Of Small Things and Imperfection and Vulnerability

I was over at One Crafty Mother's blog the other day. I read her blog a lot.  She's a woman in recovery who writes with a heart-breakingly honest and vulnerable voice.  Although our circumstances are vastly different, I really resonate with her struggle for balance and the way she applies the lessons of recovery to the way she lives her life. I think the lessons from recovery are ones that we should ALL be applying, even if we don't struggle with addiction.

Anyway, I was over on her blog and she had posted a link to a YouTube video of a TED talk by a woman named Brené Brown. THIS video, actually.

Yes, I know it's 20 minutes long and that most of you don't have the time.  But really, if you can, try to come back to it when you can sit for twenty minutes.  It's amazing. (Plus, this blog post will make a lot more sense if you watch it.)

The message couldn't have been more timely. I've been restless lately and in a dangerous, dark mood. Discontented with my lot, which is unusual for me. More than once, I've filled my car with gas and contemplated just driving until the car stopped. I've been feeling pretty invisible and unheard.

I did this to myself, of course. I am unfailingly the Good Sport -- building everyone up around me, while not noticing that I am crumbling to pieces myself. You know how being a Sherpa is part of parenting?  I forgot that it's not necessarily the thing to be in every other relationship, you know? I mean, if you make yourself invisible, it seems that maybe it's bad form to be pissed at the world for not seeing you.  I need to remember to ask for what I need: respect and affection and time, and to be prepared to make changes when my needs aren't met. I needed to set some boundaries; to talk back to the incessant critic who lives in my head.

Anyway, it was disconcerting to find myself in this dark place, to say the least. I've very carefully built this gorgeous little life, full of small things and tiny stitches and a dogged focus on the positive. By nature, I lean into gratitude -- am attracted to the joy of the ordinary. When that fails me, it's a pretty big sign that I need to make some changes to regain my sense of peace and equilibrium.

As things often happen in my blessed life, enter Dr. Brown.  I saw that talk by her and then, because I am who I am, I watched all of the other talks by her on YouTube, I "friended" her on Facebook, and I bought her latest book and started to read it. (For a shy person, I show some scary stalker tendencies.)

Her latest book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, is remarkable.  I feel like this book is talking right to me, but in the kindest, most loving way. She talks a lot about shame (her research initially had to do with shame and empathy) and how shame keeps us from being our authentic selves, and she talks a LOT about how the most whole-hearted (literally) people love from a deep sense of worthiness and belonging.  It's something I've long suspected: we can only give as much love to others as we feel for ourselves.  And how, if we want to love from a place of worthiness and self acceptance, by definition, we're going to have to feel vulnerable.

Most of us hate that.

{Time out here while I confess that I've been working on this blog post for days now and am having a really hard time summing up what I'm learning.  I keep reading Dr. Brown's book, hoping for one sentence to sum it all up and, you know what?  It's just not coming--every sentence reads like a new truth to me. I hope you'll read the book and that it has as profound an impact on you as it has had on me.}

Meanwhile, through all of this, I've been going to yoga. And wow, I do love yoga.  It actually occurred to me recently that if I had never developed this foot disability, I might never have discovered this passion for yoga and maybe THAT'S why the whole foot thing happened.  (I mean, aside from giving me a greater understanding and connection with those who suffer from chronic pain and mobility issues, not to mention my own messed up DNA.) 

I went to yoga on Sunday and came home in that blissed-out state that it leaves me in and suddenly, I had an amazing realization: the reason yoga has such a powerful effect on me is that it allows me to live in my head and in my body AT THE SAME TIME.  As in, not one at war with the other.  Usually, if I am writing and in my head, I have to make a conscious effort to remain aware of my physical surroundings or I walk into things.  Like wall clocks and couches.  And walls. And once in a while, my car.

And I started thinking about how I would really like to be doing yoga every single day.  And how I would like to give other people that feeling.  How what I'd really like would be to...um...maybe...if I worked really hard and found a good school...TEACH YOGA.

Man, immediately the Voices started in: "You're 45 and overweight and you haven't been physically active in the past four years with the exception of the past couple of months and HELLO? You have a DISABILITY.  You can't balance on your left foot. I thought we'd been very clear that your best days are behind you."

So, I let the Voices talk for a minute and then I said, "Okay, that's enough. [Oh, like you don't talk back to the Voices in YOUR head.) (I mean, you DO, right?) (Right?] There are loads of people who have overcome much worse things at much older ages.  Besides, what's the worst thing that could happen?  I could get into great shape and discover it's not enough for teaching?  SHUT UP."

Then I went down to dinner and I told my family about how I was thinking that just maybe, possibly, I would like to work toward being a yoga instructor.  My daughter, Jane, who is 10 and one of the most self-aware, non-pleaser types that it has ever been my pleasure to meet, first said that she thought it was a great idea as long as I wasn't teaching in our house because she didn't want anyone touching her stuff.

And then, off-handedly, she said, "You know, Mom?  You're doing the right thing by talking about those voices.  Because when you talk about them, they go away."

Really, I want to grow up to BE that kid!


hokgardner said…
My best friend since childhood, after years of teaching school and becoming physically ill from it, quit everything and became a yoga instructor. She loves her new job and her new life. She works for a wellnes center that's attached to a hospital and primarily teaches people who are recovering from cancer or major illnesses or who are dealing with chronic injuries or pain.

I think you should go for it.
Mokihana said…
I think I would like to be Jane when I grow up.

And I agree: go for it...

Awesome post!
Unknown said…
you could totally do that!!! and imagine the other people you would inspire! the thing about yoga is you don't HAVE to be a teensy tiny sinewy 20-year-old to do it.
Tiny Tyrant said…
Well I think you can do anything you want to honey.

And I adore Jane and I wish my NYC trip had been longer so I could have come and said hi.

And if we don't argue with the voices in our head, how are we going to make any decisions?

Ei said…
<3 Barb.

I've been avoiding this video for sometime. 2 beers and banana nut muffin (sometimes tacos though).

If you love yoga, it can't help but love you back. Go have fun.
Oh, how I love this post. You write so beautifully, so honestly. And this part REALLY hit home for me:

"You know how being a Sherpa is part of parenting? I forgot that it's not necessarily the thing to be in every other relationship, you know? I mean, if you make yourself invisible, it seems that maybe it's bad form to be pissed at the world for not seeing you."

I really, really needed to hear that today.

Thanks for the linky love. And tell your daughter I think she's brilliant, too. :)

Barb Matijevich said…
So, I was just watching the YouTube talk by Dr. Brown again and it's cut off on the blog. Which...you know...is just unacceptable! Except, it's really about just listening. Still, you may want to watch it on YouTube itself if you're worried that Dr. Brown really does have only half of a face but it's not really crucial to see everything. (The "Magic Pixie" line makes me laugh every time.)
Thank you for this post. I'm pretty sure you wrote it because I needed to hear it. I bet I'm not the only one.
Kathy Ireland said…
I've known that you've been struggling and trying to find a "path" for a while now. The Women, Food, God book, the Listening for a Change blog but when I saw "teach yoga" I felt like - "she's found it!". She's found her "thing". I think this is the most wonderful idea I've heard all week (at least). I think this will be amazing for you and if there's is anything I can do (rub your feet, yell at your voices, whatever) just ask.
Susan said…
I have avoided toga because of my physical issues, so I think having instructors who create programs for people like us would be a perfect calling. Go you and your smart voices.
Lynn said…
If you do this, and I hope you do, then you are going to have to modify the already-wonderful copyright notice at the bottom of your page. Something along the lines of "Everything here is copyrighted by Barb Cooper and if you steal from me, I will hunt you down like the dog you are and SIT on you [in full lotus position] until you cry."
It's a great idea. We had one yoga instructor at the center I attend whose hands and feet were gnarled up by rheumatoid arthritis. She taught the gentle yoga classes for people with physical limitations and was a great inspiration to them.

Go for it!
Miri said…
Barb, you are one who can make a person feel loved and "whole-hearted" from a distance. I can only imagine how powerful that gift would be in a teaching situation.
Bullwinkle said…
Yes, I do talk (back) to the voices in my head.

Yes, you could totally do that.

I studied martial arts for a long time - I think I needed to know how to defend myself. Then I moved on to yoga - I needed to learn to accept myself. As I am. Today. In this space.

Lovely video. (I need to watch one more time - the bit about you can't selectively numb emotions said something to me.)

Excellent post.

p.s. See - you're all ready teaching ;)
Marion Gropen said…
Yes, I talk back to the voices in my head.

Yes, I think you can teach yoga.

One of the first "big" books I was involved with was a debut book by a pair of sisters. They were 100 and 102 at the time. (And they did yoga!) If they can set out to write their first (of 4) books after turning 100, YOU can do whatever you want to do.

As for taking the travel cure -- doesn't work. The problem comes with you, and most of it is those same !#!$# voices!
Melissa said…
Oh, how I can relate. We are own worst enemies a lot of the time. A friend once told me that i spend a lot of time comparing my inside to everyone else's outside. Maybe a lot more of us than we think are in the same boat.
LaDonna said…
Oh, Jane!! I just love her more with every passing day!

And Barb, do it! Like you said, what's the worst that could happen?

Good luck and Merry Christmas!