The other day I was watching a video of an interview between Brené Brown and Oprah Winfrey, courtesy of my friend Kendra Tanner of the True You Project.
In it, Oprah and Brené talk about the perhaps surprising component of terror – yes terror – that often lives in joy. Brown cites the example of a parent lovingly looking down on a sleeping child, turning quickly from overflowing feelings of so much boundless love and joy, to thoughts of potential impending pain and unthinkable tragedy and how one could possibly bear any wrong thing happening to this little precious and so-much-loved being.
In the interview, and in her book Daring Greatly, Brené says this total mind blower of a statement: “When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding.”
Man that really gets me. So much is implicit here. First, if we are able to lose a tolerance to something, it means that at one time we had it. So at one point, each of us was perfectly able to be vulnerable. Whether you take that to mean as an individual or as a collective of people over time, the point remains that we aren’t born putting up walls to vulnerability. A short time with a newborn baby can provide clear and often loud evidence of how ready we used to be to cry in response to whatever wasn’t working for us, or to be comforted by the soothing of another, both acts of utter vulnerability. Those people who responded to the tears and offered the cradling could have abandoned us or at least our immediate needs at any moment. Just because developmentally we weren’t actually aware of that doesn’t make it any less true; and it doesn’t render us any less vulnerable in the moment.
As she explores the idea of foreboding joy, the good Dr. Brown goes on to say that we often go through life “trying to dress rehearse tragedy so we can beat vulnerability to the punch.”
Huh. Well, it makes sense that we want to be ready for it. Nobody likes to be blindsided. And as is too often the case nowadays, we often conflate more and better. So we pursue a state of hyper-readiness through excessive and somewhat militaristic preparation, including worrying – which can also be seen as a type of war strategizing, playing out every scenario – something akin to combat practice, the establishment of appropriate walls, fences, moats, and armor, and the fortification of those protections through repeated summoning, rebuilding, and patching. This puts us on a sort of subversive offense via aggressive defense. We defend our vulnerable selves so hard that we lose the ability to drop the armor and the war games, even when our heart has already submitted and admitted defeat. So we scare off and keep out the things and people that we want to let in, which leaves us feeling hurt and sad and even readier to fortify the trenches against future breaches.
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Brené Brown talks about gratitude as an alternative, or rather as *the* alternative, to that compulsion to dress rehearse tragedy. And she is very clear to say that it is not just an “attitude of gratitude” that brings the magic, but rather an active practice of being grateful, a purposeful choice to replace those fearful thoughts with active and intentional presence and gratitude.
I just watched this video from Gala Darling on cultivating a regular gratitude practice. She’s got some great ideas for starting and building a practice of gratitude!
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This week, the final episode of the show Parenthood is airing. I think it’s the absolute best show I have ever seen, and I’m not even exaggerating. The characters are rich, lovable, and flawed, as are their relationships. The complex way in which these families live and love and navigate their joys and struggles is so delicately and authentically portrayed, and the casting is so incredibly phenomenal, that I feel really connected to these not real members of this not real family. I love when something can move me to laughter or tears, and this show regularly does both, sometimes at the same time. And yes, it feels extremely bizarre to feel so strongly about a tv show and its characters. But much like REO Speedwagon, I can’t fight this feeling any more. ❤
My mom is every bit as hooked as I am on the show, and we have been texting back and forth for over a month now about how sad we are that the show is ending, what we think is or isn’t going to happen in the remaining episodes, and how devastated we will be if x, y, or z ends up happening.
There’s something about the way the show makes me feel, causes me to feel, puts me in a place to feel things that don’t come up in my daily life. Like exercising muscles not currently in use but not wise to let atrophy, watching Parenthood lets me viscerally experience these big and little emotions and events without strategizing or going into actual combat practice to protect myself. It’s like a simulator that lets you experience the pain, indecision, fear, and joy so that you develop a body response to getting past it all – the good and the not so great – without ever actually having to have done the things yourself. Your body gets to feel overcoming fear, surviving pain, breaking free from indecision, and living with joy that stays and joy that leaves. And when you find yourself in your real future life going through such things, you will have in your body memory this experience-feeling of living through it, helping you stay with it so you don’t feel so compelled to suit up for battle against the pain or to protect the joy.
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This make me think of that phrase, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
A couple years ago, I participated in a seminar called Immigration and Migration and the Making of A Modern American City. In it, I learned about the origins of that phrase. You see, the tenement dwellings at the turn of the century were built to get as many apartment spaces, and thus people, in as possible. To that end, they were all laid out the same, and same rooms would be located on top of each other. In the case of this quote, it is in the bedroom of the apartment below from which one can hear the movements in the bedroom above. Everyone here is working a full hard day on a similar schedule, and as the person disrobes in the room below, the drop of the upstairs neighbor’s shoes doing the same can be heard. So if you are waiting for the other shoe to drop, you are waiting for the inevitable; you know that other shoe is coming, so don’t get cozy until it does. Don’t sink into your bed, don’t slip off to sleep, until you’ve heard that other shoe drop so it doesn’t disturb your rest. This inevitable thing is often negative, something that must be endured before one can rest, relax and breath relief.
But isn’t it all just a matter of perception? Can’t we change our thoughts from negative inevitability to something more positive?
Take instead that moment when we ourselves get home from a long day, sit ourselves down, and take off our own clothes and armor. And as that final shoe is poised to drop, when the clothes are off and the underwire unclasped, instead of worrying about what metaphor is about to drop, we can instead choose to feel into the moment of our own shoes dropping, our bare feet hitting firm floor, our body and soul stretching and exhaling into gratitude for all that we have, all we have done, and all we are capable of doing.
In this scenario, when the other shoe drops, I am open and at peace, ready for what good things may come, and present enough to receive them.
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