True Power Lies Beyond Vulnerability

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I remember the first time I experienced a “vulnerability hangover.”

I remember the exact date, to be exact.  It was January 1, 2013.

I had been blogging for nearly 2 years, sharing our adventures in sailing and minimalism.  I had quit Facebook and started corresponding with friends via e-mail.  These interactions were a huge part of my journey, and each of these friends pushed me to break away from the script given to us by society and realize the life that I actually wanted to live.

As these friends encouraged me, I began to see how the impressions I had of myself–the beliefs I had about who I was and what I was capable of–were severely limiting me.  I wrote one friend a long e-mail about what I thought to be the source of my self-doubts, and with their encouragement, turned it into my “New Year’s Eve post.

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And it was after writing this post that the hangover came.

I was afraid of what people would say after reading my post.  How would they judge me?  I was convinced that I was secretly a head case, and if those around me agreed, wouldn’t that mean what I was?

I was afraid to go back to work, after growing and changing so much on break.  I wanted to live life differently, but that would mean taking more risks, and risking losing the security that I thought I had.

I was afraid of how much I trusted my e-mail friends.  They believed in me, and I was addicted to their attention.  If they stopped writing me, if they decided I was a headcase, if they decided I was too clingy–what would that mean about me?

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I was vulnerable in so many ways.

It was during this time that one of my friends e-mailed me a link to Brene Brown’s TED talk, “The Power of Vulnerability.”  I watched it and responded with, “How did this lady get inside my head?”

Brown told of her own journey through perceived unworthiness, and in the end she asserted that the way to find our own worthiness is by being willing to be vulnerable.  And, to be true, vulnerability was an important part of my journey at that time.  I stopped hiding in the shadows, and made some bold choices to share, to risk judgement, and to break free from the seemingly “secure” life I had been living for 10 years.

Like Brown, my journey involved two years of therapy (and counting!  Because I want to continue to grow).  But rather than learning to embrace my vulnerability, I learned to grow beyond it, to see that I was only vulnerable BECAUSE I did not understand my own worth.  The reality is that nobody can hurt us, even if they do “judge.”  Judgements show truth about the judge and their insecurities, not about us.  When we perceive ourselves as lacking, then we use other people’s words as evidence to support our limiting beliefs.    Everything is interpreted as being about us.  This is what causes us to think that we are vulnerable at all.

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As my journey continued, I saw that I was not vulnerable.  That even actions that seemed to be about me, were not.

  • Nobody acted any differently toward me.  But if they had, that wouldn’t mean there was something wrong with me, or that I was a headcase.  It would mean that sometime from my experience triggered a fear in the other person, that they were misunderstanding.
  • There has been a natural ebb and flow in my online friendships, just like there is with friendships in “real life.”  And some of this has even been initiated by me, because I’m not needing that constant positive feedback anymore.  I rejoined Facebook, so we could stay in touch without spending time writing lengthy e-mails.  All of that is fine, and I understand that if people are choosing to spend more time doing other activities, it means nothing about me.
  • Some friends have chosen not to stay in touch.  In fact, some of the people I confided the most to, who gave me the most support during the most difficult times, have drifted away.  And yet, I understand that this means nothing about me.  They are on their own journey and always have been.
  • In not “needing” anything from those around me, I also do not “need” them to be a certain way or choose to do or say anything in particular.  They are free to be as they are, and I no longer try manipulate my relationships in an effort to meet my own needs.
  • I am slowly working my way away from the illusion of security.  I am learning that I don’t need my life to be a certain way either.  As I have discovered my own worth, I am learning that everyone and everything can be how it is.

So what does this all mean?  It means that you should embrace your vulnerability.  Be willing to step out there and take risks.

But then, look around and start to see that you are not taking a risk at all.

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Breaking Through the Loneliness

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I am willing to wager that you have a secret.

Your secret is a story–or many stories–that culminate in a shameful “truth” about yourself and who you think you are.  You go through life hoping that nobody discovers this truth.  It would all fall apart if everyone figured out who you “really” are.

Or maybe you’re trying to bend reality, to make the most out of a difficult situation.  Maybe if you can be strong, brave, and inspiring, then you won’t come across as hurt, damaged, and unstable.

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Am I right?  Because if I am, then I have another secret to share.  Everybody has the same secret that you have.  And it’s all an illusion.  Every last bit of it.

I used to sit in loneliness, trying to hide “who I really was.”  I had a history of fear, of sadness, of anxiety, and of desperation.  Caught in the fog of perceived unworthiness, I did not understand why I had the thoughts I had, why I acted the way I acted, and why I made myself both distant and clingy in my relationships.  

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Fear leads to more fear, and we become convinced that we are alone in our experience.  We don’t talk about it, because we fear judgment.  We are certain that we are defective, that something is wrong with us.

But the more people I’ve talked to, the more I’ve realized that this seemingly private journey through fear is the journey of all humanity.  We all have a “story.”  We have all had experiences that have left us feeling confused and broken.  Many–and I’d venture to say most–of us at some point in time have been given labels, to try and describe fear’s manifestations in our lives.

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And yet those labels are not who we really are.  The story of how we came to feel broken, is not our real story.  We don’t need to be courageous or inspiring.  There is nothing we need to overcome.

Our journey through the confusion of fear and the fog of unworthiness does not separate us from the rest of humanity, it connects us.  We are not alone in our quest to understand and to see reality–everyone is on the same journey.

So take a moment today to see beyond the loneliness.

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Lessons from the Journey

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During the time that I call Last Winter (the winter of 2012-13, spent living in the basement of our old house), I shared a great deal with you, about my journey and the challenges I faced.  I continued to share with you during our move and adjustment to our new life in Texas.

But what you don’t know is that the journey has continued since then.

I’ve been working very hard, for nearly two years now.  My journey began when one of my readers called me a Linchpin,and I would like to share with you the places it has taken me since then.

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Here are some things I’ve learned in my travels:

1. Reality is a very simple, painless thing.  If you’re experiencing anything other than that, it’s not reality.  When I read Linchpin, after being told that this term applied to me, it brought to light so many assumptions I had held about myself–so many limiting beliefs.  That was what started my journey.  I realized that I was not what I had thought I was.  I’ve since learned that anything that causes fear, anything that doesn’t “feel” good, is based on misunderstanding, not reality.

2.  Willpower is not the answer.  Like flowers turning toward the sun, we all are always turned toward the light.  We want to do what is “right,” and we are always trying our very best.  If we’re stuck in a “bad” habit, then there is a misunderstanding or a reason why.  We need to look deeply at that, and figure out what is preventing us from doing what we’re trying to do.  Forcing ourselves to do anything, ultimately won’t work.

3.  Your mind is likely stuck in a loop.  I had the same patterns coming up over and over again.  I thought I was unworthy.  I thought I couldn’t handle the intense fear I sometimes felt.  It was the same messages, over and over.  And the solution lie in redefining those messages.  Over and over.

4.  Never underestimate the power of a good teacher.  Learning to move beyond fear and to see reality is like learning to speak a new language, and it helps to have guidance from someone who has traveled the path already. While I had many mentors along the way, the smartest choice I made was to seek help professionally.  I ended up finding a counselor who works via e-mail and used a technique that I recognized as a variant on cognitive-behavioral therapy.  She worked closely with me and helped me learn methods for doing that repetitive redefining. After nearly two years of almost-daily contact, I am no longer experiencing those looping thoughts and am seeing a great deal of freedom from fear.  If you’re interested in pursuing a path in this direction, here is a good place to start.

5.  You are not what you think you are.  I have learned that I am more than the challenges I have faced, and I am certainly more than my reaction to fear.  We all face fear, and it manifests differently for each of us. Some people react with substance abuse, others become depressed or anxious, and others overeat or indulge in retail therapy.  These are all reactions to the same thing.  Don’t mistake your reaction for who you are.

6.  Self-love is always beautiful.  Early in my journey, my therapist said, “Your only obligation is to love yourself.”  I didn’t understand this at the time.  I thought caring for myself and turning inward was selfish.  But it is not–it is actually the opposite of selfishness.  It is through knowing, understanding, and loving our own minds, with their tendencies and misunderstandings, that we learn to understand and therefore love all of humanity.  If we misunderstand our tendencies, we are going to misunderstand the same tendencies in everyone else.

7.  Narcissism and martyrdom are the same thing.  Or, at least, they are manifestations of the same misunderstanding.  In both cases, the person sees themself as separate–from all of humanity and from God, the Universe, Love, etc.  Putting yourself before others and putting others before yourself are both based on the assumption that your “self” is separate from “others.”

8.  Nobody has an opinion of you.  We take what people claim to “think” of us as meaningful feedback about ourselves.   When people don’t really have opinions of us. They might misinterpret our fears and the way we act upon them, but that’s not a opinion of me. They might misinterpret our fear-based actions based on their own fears. But that’s not about us. And we’re probably not even seeing this window into their inner life. Because our minds are picking out bits of and pieces of their actions (which are based on their own fears, etc.) and using them as evidence for what it already believes. So “feedback” and “criticism” are just our mind’s way of proving itself right. The other person is just a messenger. 

9.  Labels are limited in their usefulness.  It would be easy to pick out labels from my experience.  “Anxiety” and “depression” stand out, amongst other things.  But how helpful is that?  These are all just names for manifestations of fear and misunderstanding.  We all face fear and misunderstand.  If it’s an “illness,” it’s one that EVERYBODY has.  That’s the journey through this life–seeing through the illusions.

10.  There is no past.  There is no accurate record of it, at all.  Everything I’ve told you, about my “back story” is just comprised of memories with meaning attached.  There is no way for anybody to know what REALLY happened.  It’s gone.  It doesn’t exist.  This moment–with all the baggage we carry to it–is all that we can ever have.

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I could go on with lessons, but I think this is a good starting point.  It’s been a very busy two years, and I look forward to growing–and resting–more in the years to come.

 What are some lessons that you’ve learned on your journey?

 

Life and Change

There is a song I keep hearing on the radio that makes me laugh, when the singer proclaims, “See, we won’t forget where we came from/
The city won’t change us/We beat to the same drum.”  This makes me laugh, because it’s impossible, in a way.  It’s true, that something beneath it all can’t possibly change, no matter what the circumstances.

But our perception, our worldview, and all that we think is “us,” should always be changing and evolving.

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So, whenever I hear that song, I think of the ways in which the city has “changed” me.  It often feels like a lot of life’s lessons are repeating themselves on a new stage, but I am learning from them and growing.  I see my tendencies and perceptions everyday, so I really don’t get to look at the “changes,” but I think a lot of my friends up north would be surprised if we had a conversation.

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Here are some ways I have “changed” since moving down here:

1.  I view race much differently.  Up north, you don’t talk about race.  Ever  It’s the elephant in the room.  So, imagine my surprise when my students started talking about skin color like it was hair or eye color!  It took me awhile to figure out that this isn’t rude here. Racial differences are a humorous part of the human condition, here.  I work in a town where I am a racial minority, and this is surprisingly not a big deal. All it has done is teach me that I did hold subconscious stereotypes, and that they were ALL incorrect.  True, there ARE cultural and racial differences, but they aren’t what I assumed they were.  And they are beautiful.  Every group has something wonderful to add to the tapestry that is our society.  And we would do well to learn from everyone. It makes me smile, when Beanie describes her imaginary friends, who are every color of the rainbow.  Zoe has “black skin,” and Natalie has “brown skin” and speaks Spanish.

2.  I’ve become much more moderate.  This is a funny development, as we are living a very extremely minimalistic lifestyle right now.  And our neighbors (and best friends) are living similarly to us.  (And, yes, we discuss they joys of Not Having a Lot of Stuff!).  But, in finding peace for myself, I’m seeing how others are finding peace in having their own homes, with their own fenced in yard.  I can see how television shows can make for an easy conversation topic.  I can see how different religious beliefs are very important to the journies of those who believe them.  (And no less “right” or”wrong” than my own ideas!)  I boycott much less, and pretty much don’t get as passionate about causes, in the black-and-white way I used to.  Living in a prosperous city and seeing how that changes reality completely, has led to a change in my thinking.  I am sure this will be examined and evolve in the future.

3.  My driving habits have changed.  I am a much more assertive driver, than your average in-the-woods-of-northern-Michigan person.  But I’m also extremely courteous.  In 6 lanes of traffic,  if someone is trying to move from the far left to the far right, you let them in. It’s karma.  I don’t look at the speedometer or signs; I just keep up with everyone else.  And I love overpasses.  I consider it a challenge to find my way to the top one.

4.  I spend more time on myself.  Maybe it’s because we move here as a part of my journey.  But I am absolutely not a martyr now.  I take a 30 minute walk every morning.  And I get enough sleep every night.  I ate 3 high-protein meals a day, and I will soon be joining a health club nearby.  Rob also spends a great deal of time on himself, and our family has grown stronger for it.

5.  I spend less time online.  You may have noticed. But now that I am not trying to escape anything, I’ve become more intentional with my online time.  I glance through my newsfeed, catch up on blogs when I can, and write when the muse inspires me.  Otherwise, I’m looking at the moon or watching the sunrise.

6.  Family time is very important.  When I get home, I help Beanie with her homework, listen to her read her take-home book, then practice piano with her.  Then, she plays her video games and heads to bed, while Rob and I sit outside and talk, before taking a walk.

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Our life has become very focused on our reality, on our here-and-now. This might be something that evolves later, and I’m sure it will be.  Life is about learning and growing, and I hope that there is much more of our journey to be discovered.

 

36 Lessons I’ve Unlearned

Last year, on my birthday, I wrote 35 lessons that I learned in 35 years.  This year, I will share my 36th lesson that I learned, but first I wanted to share 36 “lessons” that I have unlearned.

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I have learned that all of these are not true at all:

1.  I need to “matter.”

2.  “Others” and “myself” are two separate categories.

3.  There is a wrong way to live.

4.  The things other people say should be taken at face value.

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5.  It is possible to have my needs met through another person.

6.  My actions don’t affect those around me.

7.  It is possible for love not to exist.

8.  Hierarchies exist.

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9.  Selfishness is caused my giving yourself too much attention.

10.  Narcissism is caused by loving yourself too much.

11. The “smoothest” relationships are the most beneficial.

12.  Experiencing fear makes me a failure.

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13.  It is not possible for me to experience inner peace.

14.  There is a such things as a coward.

15.  Character flaws exist.

16.  There are people who have it all together and never experience (or act upon) fear.

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17.  Having fewer possessions is virtuous.

18.  Willpower can solve problems.

19.  There is a such thing as “negative” thoughts and emotions.

20. It is necessary to fight some things in life.

21.  If someone really cares, they will be a part of our life forever.

22.  What we see, is what is real.

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23.  Autism is a hindrance.

24.  I have a “past.”

25.  The past exists.

26.  Judgement exists.

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27.  Hate exists.

28.  It is possible to lose weight without loving your body.

29.  We should always give advice to help those around us.

30. Talking about problems makes them more manageable.

31.  Drama is inevitable.

32.  Conflict is a part of being in a relationship.

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33.  There are dark and light times in our lives.

34.  Strong emotions add color to life.

35.  I am my thoughts and emotions.

36.   There is a such thing as unworthiness.

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It’s been an exciting trip around the sun, to be sure!  What are some lessons in life that you have unlearned?

In Praise of my Mischievous Child

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I keep a secret from my daughter.  There is something I don’t tell her, when I’m giving her a time-out or discussing the reason for the bad report from her teacher.

I am secretly happy that she gets into trouble.

Beanie isn’t angry.  She doesn’t get in trouble for deliberately harming anyone.

What Beanie does is test limits.  She conducts social experiments.  She’ll put her hand on the fire alarm to observe her teachers’ reactions.  She’ll say a bad word, to see what happens. She hits her friends, because she thinks it’s funny.

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Of course, we show her what happens when she crosses a line.  We don’t encourage her to “misbehave.”

But I still like that she does it.  I like that she believes enough in her own worth to be unafraid of making mistakes. She’s not afraid to try new things, make mistakes, and learn.

Can we say the same for ourselves?

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I know that I have always been a people-pleaser.  I have always been terrified of doing anything that might offend, or lead someone to “not like me.”  Being socially shunned has always been my fear.

And because of this fear, I have been afraid to try. Better not to rock the boat, than to do something “wrong.”  And when I inevitably made mistakes anyway, it led to a ridiculous drama in my head.  I admonished myself for being so stupid, and spent more time regretting the fact that I tried something that didn’t work, rather than learning from it.

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Beanie is not a people-pleaser.  She doesn’t feel the need to do anything or be a certain way in order to be loved.  Yet she also has no desire to hurt anyone’s feelings.  She realizes that her experiments won’t hurt anyone’ feelings, at least not in a way that a hug and an “I’m sorry” won’t fix.

Beanie doesn’t freak out when she makes a mistake.  She thinks no less of herself.  She merely  learns from it, and, if not, she repeats the “lesson.”  

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And the most amazing part of it all?  While staying true to herself, Beanie DOES have a lot of friends.  In the three schools she has attended, she has been quite popular in all of them.  She is very successful, socially, even after being the “new kid” twice.

I think we all might have something to learn from that kid.

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Lesson #11: The Internet (It’s Complicated)

Note:  This post is one of my 35 Lessons in 35 Years.

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It is interesting that this is the next lesson that I will be talking about, because it has been something that has been on my mind a great deal lately.

I have a complicated relationship with the Internet.

Two year ago, I gave up Facebook.  I found it sucking up my time, and I found myself drawn into non-productive political debates.  I desperately sought connection, and on Facebook I felt alone in a crowd.  So I deleted my account.

But that doesn’t mean I was never online.  I began e-mailing a number of other bloggers and developed some very close friendships.  And through these friendships, I found the courage to make some major changes in my life.  In that basement, I spend the vast majority of my time online.

And that was okay.

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After we moved, I found that I was kind of at a loss with my writing.  My personal journey became more private, and I found my inbox filling up with unanswered e-mails.  I spent more time reading, more time looking within.

A number of my blogging friends quit writing their blogs, and I wondered if this was the next step–if it were the “right” thing to do, when I reached a certain level of “maturity.”  I began to see my time online as a vice, and went through a cycle of forced digital breaks.

And that was okay too.

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And now, I kind of feel like I’ve reached a balance for the moment.  I’ve rejoined Facebook, so that I can check in with everyone, and save the more occasional in-depth discussions for e-mail.  I’m happy with the frequency of my blog posts, and I’m glad that y’all have come back to restart the discussions!

What works, is what works for me in this moment.

And that’s okay.

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So, my thinking is a little different than it was when I wrote that lesson #11 was “The answers aren’t online.”  I no longer think that a certain amount of Internet time is “good” or “bad.”

 But I do have a few thoughts on the issue:

  • Beware of using the Internet out of boredom.  Sometimes, I find myself refreshing the same 3 pages, just biding the time.  This isn’t “bad” or “immoral,” but it also isn’t something that I enjoy or something that makes me happy.  When I catch myself doing this, I ask, “What would I rather be doing?”  Sometimes, I’d rather write a book or take a walk.  Sometimes I’m just tired or hungry!
  • Online time can become an escape.   When something is bothering me, I often find that I get involved with discussions or search for a diversion online.  Again, that’s not good or bad.  There is nothing wrong with an escape, when your mind needs it!  But escaping is a short-term solution.  Eventually, we need to deal with whatever it is we are trying to escape.
  • You don’t need to try to change the world.  I have sworn off political discussion, because they only led to anger and hard feelings.  But I’ve found myself sucked into other discussions, feeling like I needed to advocate for something.  It’s good to inform and to share your ideas, but it’s also fine to bow out if the discussion becomes emotionally draining.  A great example of this for me has been all of the discussions that have started after Robin Williams’s death.  For my own mental health, I’m only engaging in those, in moderation!
  • Everyone you meet is on a journey.  Through my online interactions, I have met some people who have shared amazing ideas and completely rocked my world.  But it’s important to remember that these people are not fully enlightened beings, they are just people on a journey, just like me.  They have ideas, but they don’t have the Answers.  And they bring their emotional baggage to the table, just like I do.
  • Online interactions are great practice for “real life.”  While I don’t really buy into the whole introvert vs extrovert thing, I do realize that I haven’t fully developed the skill of being assertive.  So I practice online.  The conversation is slower, and there is time to think through my responses.  I’ve found this to be a great way to practice, and it does gradually transfer into my “real life” conversations.

I think the most important thing to remember is that the Internet and the many communities on it are tools.  Use them to help you in your journey and to get closer to finding your answers.

Just remember that then answers themselves are not “out there.”

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