Life Murmurs

There’s really no excuse for not having posted here in almost two months.

No excuse.

Just Life.

Life being life and expressing as Life often does in ways that are unexpected, inescapable and totally all encompassing. But unlike the premise of that video about overusing cell phones there are times when levels of recording and capturing the moment are critical and fun even!sunglassesact-of-kindness2 big_laughter caputer_moments

…but other times attempts to capture just get in the way of experiencing the moment in its entirety.

Being in a Moment

For example, the other day I was sitting on the swing outside my house, drinking in a moment of vitamin D and butterfly watching, when I noticed a rustle in the bush next to me. As I peered into the hues of greens and browns my eyes begin to make out the presence of a long green snake, slowly twisting its way up towards a bunch of curled brown leaves, which I suspect had some snake-deliciousness within their curves. I watched the snake approach the leaves and stick its long pink tongue inside. Retracting the tongue it munched then turned to watch me as it chewed. At one point opening its mouth wide (which I really wanted to interpret as a smile, but I have no way of knowing if snakes exchange emotion or if that was simply the curvature of its mouth).

I sat there staring at this snake and then this Bruno Mars song played in my head, which made me laugh out loud. And no lie, the snake nodded its head, then turned back to the leaves. I laughed again, thought how amazing that would have been to post on Facebook and then shrugged realizing that it was more amazing to just experience.

But the desire to come back to this blog and share insights and questions about how peace shows up in everyday life only faded for awhile….now I’m back… with much ado about EVERYTHING!

BIG questions that murmur…

On a recent Super Soul Sunday, Oprah asked Maya Angelou if she had a favorite word, and Dr. Angelou replied, “Yes, I like the word ‘murmur.’ You can’t shout murmur, you have to murmur, murmur.”

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Lately I’ve been simmering on the topics of…

what it means to be human…

how we came to exist…

why I am here…

Yes those big existential questions that often blend the sources of how we derive answers which makes scientists uneasy and religious folks uncomfortable. I think that is because the complete answer isn’t found in science or religion, but in experience. And unlike science and religious debaters, experience murmurs.

It murmurs underneath the gratitude of a sick friend’s reception of your visit.

It murmurs behind a harvest moon at dawn.

It murmurs within the caress of a beloved.

It murmurs in between the million questions a four-year-old asks in the span of a day (and this is probably a low estimation).

It murmurs on the breeze of joy, the cramps of deep laughter and the curiosity upholding change.

Life murmurs.

And you can’t shout at Life. You just listen. And smile. And stare at the whole world for awhile.

Because it’s all kind of amazing. Just the way it is.

Male Leadership

The last few days I’ve attracted some major learning around masculine energy into my life.

The first was from Oprah’s LifeClass on Fatherless Sons. It’s pertinent for me because I know men who grew up without their dads.

Doesn’t everyone?

In the U.S. its an epidemic, with 24 million children raised in homes without their biological father according to the Census Bureau. That’s major! It transcends race, economics and language affecting not only those children, but their mothers, their teachers, their neighborhoods and communities etc., etc.

But as sad as it was, there was also some insight. I began to understand (and this is grossly generalizing as I understand completely that this is not the case for all men or even all fatherless men) why men are so easily stuck in anger.

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This relates to a post I just wrote on vulnerability and I flashed a ‘aha moment’ in recognizing that anger is a result of unexpressed vulnerability. And when so much of our culture is screaming at men to NOT show their vulnerable side, you end up with a society full of angry men!

So fast track not even 12 hours later, while doing some research on gender violence, I come across the work of Dr. Jackson Katz. Let me start off by saying, this is one healthy and brilliant MAN. He is responding to the issue of gender violence, not by focusing on the victim, or even the individual perpetrator, but calling on all grown men everywhere to shift from complacency to leadership.He says:

If we can get to the place where men who act out in violent or harassing ways will lose status with their peers, we will see a radical diminishment of this kind of culture. Not because it is illegal, but because it is unacceptable in peer culture.

These are leadership issues for men. Ultimately the responsibility for taking a stand on violence against women or children should not fall onto the shoulders of little boys, or teenage boys in high school, or college men. It should be on adult men with power. Adult men with power are the ones we need to hold accountable to be leaders on these issues.

Amen brotha!

You’ve gotta watch the entire video to get the full message. Would love to hear your reactions (the more vulnerable the better!) or a simple “right on!” suffices.

Violence & Silence: Jackson Katz, Ph.D

Transforming Shame by Being Vulnerable

A few weeks ago I saw came across the Ted Talk for Brené Brown. I had never heard of her, but the title of her talk, The Power of Vulnerability, jolted my curiosity. Synchronicity would have it that two days later I saw her face on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, the first sentence I heard literally froze my finger on the remote:

Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.

Sounds like something I need to hear.

And now after watching her two Oprah appearances, listening to her Ted Talks, and reading half of her newest book, Daring Greatly, I feel ready to share my top three insights gained from the wise Ms. Brown and the subject of vulnerability and shame.

#3 Shame is the fear of disconnection

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Whoa, we’re goin’ deep huh?

As an African American female who was raised Christian, I was told from my earliest years there was a whole heap of stuff to feel shameful about. After spending some years blaming society, religion, my parents, my grandparents and all other influential adults for these habitual beliefs I realized that wasn’t making me feel any better. And while I could identify what I felt shameful about:

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financial irresponsibility

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public humiliation

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I couldn’t put my finger on what that shame meant, until I read Ms. Brown’s description of shame equating fear of disconnection.

In that moment I flash-backed to all the acts that produced that oh-so-familiar feeling of shame: the heaviness of my heart, the lowering of neck with the raising of my shoulders, the instant nervousness of being called-out as a fraud or fake or liar, the fear of not being valued as the nervous, bewildered, oversensitive child I carry in my heart. With Brene’s words, the memories around shame instantly crystallized into memories of unworthiness and disconnect. It was a moment I reached out to someone to be seen, as in Avatar’s ‘I see you‘ and feeling that instead I was discarded.

Ok, I’m depressed now…

…but not really. Because what I learned from all this clarity about what my shame really means is a greater understanding of my desire for connection. The ease in which I fall in love, not just romantically but with songs, flowers, hilarious youtube videos, and broadway scores.

Recognizing my desire to be seen and heard directs my behavior to do that in healthy ways. Actions that honor my body, my sense of self and my spiritual journey. I accept that I cannot change the past, and I heal the past by forgiving my previous thoughts and actions and being thankful for the lessons that they taught me. I can now step forward and claim my power to choose again. Choose with wisdom from the past. Choose with clarity for my need for connectedness.

#2 Vulnerability is courageous

Before Ms. Brown’s book I would equate vulnerability with weakness. And that’s from a person who will debate until the death the difference between conflict resolution verses conflict management. (Don’t even get me started on the ease in which folks use peace studies as a academic cover-up for our society’s obsessive study of conflict…but that’s another post.) The past few years my best friend and I have been on a mission to be more authentic. Yet I never defined what that meant for me. Using the word vulnerability materialized that goal of authenticity. It gave it weight and colored it with meaning. Suddenly there was a way to be authentic, and that way was being vulnerable.

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But who wants to volunteer to be vulnerable!?!?

Again, my old shame conversations brought up all the reasons why I needed to be strong, forceful, closed-off and powerful. I come from a long line of women who didn’t take nothin’ from nobody. My grandmother couldn’t have had eight kids and worked full-time as house maid raising another mothers’ children if she was weeping through all her shameful moments. My great-grandmother who turned 95 recently, still doesn’t like to be told what to do, especially about her health. My own mother would rarely show her children how to be vulnerable. It wasn’t until I became a mother did we begin to exchange stories about those moments of honest fear, anxiety and protectiveness that can be so overwhelming sometimes.

“There’s no equation where taking risks, braving uncertainty, and opening ourselves up to emotional exposure equals weakness.”

– Brené Brown, from Daring Greatly

So as I learn how to tease vulnerability from weakness I begin to recognize that it’s strength comes from its real-ness. It’s authenticity. It’s honest display of human experience. Being vulnerable begins to look like the courage to act in alignment with my values. It looks likes the strength to balance parenthood, career and creative pursuits with honesty and limits. It looks like showing up, in every relationship with my truth at that moment. And, a big one for me, it looks like saying good-bye to Ms. Perfectionist and Hello, Welcome! to Nina the Courageous. Thanks Carly.

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#1 Self-love comes from forgiving shame and accepting (even delighting in) your need to be vulnerable

This last one is a doosey, especially that delight part.

If you’ve been on the self-development track awhile, you know (intellectually at least) about the need for self-love. And we all are aware that it’s a good idea to love yourself a little bit to have a healthy sense of confidence, direction, respect and self-worth. I’m a middle child and I recall a lot of my early conceptions of self-worth were highly, HIGHLY impacted by the level of peacefulness in my large family.

I took it as my personal responsibility to keep everyone happy, resolve (not just manage) conflicts between birth and multiple foster siblings, keep a clean house and prepare healthy meals (in the absence of my mother who worked on her degrees during most of my childhood). It would have been one thing to do all this just for the sake of supporting calm family dynamics. But because I added in my worthiness to the equation, you can imagine just how screwed up I felt when (not if) fights broke out, pets were killed, dinners burned and  drama ensued. At eleven years old, I failed at managing a family. And now, I’m so glad I got that lesson early because I have no pretenses about the impossibility of being a perfect mother. I feel safe (most of the time) to show my limitations and my failures. Speak my needs and ask for help.

“Vulnerability is also the cradle of the emotions and experiences that we crave.”

Brené Brown, from Daring Greatly

What I learned from Brené Brown was the step of self-forgiveness, and experiencing delight in moments of vulnerability. I discovered a sense of ease one receives when you don’t have to have all the answers. And the sense of playfulness that my three-year-old teaches me is really an act of delight with vulnerability. I’m still working on this one, but I sense it is the most important for me, because it allows me to display that full desire for authenticity by transforming shame into a joyful dance with vulnerability. Allowing love to grow all the while.

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And that’s how I’m re-imagining peace by being vulnerable.