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.
I’ve written several posts lately about my struggles with success (and the challenges it brings) and how it causes me to hide my light and to hide myself in general. Ironically, part of this pattern involves quitting something either when I feel like I am about to be successful or when I feel too threatened by someone else’s success (thereby convincing myself that I am a failure).
These sound very much like opposites, but they are (ironically) part of the same pattern for me. Both involve wanting to avoid any sense of being in competition with other people because competition always means someone loses and someone will wind up feeling bad. It might be me. Or it might be the other person, in which case I feel guilty for having caused them to feel bad. I can’t win!
“If you are not afraid of the voices inside you, you will not fear the critics outside you.” ~Natalie Goldberg
The past few years have been hard on me. They have involved an awful lot of very big changes for me and that has meant spending a lot of time putting myself out there in new ways that were risky and often did not have much support. And I’ve done a lot more failing and encountering devastating criticism* and subtle undermining doubts from others than I had expected.
I’ve been realizing lately just how much this experience is leading me to focus on safety and hiding. I increasingly measure everything I do, every decision I make, and everything I say by how likely it is to provoke criticism (direct or indirect) from others. I spend a lot of time hiding—my gifts, my knowledge, my abilities, my preferences, my self—from people around me in an attempt to stave off more criticism and thus feel safe again.
“We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” ~e.e. cummings
I waited many years for someone to reveal that what was inside me was valuable—and I’m sure there were those along the way that tried, but there were always so many other negative voices, both within and without, that drown them out. And so I could not receive the message, even if it was there.
My life journey over the past few years has been one involving lots of change and transformation. While change is hard enough in and of itself, this particular bout of change has had the additional challenge in that so much of it has involved moving away from what’s expected of me to dance to the beat of my own drum.
While learning to be more authentically myself has been a wonderfully freeing experience, choosing to be different from the culture around me has often been challenging. The set of links that I have collected for tonight are all about learning to be oneself in a world that would really prefer that we conform to the mold. These are great encouragement!
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.” ~Helen Keller
I have koi ponds in my back yard that I inherited from the former owner. This past weekend brought our first freezing weather, so I had to take the first step of starting to prepare the ponds for winter weather by bringing the tropical plants that normally live in the pond inside to live in big plastic tubs of water for the winter. As part of this process of transferring the plants indoors, I drag them out of the water to let them drain, cut them back, trim away the excess roots extending out the sides of the pots, and clean out dead leaves, algae, and other debris from the surface of the pots.
As I was doing this for one of the biggest of the plants, I discovered an area on the surface of the pea gravel in the pot that was shiny. A little investigation revealed that this was a small frog that had taken refuge in the dead leaves that had collected at the base of the plant stalks.
I attended a fall festival today at a local orchard. There was a corn maze, a hayride, games for kids, live music, food and drink available, lots of produce and products made from produce (like apple cider, jams, jellies, butters, and more), and a collection of artists selling their wares.
One of the vendors that I talked to was from Niger, and he produced lovely silver jewelry. He commented that he was a sixth-generation silversmith. It’s hard for me to imagine the amount of time and practice he must have put into his craft as he learned it from his elders. It also made me wonder whether he ever wished he had been born into a different line of work. Or did he grow to love this craft as his skill grew and his creations improved?
My conversation with him reminded me that it’s impossible to create well without investing in the time and practice needed to learn the craft of the kind of thing one wishes to create. There is always a learning curve (some steeper than others). Everyone has to start out as a beginner even when born as a descendent of generations of that craft.
“The creative person is willing to live with ambiguity.” – Abe Tannenbaum
I don’t like ambiguity. In fact, that’s quite an understatement. I really can’t stand ambiguity. I’m slowly learning to live with it a bit better just because it’s an inevitable part of life, but I still don’t like it one bit.
I don’t like surprises. I like to know plans ahead of time, and I want those plans as detailed as possible. I like to know what to expect—from people, from situations, from things, from the weather (yeah, I get disappointed a lot on that one). I want to know exactly what I am getting myself into before I commit to anything.
I am one of those people who mosquitoes just love. Anytime I am outside with other people, I manage to attract every mosquito in the local area, but they leave my friends alone. I spend a fair amount of time cleaning the koi ponds that are in my backyard, and even after spraying myself thoroughly with bug spray, I often come back in with up to 50 bites in one evening. They swarm around me nonstop, landing to take a sip every chance they get. After another encounter with them this evening (and another swarm of bites), I decided to write tonight’s poem about these tiny creatures that terrorize me so.
“Maturity, one discovers, has everything to do with the acceptance of ‘not knowing.’” ~Mark Z. Danielewski
I think the hardest thing for me to cope with over the last few years of so much constant change has not been the change itself; it’s been the constant ‘not knowing’ of where I am headed or where each change is going to lead me.
Of course, none of ever know what tomorrow brings. Everything in life is uncertain. But most of the time, we can shield ourselves from facing that uncertainty because there is enough in our lives that is stable to make the chances that we know where we are headed (at least short-term) reasonably high. For most of my life, I’ve had a fairly well planned out trajectory through my education and career goals. Although those did change from time to time, they were more course adjustments than radical departures from the planned course.