Our culture tends to idolize the macho, the tough, the strong, those that never share or display their wounded hearts. We instinctively hide our vulnerable parts in order to keep those tender and wounded places safe.
This is sometimes a necessity because there are many times and places where it would not be safe to let our vulnerability show. But when we find those moments of safety where we can risk letting down our guards and letting others in, our vulnerability often becomes a magnet to others who discover in us the freedom to expose their own vulnerability. Giving each other glimpses behind the masks that we so often wear allows us to see a bit of the true beauty that each human being holds.
“You have to confront the very parts of yourself that you fear most to find what you have been looking for, because the mechanism that drives you to conceal your darkness is the same mechanism that has you hide your light. What you’ve been hiding from can actually give you what you’ve been trying hard to achieve.” ~Debbie Ford
I’ve spent most of my life projecting my shadow elsewhere so that I could avoid looking at the darkness that I carry within. I was so afraid that if I came face to face with my own darkness, it would destroy me. But as Debbie Ford says above, that also meant hiding my light because the light is what highlights the shadows. Light draws attention to me and makes it more likely that others might see those shadows too.
Most weeks, I collect links around a specific topic to share in my link love roster, but this week I just want to call out a few of the many blogs that I draw inspiration from on a regular basis. The list of blogs in my RSS feed is long, so I can’t possibly give a shout out to all of the ones that I love, but this list covers a few of the highlights among those that I’ve been following for a while and that are consistently an inspiration to me. There are a dozen more that I could add that are equally deserving, but I doubt you would all read a post that was that long!
In each case, I’ve tried to pick a fairly recent post that I particularly enjoyed as a starting place, but I’d encourage you to look around at other postings too, if what you see is of interest to you. Continue reading →
Fiona Robyn of Writing Our Way Home has organized a blogsplash for today to share stories of small kindness and the impact they’ve had on their lives from people around the world. The blogsplash is being held in honor of Fiona’s book Small Kindnesses, which is available free on Kindle today.
Her novel is a gentle story of a widower who discovers that his late wife had kept secrets from him throughout their marriage. As he pursues the mystery of her secrets, he both gives and receives many small kindnesses that have an important impact on his life and on those around him.
In the wake of my recent struggles with encouragement, I’ve been paying even more attention than usual to what I say, what others say, and the reactions to both of these (mine and theirs). I’ve been doing this observing in my in-person interactions and in the electronic exchanges that I’ve been a part of or an observer to (Facebook provides so many opportunities for this!).
Although my initial focus was only around the way encouragement is expressed and received, it didn’t take long for my field of view to widen to take a look at what people are saying when they aren’t giving encouragement, as well as when they are. It’s been an interesting experiment in observation, and I received even more input today to make me consider with greater depth the impact of my words in those times when I am not offering encouragement. In particular, I’m paying attention to those times when I could be said to be engaging in anti-encouragement.
“Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.” ~Barry Lopez
Stories. They are powerful things. They govern how we experience the world, how we interpret things that happen to us, how we see one another, how we see ourselves. Every bit of meaning we assign to anything—including our assessment of it being good or bad—is a story that is based on other stories. There is nothing that we think that is not a story that is fueled by other stories.
And the most amazing thing about all of this is that we are generally unaware of the content of all of these stories that are determining our experience of our lives. We think that we are just seeing reality as it is when we are really only seeing the version that fits with the stories we have.
Perhaps this is part of the trouble with encouragement that I have been exploring these past few days. Encouragement really means to give courage or confidence to another, although this is often done by offering praise or compliments based on the person’s character or on previous actions that indicate our belief in that person’s talent, ability, or other traits that the person currently doubts. I’ve always seen it as expressing faith in a person who is having a hard time having faith in herself (or himself) in that moment. But this is my story because it is what I want from others when I am discouraged. It’s not their story.
“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” ~Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in The Gulag Archipelago
I love bacon. Particularly when it is cooked to crispness. The taste of that mixture of salt and fat is mouth-wateringly good. Alas, I eat it rarely because I know that the fat is not very good for me. The problem is that the fat and lean meat in bacon is too interwoven to be effectively separated—not to mention the fact that it would not taste the same if there were a way to remove the fat layers. The fat is simply a part of what bacon is, for better or for worse.
Human beings are much the same in the way that our strengths and weaknesses, our good and evil, our pure and impure motives are too intertwined to ever be separated out into separated piles. While humans vary from one to another in the proportion of the traits that appear in us—like bacon that may vary in its proportion of fat to lean meat—none of us are free from imperfections in our thoughts, actions, words, or motivations.
I wrote recently about my epiphany that offering encouragement to others is an important part of my purpose in life. I did another card reading tonight on a related question that offered a very strong confirmation that this is indeed the case. It was deeply validating to think that this part of me that I cannot seem to avoid acting on is actually something to be seen as a strength.
Immediately after this, I spoke on the phone with a friend who is feeling very discouraged. I know that this particular friend does not appreciate it when I try to encourage her, and I really did try to do so less than I normally would, but I still couldn’t keep my mouth shut. And I still would up just annoying her instead of bringing any hope into the situation. This left me kicking myself and doubting everything I thought I’d just learned about my value as someone who offers encouragement to other people.
It’s taken me all evening to try to process this, and I’m still struggling with it. I don’t doubt that encouragement is something very important to me. When I was looking for a couple of old posts I had written earlier on the topic of encouragement, a search revealed that out of my 344 previous posts, 202 of them contain the word encouragement! That’s almost 60%!
Have you ever had one of those times when you’ve struggled and struggled and struggled to solve some problem, and when the answer finally appears, it’s so obvious that you can’t believe you didn’t see it before?
Yeah, me too. I had one of those moments yesterday. I’m thrilled to have an answer, but my initial reaction was still to say, “Well, DUH!”
You see, I’ve been struggling for a couple of years now to figure out what exactly it is that I want to do with my life. I have all of these disparate interests—writing, yoga, working with people one-on-one in some kind of coaching/spiritual direction/pastoral care/counseling role, perhaps some public teaching or speaking—but I haven’t been able to find the thread that tied all of these things together to form a cohesive whole. I knew without a doubt that this thread existed. I could feel it, but I couldn’t name it.
I just got home from a yoga class that I drove over two hours each way to attend. It was billed as a Yin Yoga and Reiki class, but it included not only the advertised yin yoga and Reiki but also meditation, chakra work, and sound therapy. All in a space that is one of the most healing and welcoming studios I’ve ever experienced. It was an amazing experience! (Definitely enhanced by spending the time in the car with a like-minded soul who affirmed and uplifted me throughout the hours of driving with glorious, deep, and powerful conversation!!)
The last few days have left me agitated, full of doubt and self-questioning, and incredibly discouraged. The hour and a half spent on my mat tonight in class flew by as if it was only a few moments and gave me the blessing of getting out of my thoughts and emotions long enough to settle into my body. As I did so, I rediscovered me.