Mutuality

Excepted from Brené Brown’s blog Ordinary Courage (www.ordinarycourage.com):

The phrase Daring Greatly is from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech, Citizenship in a Republic. This is the passage that made the speech famous:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;

who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly . . .”

The first time I read this quote, I thought, “This is vulnerability. Everything I’ve learned from over a decade of research on vulnerability has taught me this exact lesson. Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in.”

Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement.

Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose.

When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable. We squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts; those unique contributions that only we can make.
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This is Mutuality

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate now knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.

—Henri Nouwen

This letter to John Friend (the leader of Anusara Yoga, who is currently going through a particularly humiliating fall from grace), from a disenfranchised yogi, captures the essence of what is missing from so many systems today—be they yoga, healing, and/or spiritually-oriented communities—the capacity to fully embrace and invite the full spectrum of human experience. (The letter below was originally published on Recovering Yogi on February 17th.)

There’s such a strong push for us to move beyond our discomforts quickly—through transcendence, forgiveness, or more intense (yoga, meditation, or spiritual) practice—and very little invitation to fully be with whatever it is (whether it is joy or despair, inspiration or humiliation, pride or shame) that we are experiencing in this moment. This is what I hope CLAIM will bring—greater tolerance, acceptance, and appreciation for the entire range of human experience.

Dear John Friend,

I attended a weekend workshop of yours in San Francisco in the fall of 2007. You were at the height of your popularity; the workshop was full, and you had hundreds of pairs of eyes on you, seeming to devour your every positive aphorism. You spoke of the auspicious bliss of the universe, but my dad is an alcoholic, and I had spent most days of my life up to that point despairing to watch him slowly kill himself with beer. I was around that time coming to terms with the reality that I’d brought with me into my adulthood a set of coping mechanisms that didn’t make sense outside a home ransacked by addiction, and I struggled with knowing how I was going to make my way in the world without any self-esteem or ability to trust other people. I couldn’t stop binge eating, because I couldn’t find anywhere to go to just say how sad I was, and I was going absolutely mad inside because everyone I was related to acted like I was the crazy one and that nothing was wrong with the family.

I couldn’t reconcile your words of the inherent wonderfulness underlying everything, with my personal experience of pain. Feeling desolate inside, I left before the second day of your workshop.

Shortly after that time, I quit going to my regular evening and weekend yoga classes, replacing my seat of asana for a seat in the rooms of a 12-step program for families and friends of alcoholics. There I filled myself up with the stories of others who spoke candidly about their losses, and, surrounded by shared grief, I began to feel enough support to pay attention to my own. There, my soul was hydrated by whole books that meditated upon the grieving process, and no one there ever told me, explicitly or otherwise, to smile.

The years of pent-up grief was an abcess that drained from me over time. The intensity of it all was incredible; I remember many weekends spent lying in bed, consumed by a sensation of free-falling inside my own body. But during such periods I was able to call upon my ability to stay a long time in Warrior II, and I found that I could pretend during these grieving sessions that I was just in a yoga class, breathing through a hard pose, and that eventually, they passed.

After the grief drained away, a vulnerability remained.I felt alone and very fragile; I needed to shield my eyes from newspaper headlines, as the slightest perceived threat to my safety would trigger a panic attack. But yoga had taught me to listen inside, and I eventually heard an intuitive voice that led me to learn more about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, to realize and accept that I was personally experiencing it, and to find the most qualified therapist to help me. I began weekly two-hour eye movement desensitization reprocessing sessions to sift through the memories and make meaning from the fragments. Yoga had prepared me well to sit with discomfort and to recognize the sensations of trauma in my body, and yoga gave me the patience to see the process through to the transformation, Now I read the newspapers every day with a semblance of equanimity, and where I used to just try to survive the day, a pixelated image of my future continues to develop before me.

I understand that because in light of the recent allegations, you are now taking a look at your own shadow, and so I wanted to share with you my own experience of looking intently at my own shadow, to tell you that for me, such a process has been of great benefit.

While none of it has been easy, I now experience love daily, from many places, and many sources. With each passing year I notice progressively longer swaths of contentment, and shorter bouts of sorrow.

During those grieving years, when I was gaining weight and hemorrhaging tears, I’d see photos of you and your radiant teachers in Yoga Journal and on Facebook, and I couldn’t help but doubt the choices I’d made. There were so many of you, and you and your kula always seemed to be smiling, and fit. And there was only one of me, only me, and the voice inside me, telling me to stop and find a path that would support me in feeling what was real. Comparing my insides to all your outsides, I’d ask myself,

“Did I really have to look at the pain? Should I have just pretended harder to be happy?”

But now that I’ve read the correspondences from you and your teachers regarding the fallout from the allegations, I recognize in the letters my now familiar friends of fear, confusion and sadness, and I am reminded that no one is exempt from suffering in this life. And now, I take solace in my experience: several years ago, I might have stopped going consistently to asana class, but I was doing yoga all along.

Kind Regards,
Patrice Riley
(via recoveringyogi.com)

Poignant and funny talk by Brené Brown at TEDxHouston, emphasizes the importance of having a safe environment in which to share our vulnerable self (mutuality) as an essential quality for authentic and whole-hearted living.

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