Wednesday Book Conversation: Rising Strong: Brave and Brokenhearted

Welcome to the weekly book discussion. My hope is that it starts a conversation, as if we were sitting in a coffee shop discussing over lattes. As such, it’s not intended to be a review or critique. So, please read, share, and join the discussion! This week is our seventh week reading Brené Brown’s most recent book Rising Strong.

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This chapter is grab-bag of sorts. The title gives it all away: “The Brave and Brokenhearted: Rumbling with expectations, disappointment, resentment, heartbreak, connection, grief, forgiveness, compassion and empathy. Whew! That’s a lot of stuff to rumble with.  Probably, depending on the season of your life, one or more of these jump out at you while others, not so much. Here are some of the thoughts and ideas that got my attention:

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“I’ve never met a single person who hasn’t had to rumble with expectations, disappointment, and resentment. It’s a standing rumble for most of us.” (loc. 2105)

I’ve said before how important this book has been to me, right? It’s what’s I’ve needed at this particular season of my life, and mostly because of that sentence. Expectations, disappointment and resentment are my daily sparring partners.

If you ask me about my mental health, I’ll tell you that I actively try to curb my expectations of myself, my family, my friends, my church, the Cubs, nearly everything, but the truth is, I don’t really know how to do it. I’m a driven dreamer, so I can easily dream up expectations for every moment, every encounter. But as Anne Lamott said, “Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.” (By the way, in case you’re wondering, my estimate is that more than 1/2 of the arguments in most marriages have to do with unspoken, unmet expectations.)

So this really hit home. Trying to devoid myself of expectations in any given situation is a battle. You can’t even imagine how much this is true. If you have ideas for how to empty expectations, please, let’s have coffee. Seriously.

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When I hear “heartbreak,” I immediately picture a teen girl pining for the “love of her life,” who got away. Cue eye roll.

But I’m so on board with the concept as Brené describes it here. My most significant heartbreaks haven’t been about romantic relationships (one advantage of marrying your high school sweetheart). My most significant heartbreaks have been about unfulfilled dreams, lost friendships, broken lives and death.

Brene says it so well, I don’t know what else to add:

“There are two reasons why most of us are slow to acknowledge that what we’re feeling is heartbreak. The first is that we normally associate heartbreak with romantic love. This limiting idea keeps us from fully owning our stories. The greatest heartbreaks of my life include the loss of what I knew as my family after my parents’ divorce, watching my mom’s pain after my uncle was killed, loving someone struggling with trauma and addiction issues, and losing my grandmother – first to Alzheimer’s and then to death. The second reason we don’t acknowledge heartbreak is its association with one of the most difficult emotions in the human experience: grief. If what I’m experiencing is heartbreak, then grieving is inevitable.

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On to forgiveness. Brené says lots of good things about forgiveness, but this one was particularly thought-provoking: she says that part of forgiveness means putting something to death in us. (For example, to forgive we have to kill our desire for revenge). In her own story, Brene talks about how, in her journey of forgiving her own parents, she had to kill her idealized versions of her parents that she had created in her own mind.

“The death of the idealized versions of our parents, teachers, and mentors – a stage in the hero’s journey – is always scary because it means that we’re now responsible for our own learning and growth. That death is also beautiful because it makes room for new relationships – more honest connections between authentic adults who are doing the best they can.” (loc. 2311)

I think this is a thought-provoking rumble for many of us: what do I need to kill in myself in order to move towards forgiveness?

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So many good things in this chapter; I hope at least some of you are still reading at this point! HA! I’ll end where Brene ends, with a quotation from C.S. Lewis:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

 

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Wednesday Book Conversation: Rising Strong: Sewer Rats

Welcome to the weekly book discussion. My hope is that it starts a conversation, as if we were sitting in a coffee shop discussing over lattes. As such, it’s not intended to be a review or critique. So, please read, share, and join the discussion! This week is our sixth week reading Brené Brown’s most recent book Rising Strong.

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In this chapter – and the next few, if I remember correctly – Brené is going to talk about some specific things we need to rumble with. The title of chapter six is “Sewer Rats and Scoflaws: Rumbling with boundaries, integrity and generosity,” so you have a pretty clear idea of where she’s going. If I wrote about each of those things individually, this post would go over 1,000 words, and really, if you’re going to read that much, your time would be better invested reading the actual book!

Instead, I want to ask you a question that she raises in this chapter that has had me thinking for about a month. Brené tells a long story about a conference she spoke at pro bono and, on top of that, she had to share a room with a woman who turned out to be a horrible roommate. Afterwards, she was working out her frustrations with her therapist, and her therapist asked her this question:

“Do you think it’s possible that your roommate was doing the best she could that weekend?”

After Brené answered in the negative, she turned the question on Diana, the therapist. “Do you believe she was doing her best?”

“You know, I’m not sure. I do, however, think that in general people are doing the best they can.”

Here’s my truth: like Brené, I’m cynical that people are doing their best. Sometimes it feels, in fact, like people are barely trying and sometimes – especially in traffic, or long lines at the grocery store or at the DMV, and especially in the comments section on YouTube – people seem to be trying to do their worst.

So, I’m not going to write much more about this. I hoped this series would spark a conversation, so here it is: in your life, as you interact with people – spouse, children, friends, coworkers, neighbors, whomever – do you believe people are doing their best with the tools they have?”

Go.

(I do have another quotation that I want to share that expresses my answer to this question, after having reflected on it a couple weeks, but I’ll share in the comments after a couple days!)

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Book Conversation: Rising Strong: The Reckoning

Welcome to the weekly book discussion. My hope is that it starts a conversation, as if we were sitting in a coffee shop discussing over lattes. As such, it’s not intended to be a review or critique. So, please read, share, and join the discussion! This week is our fourth week reading Brené Brown’s most recent book Rising Strong.

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This week, I want to start with a couple quotations from the book in order to set the framework for what I’m thinking, especially for those of you who aren’t reading the book. (My location references are for the Kindle version.) We’re in chapter 4, titled “The Reckoning,” which is full of good things to talk about. I’ll be staying at the “meta” level, however, so here goes:

“You may not have signed up for a hero’s journey, but the second you fell down, got your butt kicked, suffered a disappointment, screwed up, or felt your heart break, it started. It doesn’t matter whether we are ready for an emotional adventure – hurt happens. And it happens to every single one of us. Without exception. The only decision we get to make is what role we’ll play in our own lives: Do we want to write the story or do we want to hand that power over to someone else?” (loc. 843)

“You either walk into your story and own your truth, or you live outside of your story, hustling for your worthiness.” (loc. 853)

“The rising strong reckoning has two deceptively simple parts: (1) engaging with our feelings, and (2) getting curious about the story behind the feelings — what emotions we’re experiencing and how they are connected to our thoughts and behaviors.” (loc. 861)

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I know what it is to hustle for worthiness. For those of you that are Enneagram junkies, I’m a classic type-3, which means that I’m an (over)achiever. I dream big and get it done. The dark side of the 3 is that I tend to define myself by my accomplishments. And, the even darker part is that I tend not to see the accomplishments, but instead focus on the failures. So much of the time, I feel a lot of shame. And when I feel bad about myself, I try to accomplish more stuff, so I can feel good again. This is my hustle.

But really, we all hustle for love (or what Brené calls worthiness). You have your own ways of behaving to get the ego strokes you need, but which are ultimately empty because you know you hustled for them. This chapter is all about shutting down the hustle. Once we’ve identified our story (last week’s post), we need to dig a little deeper into it. We need to get curious, and instead of hustling, we need to first own our stories, and then own our emotions.

“In this stage of the rising strong process – the reckoning – we need to get curious. We need to be brave enough to want to know more.” (loc. 958)

I think there’s this narrative in our culture (I probably hear it more from guys, but it’s certainly not gender-specific) that to get curious about one’s feelings, motivations, failures, insecurities, etc., is somehow weak. “No regrets, keep looking forward, move on, there’s no use wallowing in our past failures,” says this particular train of thought. And I agree to a point. Wallowing in failure and disappointment isn’t useful. But running away from it, refusing to get curious about it isn’t healthy either. We can’t learn from what we refuse to face.

What Brené is asking of us, in this chapter, is to own our emotions and then ask “why do I feel this way?” I think I’m a fairly emotional guy, but in my experience the reasons for my emotions aren’t always easily apparent. I know I feel hurt, disappointed, angry, etc. and sometimes I can even point to the precipitating event. But it takes an effort to get curious and sit with my emotions long enough to get to the fine point of why I feel the way I do.

It often takes a long time for me to get to the truth of my emotions. And, because humans (and ogres) are like onions, there are layers and it takes time to get to the core. And so, part of the Sabbatical journey, which I’m still on for the next month, has been sitting with some difficult emotions: loss, disappointment, shame, etc., and getting curious and getting down to the core.

Of course, there are alternatives to this work. Our culture specializes in helping us numb our emotional pain (one avoidance technique among several that Brené explores). We’re proficient at keeping things light and breezy, keeping ourselves slightly inebriated (just enough to not deal with our stuff), overfed and shopping our way out of our pain.

“And just so we don’t miss it in this long list of all the ways we can numb ourselves, there’s always staying busy; living so hard and fast that the truths of our lives can’t catch up with us. We fill every ounce of white space with something so there’s no room or time for emotion to make itself known.” (loc. 1105)  – (OUCH)

I know this sounds heavy on a Wednesday morning. But here’s what I also know: when I get curious and give myself some white space to get curious with my emotions, and I refuse to stuff or numb them, and I finally get to the core, there’s freedom, there’s a lightness that comes to the soul, to the psyche because now I know what I’m dealing with, and now I can finally start moving forward.

I’ve heard people say – when they’ve been struggling with an unknown illness, one the doctors can’t seem to figure out – “I just want to know, so we can start dealing with it.” And what’s true of physical ailments is also true of our insides; knowing is the first step toward healing.

And so, today, or at least some time in the next couple of days,I challenge you to set aside some quiet space, turn off your phone, turn off the music/television, refuse yourself the alcohol or food that serves as your method of choice and get curious about your emotions. And then, if you feel courageous, I challenge you to share what you learn with someone you trust. You just might start feeling better. At least I know that’s the beginning of wholeness for me.

Thanks for reading along! I’ll be out of town next week, but I’ve already written two posts for next week, they will publish on Monday and Wednesda

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Wednesday Book Conversation: Rising Strong: Owning our Stories

Welcome to the weekly book discussion. My hope is that it starts a conversation, as if we were sitting in a coffee shop discussing over lattes. As such, it’s not intended to be a review or critique. So, please read, share, and join the discussion! This week is our third week reading Brené Brown’s most recent book Rising Strong.

In reality, chapter 3 of Rising Strong is a short chapter outlining the rest of the book. It introduces ideas like the reckoning, the rumble and the revolution, ideas that we will explore together in time. So, this week I’m going to riff a bit on this idea of owning our stories because it really is at the heart of this book.

In chapter 2 she introduced an idea I didn’t talk about because for me, it’s been the most important idea that I’ve gleaned from this book thus far (at the time of writing, I’m through the 8th chapter) and I wanted to give it more breathing room.

So here’s a peek inside my head (and probably yours too).

Stuff happens. People say stuff, people do stuff, things come up, plans change, we succeed, we fail, and when stuff happens, our brains interpret events. We assign meaning to what people say and how they act. So, in our brains we have trains of thought that might go something like this:

  • My coworker is a real bitch today because she hates working for me.
  • My kid is being a brat this evening because he enjoys making his little sister cry.
  • The reason she hasn’t called or texted recently is because she isn’t interested in my friendship anymore.
  • The reason he didn’t hug me when he walked in the door from work is because he doesn’t love me like he used to.

Here’s the tricky part. Sometimes, we’re right. Sometimes the reason we assign to stuff that happens is correct, or at least in the ballpark, particularly if we know the person really well. But, all too often, we’re only guessing. And, guess what? We’re often wrong. Our coworker actually had a fight with her husband this morning, our kid is struggling with a friendship at school, the friend hasn’t texted us because they think we gave up on the friendship and the reason he didn’t hug you when he walked in from work was because it had been a really hard day and he was preoccupied.

The hard part is figuring out what is true or false about the story we are telling ourselves – which we will explore more in chapter five when we talk about “the Rumble.”

But for now, it’s enough to simply acknowledge that we all tell ourselves stories about ourselves, about the world and about each other.

    • I have stories I tell myself about myself. Some of them are true, some are false, some are actually hopes and dreams, some are exaggerations, some are bolstered by bravado and some are shaped by my insecurities.
    • I also have stories I tell myself about you. Again, some are true, some are false, some are simple misunderstandings, and some are buried deep under years of interactions.
    • You have stories you tell yourself about me. Some of you only know me through my writing, some of you know me through my speaking, some of you know me in social circles and a few of you know me in more intimate ways. And through our interactions you’ve developed a narrative about me, as I have about you.

Owning our stories is about acknowledging that we all create a story to make sense of the stuff that happens and then we live according to that story. Our actions and interactions are driven by what we’ve made up in our head.

We’re going to talk more about curiosity next week, but part of this owning of our stories is being curious about them. It’s about asking ourselves, “what is the story I’m telling myself about…”

As silly as it may sound, I’ve begun to use this language in exactly this way. Since I read this chapter a couple weeks ago, I’ve tried to say, in a couple different conversations, “the story I’m telling myself about this event/conversation is…” The beauty of this kind of language is that I own that I might be wrong. I acknowledge up front that I’ve interpreted events – because we all interpret events – but I’m remaining open to the possibility that my interpretation of events is skewed.

(And, by the way, they are nearly always skewed in some way. All of us, whether the stories we tell ourselves are positive or negative, are generally overconfident in our ability to know what’s really going on at any given time. In fact, part of the training of a counselor/therapist is learning to be wary and curious about how working with someone brings up your own “stuff” – your own stories and how your “stuff” clouds your ability to hear accurately. In technical terms its called countertransference. If I remember correctly, Brené talks about this in Daring Greatly where she talks about how parenting tends to bring up our own unresolved, adolescent “stuff” and how we’ve got to deal with it if we want to parent in a wholehearted way.)

I know this post is going long. (I told you, this was impactful to me!) So, here’s what I’m suggesting. This week, when stuff happens, when you’re upset by your spouse, child, coworker, someone you care about, instead of assigning a reason for why they treated you the way they treated you, try saying to them, “the story I’m making up about this is…”

  • “The story I’m making up about how you’ve shunned me all evening is that you are pissed at me for something I did or didn’t do.”
  • “The story I’m making up about why you forgot to tell me Happy Birthday is that you don’t care about me.”

And if you really want to go the extra mile, here’s a second, more intimate exercise. In a more intimate relationship, one where you really care about the person, and the relationship is safe, maybe you might try asking them, “what is the story you’re making up about me, about us, right now?”

I surely don’t need to know the intimate details, but I’d love to hear if you’ve tried this and how it’s worked out for you.

Thanks for reading along!

 

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Intersections and Rising Strong: An Invitation

I said in a previous post that I’m trying to pay attention to intersections. So here’s an intersection, an idea, and an invitation.

Intersecting Line #1: For probably the first time in about 20 years, I’m not involved in a regular discussion of a book with anyone. There are a several reasons for this, but they don’t really matter. All that matters is that I miss it. I miss digging into a book with people and talking about our insights and questions. I find myself reading a lot these days and wanting to talk about so many things, but I don’t really have a place. Yes, part of that is by design with me being on a Sabbatical from church, but reading and discussing books is a life-giving excercise to me, and I feel a hole right now.

Intersecting Line #2: I’m reading Brene Brown’s new book Rising Strong, and it’s stirring up some stuff I want to talk about, and I don’t really have anyone to talk to about it right now (see above). Eventually, I’ll talk Jennifer into reading it, but it’s a lot to ask of her to keep up with my reading schedule. I want to talk about Brene Brown. (And after Rising Strong, I want to talk about Liz Gilbert’s new book Deep Magic, and then my friend Steve’s book is going to need to be interacted with, and I’m sure other stuff will come up in the meantime.)

Intersecting Line #3: I’ve restarted my blog. And I’m giving it more attention than I have in about 8 years. And I’m trying to become a better writer.  And you only get better at writing by writing, so it gives me something to write about. (Don’t worry, I have lots of other things too. The list is currently very long, but it’s not to have a regular commitment.)

The Idea: I’ll commit to one book (for now), to write a post each week on chapters from Rising Strong. I won’t do a book report, nor will I review the book. Rather, I will just react to it. I’ll tell you what was most impactful to me, and try to pull out the things that I think would benefit us all. You don’t have to read along. I’ll write the posts in such a way, that even if you don’t care to read, I hope the posts will be beneficial.

The Invitation: If I take the time to write, will you take the time to commit to responding, at least every once-in-awhile, at least a couple sentences about your journey through her book? Can we have this not be a one-way communication, but something closer to a conversation?

The Handshake: I’m putting this idea out there (because that’s what Brene says to do – just keep putting yourself out there). If no one’s interested, I’ll just keep a steady stream of “diarrhea of the mouth” headed Jennifer’s way. So here’s me putting my toe in the water. If you think this is a good idea, like the post, share the post, or comment in the comments. And just for fun, tell us in the comments your favorite book from Brene OR your favorite quotation from her. If there seems to be enough interest, I’ll have a post next week from chapter one of Rising Strong.

(Do it for my wife!)

 

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