Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Daring Greatly Book Review

Author Brené Brown, PH.D., is a researcher and pioneer in studying shame and vulnerability. She has written two previous books, The Gifts of Imperfection and I Thought It Was Just Me and became well known recently doing a TED talk on The Power of Vulnerability (2010) which had over seven million hits on the website. I loved The Gifts of Imperfection, so I asked for a review copy of Daring Greatly, to see where she's headed in this new book. I found it full of 'home' truths.

Daring Greatly begins with a quote: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles…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…”  Theodore Roosevelt, 1910

We may know on one level that to be human means to be vulnerable – that it’s not a weakness but a way of exposing ourselves to learning and growth, daring to make mistakes, and engaging in what is meaningful in spite of risks, yet how many of us really feel comfortable living from a vulnerable place?

This book is about encouraging leaders, teachers, parents and everyone to find our courage, compassion and connection to other people through the power of vulnerability. As Brown puts it, we are “hardwired for connection.”  Creativity and innovation, good parenting, leadership, all rely on our ability to not use shaming, bullying and blaming as methods to distance ourselves from difficult emotions, or for getting the most out of our children or employees, at home or in organizations.

Vulnerability involves showing up, letting ourselves be really seen, and knowing that our basic worthiness is not in question. However, as Brown asserts, the challenge is great; it does require ‘daring greatly’ because our society in general makes us feel “never good enough, perfect enough, thin enough, successful enough, smart enough” – a lot of which comes from media-driven visions of perfection, or nostalgia for the good old days.

Our fear and discomfort with vulnerability become judgment and criticism – we run away from uncomfortable feelings; but vulnerability is also what we need to experience love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and hope. If we think of feeling as a weakness, then we shut down, disengage, we don’t dare ask for help, share an unpopular opinion, or stand up for ourselves. That’s where the power of vulnerability comes in.

The most significant barrier to creativity and innovation is the fear of ridicule, and fear of failure and of being wrong. Yet without feeling safe enough to take risks and live with uncertainty, we can’t have real innovation and creativity.  In her chapter on leaders, Brown describes how being comfortable with vulnerability can actually increase creativity and innovation – if bosses feel they have to know everything, and always be ‘in charge’, it makes employees feel they are ‘less than’ or smaller than. Thus, shame and fear lead to lack of innovation because there isn’t a safe environment to make mistakes in.

“We can’t equate defeat with being unworthy of love, belonging and joy. If we do, we’ll never show up and try again,” says Brown. Shame resilience allows us to acknowledge the hurt or disappointment, but not be devastated by it. We see our courage. We dare to stay connected to our emotions and to others in spite of feeling pain or rejection. We practice critical awareness.

Brown posits that ‘self-love is a prerequisite to loving others’. It gives you the courage to show up and be vulnerable, open up to love. Because we fear disconnection, being unlovable and not belonging, we work sixty hours a week, or get involved with affairs or addictions…we begin to unravel. Her solution: own up to your failures and fears; show up, be vulnerable and courageous enough to love and support ourselves and each other. Be real, in other words. Like the Velveteen Rabbit kind of real. Remove the mask, stop pretending we’re invulnerable, and remove the armour, the self-protection. Practice being ‘enough’. 

I find it especially hits home during the midlife transition, and so does Brown. At midlife, she describes how “all that role playing (fitting into perfect gender roles for women and men) becomes almost unbearable…. Men feel increasingly disconnected, and the fear of failure becomes paralyzing. Women are exhausted, and for the first time they begin to clearly see that the expectations are impossible.”

It’s good to be reminded that the cracks are where the light gets in, as Leonard Cohen sings. The book ends with Brown’s strategy or game plan: to change the culture by opening up a discussion on what we lose when we shut down, disengage and lead from fear, and power-over, using shaming, blaming and bullying techniques to get our own way and how this ultimately affects families, schools, and corporations. 

Imagine if we built a corporate culture or instilled family values of being honest and open about our emotions. This would encourage giving honest feedback and allowing room for growth and engagement. Growth and learning are uncomfortable, so it can be expected, and then accepted, which reduces shame, anxiety, and fear.

I believe, like Brene Brown, that the change will begin in families, at home, with our children. It begins when we show up honestly and courageously to have the difficult discussions, show our emotions and not pretend to know it all or armor up. “Have the courage to be imperfect, vulnerable and creative.”

I highly recommend this book, and if you can’t manage to read it, watch her Ted talk at
Reviewed by Jennifer Boire

Monday, January 21, 2013

Journaling, Self-Awareness and Goal Setting

January is still in full swing, and it's almost time to start New Year's in February - yes, once you've recovered from the holidays, the kids are back in school, you're back at work or on your regular schedule, classes are underway etc., now you really have time to take a breather and reflect on the year ahead. 

I just did an interview with Steve Goldberg of Optimus Performance, which I hope to post later on youtube, in which we discussed our different approaches to goal setting. 

In the past, I have been pretty much an anti-goal person, so I went searching on the web to see if I was the only one with such a strong reaction to the word goal. Is it perhaps the military connotation I wondered? It seems such a outward focused word, so linear and logical, something you need to do to get ahead, to proceed, to conquer. It gives me a feeling of overwhelm just to write the word - goal - as if it will add one more thing to my already too-full To Do list.

I did find a few kindred spirits on-line. It seems that for women at mid-life especially, who are often tired, overwhelmed and trying to make space for themselves on that famous list, a better word may be Intentions. (One of my intentions is to play more - hence the snow woman, made with my daughter and her friend after an afternoon of sliding in the snow.)

In the new year's message in my newsletter, I narrowed the Intention Setting question for the year down to two things: what do I want more of, or less of? It felt like a good way to make sure that whatever I come up with is doable and doesn't lead to more overwhelm. 

There are simple things I can do like taking a nap when I'm tired, enlisting help from my family to get meals prepared or grocery shopping and laundry. More quiet time for me to dream in, less busy time that makes me feel scattered and stressed.  

The thing that helps me see where I am, and what my intentions are, is journaling. In my journal I write about what I want more of, what I love, and what I want less of or what blocks me from being happy, healthy and whole. It's a bit of an organic process, but I do find answers come to me.

I also use my journal to set an intention for the day - one that is doable and realizable. For instance, today I will breathe deeply before responding to my kids' persistent requests instead of getting impatient. Or today I will not sweat the small stuff. Or just for today, I will cultivate lovingkindness and compassion. I will be happier in my body. Then the next day I can check in with myself and the journal, as I start a brand new day.

This way of keeping on track is similar to what author Abby Seixas calls a victory log -  a list of all the things that go right, in her book Finding the Deep River Within, A Woman's Guide to Recovering Balance and Meaning in Everyday Life. 

"A victory is any shift that you make in the direction you want to go, any step, no matter how small toward a goal you have set for yourself." Or an intention, if you prefer.

Don't overwhelm yourself by making a mountainous list of 'things to do' - make your intentions doable, and simple. Keep that self-compassion in mind. Be your own best Coach, and give yourself encouraging messages of support, or enlist the help of a friend to keep your promises, whether it be to do more exercise, eat fewer chocolate cookies, or hug your kids more often. And remember that your journal can be your best friend and a cheap form of therapy.

My intention for this week is to exercise regularly - for me, that means two yoga classes a week, and three home-exercise sessions of 20-30 minutes each, set up for me with a personal trainer who is a friend of mine. So far, week one, I'm on track. But I'm taking it one day at a victory squat at a time. 


Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Importance of Loving the Feminine

The Wild Feminine SoulCollage(R) Card

Today, I’ve been watching a movie about Marion Woodman, and musing on how to begin my Creative Circle classes next week. Feeling kind of tired after a busy holiday season, which began over a month ago in early December, I’ve been resting and napping, and wondering when my energy will return so I can get back to work. Even though I don't feel very creative right now, isn’t that part of feminine nurturance and the wisdom of the body? That it can’t always be about producing, or brain work, but that sometimes you have to nurture the body, rest, eat simple food, get out in nature and walk in the snowy forest. Then the creative cycle begins again.

I was lucky enough to attend a workshop with Woodman many years ago in Montreal on the three faces of the Feminine - Maiden, Mother, Crone. Her life’s work has been to understand and work with the sacred feminine, about the inner marriage with the sacred masculine, and how that union can heal the world. She talks with Andrew Harvey in the film about this big challenge we have now, to stop destroying the planet, the world we live on.

She recounts a significant dream she had one day of the Dark Madonna, a big black face-less goddess, who kept telling her to kneel lower, until she lay flat on the ground in the mossy earth and felt part of the living pulse of the earth. She says in the film that the message was to learn humility. The dark feminine involves embracing the body: by lying on the moss, the earth, this spinning planet we live on that is our mother, who feeds us physically. (Paraphrase from film Dancing in the Flames

By taking care of our bodies, we are also nurturing our connection with the earth, with the sacred feminine.

Add to this a recent message in my inbox from Dr Christiane Northrup, who suggests if you make only one resolution, let it be this:
 “I've come to see that our bodies are the true altars—the most sacred places in our lives. That’s why my top resolution for women this year is simple: ‘Listen to and respect your body more than you have ever done before.’”  

She says in her newsletter: Your body needs regular doses of comfort and pleasure to be optimally healthy. Without it, you are much more likely to seek pleasure from external and unsustainable sources and behaviors, including drugs, alcohol, and sugar

In another part of the movie about Marion Woodman’s life’s journey she says that through dreams, writing, images and creativity, you get in touch with the Soul inside, the real life, the real god or goddess. “’God creates’ is the energy that can pull you from a satanic energy that is taking you into death to a living energy that will take you into your own creation.”

So that is what I wanted to share today – take care of your body, nurture your soulful connection with creativity, and be prepared to play in 2013 with the images your soul sends you through dreams, images and poems.