“Air” is the literal air around us, the oxygen and carbon dioxide we breathe, the connection through respiration to all living things.
“Air” is also our thoughts, beliefs, and stories.
Let’s start with Gratitude.
Feel the breath in this moment. Give thanks to your body for breathing. Appreciate the miracle of breath that keeps you alive without any need for your conscious thinking mind. Give thanks to the trees, phytoplankton, and green growing things for making oxygen we can breathe. Feel grateful humility for all the plants that keep you alive – both now and in our planet’s past – without your conscious mind even thinking about it. Give thanks for your thoughts and the facility of your mind that is drawn to read, think, and grow with ideas like this.
We allow the Gratitude to open us to Pain.
Pain for the world. Pain for those without clean Air. Pain for those who struggle to breathe. Pain for those who are trapped in painful, repetitive, anxious, angry thoughts. Noticing that we are not so different. Noticing that we also have moments of struggling for Air and struggling with painful stories.
As we sit with the Pain, we start to notice we can sit with it. It won’t just overwhelm us. We can let it in. Without needing to change it or fix it or figure it out. We can admit that Pain exists within us and outside of us in the people, animals, oceans, plants, and soil around us. As we dare to let ourselves feel both Gratitude and Pain, we start to come alive to the connection between us and others.
We notice our stories. We notice the connection to all things. We rewrite our stories. We honor our connection.
From our connection, comes the desire to Go Forth.
Going Forth is the step where we take our theory and we do something with it – we act. In Healing the Personal, Healing the Planet we always have at least one act of inner work and one act of outer work.
Stepping out into the world can happen with small steps. You don’t have to save the whole world all by yourself. In fact, when you try you are likely to get paralyzed by your own smallness compared to the bigness of the problem. Getting paralyzed is a way of both suffering and letting ourselves off the hook. When we don’t take the actions we can take, we are denying the power we do have. You are more powerful than you know. Your power grows, like a muscle, when you exercise it. Speaking up, gathering friends together, doing your inner work, and daring to think about your place in the family of things are all acts that build your “power muscle.” Daring greatly, you build confidence in yourself and confidence that you will use your power for good. Thank you!
This progression of Gratitude to Pain to Seeing with New Eyes, to Going Forth is from Joanna Macy’s “Work that Reconnects.” I am delighted to be bringing Joanna Macy’s ideas – as I understand and am inspired by them – together with Brene Brown’s work on shame and vulnerability. Together with Parts Work as taught to me by Jerry Donoghue we have powerful theory to create the strong container for “Healing the Personal, Healing the Planet.”
This article is based on Healing the Personal, Healing the Planet‘s, Week 3 class focused on Air. We’re taking an elemental journey with Earth in the first week. Earth my body. Earth the soil of the planet. Earth the thin skin of the planet that supports all life. Earth the ground that holds each of us without needing to change, fix, or figure us out.
Preview of what’s to come…
Week 5 will bring us into the Fire of our desire. The Fire of motivation. The Fire that can warm and inspire. The Fire that can singe and destroy. It’s good to have a strong container when you’re working with Fire. That’s exactly what we’re forging in our Year of Joys classes.
When we hear stories of environmental degradation, social injustice, and governmental corruption, what do we do with them? How do we interact with these systems and the entities which can seem corrupt and sometimes evil?
Most of us tend to either numb out, blame and fix, or fight and martyr.
Numbing: Getting super overwhelmed and busy is a favorite for many of us. When we are incredibly overbooked, there is no time to reflect on philosophical questions like “Are we using our resources wisely and justly?” and “How can I be of service to my people and my planet?”
Other common ways we numb are through alcohol and drugs, but nearly anything can be used as an addiction to distract us from things we fear are beyond our power to influence.
Blame and Fix: We look for what’s wrong and then try to change it. The problem with blaming and fixing is that it creates more stress and distance. Plus any action taken from fear, begets the thing it’s afraid of. Blame and fix doesn’t actually fix anything; instead they create a reinforcing feedback loop of problems, blame and stress.
We might also beat ourselves up and say “If I cared more or if I were stronger, then I could be an activist and change things. But I’m not doing anything or at least not enough. That’s awful.” This is the fast track to creating shame within ourselves and often for projecting that energy of “not doing enough” onto others – friends, family, NGOs, and the government.
Fight and Martyr: We become activists. We march with signs. We sign petitions. We camp in trees for months or years on end. I’ve often thought that this kind of activism was heroic and what I “should do if I cared enough to get out of my comfort zone.” But there is a saying “What you resist, persists.” I’ve found this to be very very true. Fight and Martyr doesn’t seem to create a just and peaceful world with any more consistency or certainty than blame and fix or numbing.
There is another way.
What do we do instead? We realize that the skills we’re learning through our shame and vulnerability work on relationships and body image are the same skills we need to tackle these larger social/environmental issues. Parts work. Compassionate presence. Vulnerability within a safe container. How to create that safe container.
We’ll also go another step deeper into vulnerability by learning how the things we hate, despise, and distrust outside of us are alive and well as parts inside of us. The things we hate most in those who are spilling oil into the oceans are actually things we hate about ourselves. We are so scared to let that reality in. We’re so scared that we’ll hate ourselves if we look too closely.
I say through cultivating compassion and a safe container, that level of vulnerability is actually the way to fall in love with yourself and from there to love others more truly. And from there, to take more effective action in the world.
Radical self-responsibility with deep compassion and vulnerability is the way to heal your relationship to yourself and from there, to find ways to heal the planet.
“Healing the Personal, Healing the Planet” takes what we’re learning about shame, vulnerability, scarcity, joy, courage, gratitude, and sufficiency and helps us apply them to larger social/environmental issues.
“Healing the Personal, Healing the Planet” is the third class in our Year of Joys series on shame, vulnerability, scarcity, sufficiency, gratitude, courage and joy. It will start the week of March 23, 2015.
Do you want fulfillment faster?
Would you like guarantees that your efforts are going to pay off?
Are you tired of the climb and just wanting to get there, already?
I have times like that too.
Byron Katie’s words “When I argue with reality, I lose. But only 100% of the time,” are such an inspiration to me especially at those time when I’m, well…arguing with reality.
When we want to speed up or slow down time, when we want 26 hours in the day instead of 24 to get our ToDo lists done, when we tell ourselves we’ll have more time to take care of ourselves, make love, or play once our chores are done, then we are arguing with reality. Chores are never done. ToDo lists are never really complete. When we wait for that magic moment to engage with the joy of life, we never get there. And we are going to lose, but only 100% of the time.
Can you imagine the woman in this picture standing there arguing with the glacier?
“You shouldn’t be here. You’re too big. I can’t climb you. Get smaller because I didn’t sleep well last night, and I had a hard childhood.” It’s absurd to imagine her saying that, and yet – many of us argue with our own realities on a regular basis. Embracing reality means giving up our excuses for holding back or playing small.
Embracing reality means being all in.
It means showing up.
It means assessing your own skill and the task ahead of you and making a clear decision to climb or not.
I can easily imagine this woman climbing or backing away and setting up a camera or meditating or walking around or touching the glacier then going home. All of those options are valid. She doesn’t have to climb the steepest part to prove her worth. In fact, her worth is completely independent of how she engages with the glacier. And that’s part of reality, too.
I love the way Dr. Brene Brown talks about shame. It’s not something reserved for trauma survivors or the very insecure. It’s something that impacts all of us. As long as we value love and belonging, we will experience fear that we can do (or not do) something that threatens our connection.
That fear is has a name. It’s shame. Shame is a basic human fear, one of the common threads that weave the human experience and connect us all.
We hate to feel it. That’s another common human experience. No one wants to feel shame. Shame is one of the ickiest experiences. It can hijack our thoughts, emotions, and physical body. We feel hot and flushed or cold and frozen when we’re in shame. We think we’re not good enough. We blame and judge ourselves and others. We feel depressed, anxious, sad, angry and hopeless. We don’t want to be seen. Whatever your experience of shame, I can guarantee it’s unpleasant and painful.
We all have strategies to keep us out of shame. Distraction is our cultural favorite. We use constant activity to keep us from noticing our longing for connection and our fear that we’ll never really get it.
Yet avoiding shame is a double-edged sword. We may escape shame but we won’t feel connection either. When we avoid shame through distraction, we numb to our own heart’s longing. We have nagging feelings of discontent, failure, and not being enough.
We don’t like these feelings. We turn to more distraction, numbing, emotional armor, and shadow comforts to avoid them. This in turn leads to more disconnection, depression, anxiety, frustration, and a sense of purposelessness. Avoiding these requires more distraction, perfectionism, and foreboding joy.
Avoiding shame creates disconnection. Avoiding shame creates shame’s worst fear, reinforces shame, and proves that somehow we can do something that makes love and belonging impossible. More shame ensues. The wheel spins itself.
The way out of shame looks like paradox. Like explorers returning with treasures from an adventure, we go into the shame swamp, find the treasures therein, and return to our lives enriched. We want to avoid shame, yet to get out of its shadow we must dive in. That’s what a Year of Joys is about. It’s the journey into the shame swamp with a trusted guide and courageous fellow travelers. It’s an adventure. It’s a quest to find love, belonging, and connection.
When shame is unacknowledged and unknown it controls our behavior far more than shame which is welcomed and seen. Ignoring shame makes it more powerful. Learning about it, sharing our stories, using critical awareness on stereotypes about who and what we should be diffuses it.
We can even go a step farther. We can learn from shame. We can welcome in the parts of ourselves that are experiencing shame and hold them with compassion. We can share our stories and receive empathy from others. We can use shame to build trust and strengthen our experiences of love and belonging.
Shame – and its fellows scarcity, anxiety, depression, numbness, and hopeless longing – can pave the way to joy.
When we bring shame out of the shadows, powerful things happen. Freedom, power, and joy become bigger players in our lives. Fear, insecurity, trying to fit in, anxiety, depression, and isolation not only play a smaller role; they become guides on the journey to our purpose and full expression of ourselves.
Students from my classes, people who’ve worked with Brene Brown, and rogue adventurers alike all report back encouragement from their explorations into shame. No one says it’s easy, but then life isn’t easy. There is no easy path to being a fully alive human.
The path of going into shame and scarcity is a good one. You’ll meet courageous, vulnerable, life-affirming people along the way. Fellow travelers to walk with and encourage you. It’s worth it. But don’t take my word for it, read a comment and leave a comment below. Share your insights with one another. Let’s notice we’re not alone on this human journey and that shame is part of the puzzle.
What do I do with that when I’m awake at 3 or 4 or 5am and not going back to sleep?
My insight this morning? I stop arguing with reality. I stop telling myself I should be sleeping.
Instead, I honor my creative self. I listen to her; I get up and write down her ideas to act on later. For years I’ve known that I get great ideas early in the morning. I’ve seen how journaling when I wake up at 3 a.m. creates more clarity and ease in my life.
But still I resist my early morning insights because I want more sleep. I resist getting up and writing them down because I don’t want to turn on the lights and wake myself up. Yet I’m often awake for an hour (or three) in the wee small hours of the morning. And some of the best ideas I ever have happen at that time of day.
I often tell myself I’ll remember it later and sometimes I do but not with the clarity I have at that quiet time of the day. One of my ongoing challenges is with distraction. My children need me, chores need to be done, I want to connect with friends and work in my business. But at 3am, none of that needs to be done. None of that is calling to me. At 3 a.m. the “practical” side of my self is asleep. I can tune in with greater clarity to the quieter voice of intuition and heart calling.
Like seeing the stars on a clear night away from the lights of the city. The stars are there all the time, but when the sun is out I can’t see them. Light pollution at night or cloud cover also obscure the light of the stars. They are there just the same, yet I can’t see them clearly. When the sun goes down, the clouds blow away, and I step away from the lights of the city, then the stars burn strong and inspiring.
It’s the same thing with my intuition and creativity. It’s there all the time. But during the day it’s easy for it to get obscured by kids, work, cleaning, chores, friends, and busy-ness. The very early morning has long been known across cultures as a time for greater connection to insight. Maybe I can stop arguing with what seems to be a fact of human nature and surrender to the wisdom of the still, small voice within me that wants to be heard. I can listen to my intuition like I watch the stars. I can accept that the time to listen to my insights and creativity might be the time when everything else in my world is quiet.
Sleep is still important. I’ll still be looking at how to get those 7-9 hours a day. Listening to my body and resting when I am tired is so countercultural that I’ll write more about it on another day. I think there is rich territory to explore in the idea of resting when I’m tired rather than pushing harder and trying to get more done.
My gift to myself this morning? Sitting up, turning on my computer, and getting a week’s worth of insights mapped out in less than an hour. My second gift? Doing it without critical self-talk telling me I should be sleeping. Maybe I should be doing exactly what I’m doing. And for now, that means turning off my computer and heading back under the covers for another hour of shut eye.
This site is dedicated to helping you connect with your human potential through exploring shame, vulnerability, scarcity, and joy.
There are several year long options for working with Kassandra Brown.
The first is a series of workshops called Shame, Vulnerability, Scarcity, and Joy. Starts September 25, 2014 at 11am central.
January: Self-image and Stereotypes
March: Environment and Natural World