Let yourself be seen

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Sometimes I fear I use the word ‘authenticity’ too much. It feels as if a lot of what I am doing in the workshops, the coaching, and the writing, is encouraging people to peel back all the layers, one at a time, and see what lies at the heart of us. Minus all the beliefs, the habits, the stuff about how we should live and think and behave, that we’ve absorbed from the world around us, what does an authentic version of you or me look like?

Speaking for myself, I’m not sure I know yet; indeed I have a suspicion this peeling back the layers milarkey is the work of a lifetime. But I have had glimpses, and seen it in others as they sit in a workshop and, for a moment, trust themselves and those of us around them, to tell the truth. About who they are, and what they feel, and how much it sometimes hurts. And then they talk about what they really, really want and they light up with the recognition that that is also true.

Which brings me to the point of this blog, which is to direct you to a film of the academic and author Brene Brown talking about her research into living your best life. (She doesn’t call it that but I think that’s what it amounts to - looking at why some people appear to have a strong sense of worthiness and love and belonging, while others spend all their lives believing they are Not Good Enough.)

Please watch it for yourself, not only because I think what Brene Brown has to say is really useful, but because she’s one of us: flawed, cagey, doubtful, resistent, and very, very funny.

And when you’ve done so you’ll want to think on what her findings mean for you. For it turns out what makes the difference in how we experience our lives is how vulnerable we allow ourselves to be. Instead of hiding who we are, burrowing in under all those layers in the belief that if they ever saw the real us the world would end, we need to do more of what those courageous people I meet through my workshops are doing, and trust ourselves with others.

I hadn’t realised the word courage comes from the French ‘coeur’ - heart - but I love the idea that living with courage is really living wholeheartedly. Pain, pleasure, love, loss, fear, hurt, joy, peace, happiness, connection, and the rest. Allowing that life is all these things and that the opposite of courage or wholeheartedness is to be numb to all of it.

Which is where Brene ends her talk, with the warning that we can’t selectively choose to be alive to the positive parts of live but numb to the negative. “You can’t say here’s the bad stuff: here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment. I don’t want to feel these things.

“You can’t numb those without numbing the other emotions. When we numb these we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness…”

Something to consider about on your journey to a more authentic life then: to what extent are you willing to start letting yourself be really seen? To tell the story of who you are with your whole heart?

Posted by Jane Matthews on 06/28 at 07:52 AM
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Regrets? I have a few…

Friday, June 08, 2012

Ah, the power of a stand-out title for your book. How could anyone resist picking up a book called ‘The Top Five Regrets of the Dying?’. How could I?

Contrary to what you might expect, it’s a genuinely cheerful - and cheering - book and I’m already half in love with its author, Bronnie Ware, whose own life perfectly illustrates what she learned in her role caring for people at the end of their lives. It’s a life that she’s constantly re-assessed and adjusted, like ship’s captains used to do in the days before satnav, setting and resetting the compass in response to changing conditions and their own experience. Only in Bronnie’s case, it’s also been other people’s experiences that have helped her to change course.

And that’s one of the reasons this book is such a positive one. Because unlike the characters we meet in the book,  as readers we still have the chance to adjust the compass as many times as it takes until we can truly say we are finally living a life without regrets.

I’m not talking about past regrets here. There’s a great many things I’ve said, done and not done that I am sorry about, but I can’t change those now. Only learn from them.

Nor am I talking about the obvious stuff any of us would mind if our lives were to unexpectedly end: not being there for our children and their children, unresolved business with loved-ones, not being around to experience the utter joy of one more heady spring morning, one more hour spent alone on the beach listening to the waves, the view from one more mountain top. (Never mind the hour wasted on a pointless episode of Come Dine With Me, or going to bed before I was really tired because it was late and I thought I should.)

The real gift of Bronnie’s book is its reminder to review, review and review again, every day if necessary, the things we do, the decisions we make, the way we choose to live, against the question: if my life were to end tomorrow what would I be kicking myself for?

I’ll leave it to you to read The Top Five Regrets of the Dying for yourself to discover how simple and obvious most of the answers are. Obvious, not hard to implement and yet overlooked by most of us for most of our lives. Another of the reasons I love this book is because it reminds us that it’s we who have made things so complicated. Actually, it’s quite simple when we switch focus to living a life without regrets.

For me, that Big Question produced a set of answers that I can use to refocus – and, in the interests of simplicity I decided to do as Bronnie did and limit myself to five:

1. I would be kicking myself for the unwritten books. Writing is what I do. It’s what I love, and when I feel the most ‘me’. Right now there are at least half a dozen within me, waiting to see the light of day. What am I waiting for? That hour in the company of another set of dubious dinner party hosts is an hour I could have spent on my own creation.

2. I would regret the hours I haven’t spend sitting still in the garden; sitting still in lots of places actually. Most of my adult life I have railed against my busy-ness while continuing to encourage more demands, more speed, more multi-tasking into each day. Some of the busy-ness is important; a great deal of it isn’t. But the only times I can really see which is which are when I stop in order to sit in silence and stillness, breathing, feeling, being.

3. In the same vein, I am guilty of scheduling friends, family and fun around work rather than the other way around. Perhaps I had a little more excuse when I worked for someone else -though not too much I think. No-one but me said I had to be up and answering emails at 6.30am or reading reports at 7pm. No-one but me was responsible for not picking up the phone to friends more often and inviting them over, even though it was A Week Day.

4. I’ve never been a fan of those 100 places to see before you die titles. The world is an immense place and the truth is I’m just as capable of finding awe in the way the sun shining through leaves creates a symphony of dappled light on skin. Still, I have been saying for almost three decades that one day I want to walk from John O’Groats to Land’s End, not so much to see more of the UK but because I want to know if I can, and what three months of my own continuous company would feel like.

5. And finally, if it were to all end tomorrow, I would regret having taken it all so seriously – myself most of all. I love that quote about angels being able to fly because they take themselves lightly. Yes, I’m seriously guilty of mashing metaphors, having started out with a ship’s compass, but it’s amazing how much more clearly you see things when you choose to lift your sights above the clouds.

It will be in that same spirit that I continue to ask myself the regrets question from time to time. You may like to do the same. Not in a heavy, negative way or as an excuse to beat yourself up for getting things wrong, but lightly.

As a reaffirmation of life.

Posted by Jane Matthews on 06/08 at 11:40 AM
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