Harry Potter to the Rescue!

I had a dream last night in which I was Harry Potter. In the dream I surprise the rest of the students when I fly without a broom. I decide to no longer hide this ability. When a malevolent, Draco-like student threatens Hermione, I swoop in and whisk them both away to resolve the conflict. Meanwhile the other students and professors join ranks to protect Hogwarts. Their focus is to venerate the horcruxes because, left untended the horcruxes would give rise to the dark lord. Apologies to anyone reading this who is not a Harry Potter geek. Harry Potter is the young wizard who with his friend Hermione battles an evil wizard who has spun off parts of his soul into objects called horcruxes. As I sat with the dream this morning, I went deeper and deeper until I got to two core themes, or horcruxes, that needed attention (veneration) so that they don't lord it over me. Those themes are abandonment and shame.

When I mess up, some part of me fears I'll be  rejected because of the error (abandonment). Another part of me takes it in as further proof that I'm a bad person (shame). And one other part of me tries to avoid these feelings altogether by being defensive: blaming others for what happened, making reasonable excuses, overcompensating by trying to be hyper-good, etc.

What I take from the dream is a way to hold all of this: with vulnerability. Be vulnerable enough to admit my error. And be truthful: this mistake says nothing about who I am. I'm neither good nor bad. I'm a human being who is learning how to integrate his virtuous and non-virtuous tendencies. I also admit my tendency is to go straight to shame when I make an error. Acknowledging this horcrux makes it less likely to become my lord.

As I sat with the theme of abandonment, I thought of Jesus. His friends and followers abandoned him when their expectations were not met and when his life path became treacherous. Among his final words were: "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" Perhaps there is no fear greater than that of being abandoned. No wonder part of me wants to manipulate and finagle circumstances to avoid that possibility...or even the fear of it.

Yet as I sat with it, a deeper peace arose. Knowing that Jesus (and for that matter the rest of humanity) shares my experience, I no longer felt alone. When we lean into how vulnerable we are as individual human beings, we realize how alike and interconnected we are. Shared vulnerability dissolves isolation, the fear of abandonment, and the lie of shame.

Moreover, by paying attention to my own fear of abandonment, I felt cared for, honored, and accompanied…by myself. I no longer felt abandoned. I had shown up for myself and realized I would never be alone. I am with me. (I also sense that a Sacred Presence is with me to support this process.) I integrate those virtuous and non-virtuous parts of myself into one human being, neither hero nor villain, neither all good nor all bad. I'm simply human, vulnerable, a mixed bag of altruistic and selfish, wholesome and devious, just like everyone else.

The alchemy of vulnerability transmutes shame into self-acceptance, fear of abandonment into self-love, all of which then ripples outward to embrace every other flawed human being with a bit more compassion and openness. Some call this salvation. Others call it grace. I call it magic.

Ain't That a Shame

I've been a bit prickly lately. Negative internal chatter. Knee-jerk emotional responses. What's going on? Ah yes, one of those old issues which I had totally resolved (right!?!) was rearing its head again. It's the return of ye olde perfectionist streak. It goes deeper than just avoiding mistakes. It’s more of a feeling that I am personally wrong, that I'm not enough. I notice anxiety emerge whenever I sense that I might make a mistake or even be perceived as wrong.

I remembered a TED talk from a few years ago by Brené Brown, a researcher on shame and vulnerability. Her work focuses on the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt says, "I made a mistake." Shame says, "I am a mistake." Guilt apologizes for errors, learns from them and moves forward. Shame paralyzes with judgment and blame and is highly correlated with addiction and self-destructive behavior.

All of us have "shame triggers", those identities that we try to avoid at all costs but which persist beneath a thin veneer. To identify your shame trigger, complete the following sentence: "Above all, I don't want to be perceived as..."

Shame thrives in secrecy, silence and judgment. It withers in openness, compassion and empathy. When we bravely tell our stories, shame dissipates. "You're not good enough" and "Who do you think you are?" loose their oomph. We might even have a Stuart Smalley moment: "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggonit, people like me!" I think my version is, "Yes, I'm imperfect dammit. I make mistakes and often don't know what I'm doing. Thank heavens I'm enough, loved as I am and have nothing to prove."

Brené Brown's followup TED talk explores how creative innovation arises from the willingness to be vulnerable. We'll never shine unless we risk failure and imperfection. Here's the link to her latest TED talk:

Welcoming our failures and imperfections with an open door airs out our humanity. No longer expending energy on pretense, we are free to live wholeheartedly as a whole person. We lose concern for who might be watching and how they might perceive us. Playful enthusiasm bubbles to the surface. Even old Scrooge couldn't help giggling and dancing a jig after he faced his ghosts. The final words of Dickens' classic tale says of Scrooge that:

"Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them...His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him."

P.S. Please join us the first three Monday nights in June for Mindful Photography: The Art of Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes.