving is passed.
As my children have married and the little grands have appeared, I marvel how my own grandchildren are taught so many different stories about him. No matter how diverse he is always a bestower of gifts, one who knows our needs and brings a mix of justice and mercy.