Friday, June 3, 2016

Iron Cocks

Where is your boyfriend?” Wang Xiu Ying, the Chinese shopkeeper at my corner store asks me when I’m in there alone without my children. I’m in the mood for a Mandarin conversation, because if I wasn't I’d go to the East side of the intersection to the Korean-owned store, where we don't make chitchat and I can shuffle around in peace and quiet. I pause to recollect which 'boyfriend' she means exactly, and deduce it to the most plausible suspect.

We broke up.” I reply. Her eyes and mouth go wide with surprise but once she sees my serene smile and languid shrug, she leans across the counter at me with a knowing look and scrunches up her face as if she is smelling a fart.

Ah, you dump him because he is yi mao bu ba”.

Here we go. Time to indulge in my chéngyǔ lessons, the popular Chinese idioms consisting of four characters. Her English is great except for her pronunciation. My Chinese is absolute shit. Watching the two of us stumble back and forth in broken languages is like watching a pair of idiots - or as the Chinese say, a couple of turtle eggs. But my garbage Chinese makes her feel better about her English, and she is the only thread I have in my life connecting me to that complicated language I’ve barely spoken in over 10 years. It’s win-win.

He is like Iron Cock -- one feather won’t pull out!” She says in her slurred voice. I deduce she means rooster, having taught British English in China, I frequently heard students boasting how China was shaped like a big, giant cock. It’s true but without Taiwan, no foot, without Korea, no beak.

Wang Xiu Ying is implying boyfriend was a penny-pinching cheapskate. The pun here being the word “mao,” which can mean either a small coin or a feather. Thus, an iron rooster is a rooster that won’t part with even one of its feathers — they’re so hard to pluck out it might as well be made out of iron. Chinese insults almost always involve animals or numbers. Insults in English involve sexual terms or body parts. Almost universally in any language if you throw in female genitalia or someone’s mother, it sadly ups the vulgarity.

I gently tell her no, we didn't break up because he was cheap, but yes, he was cheap. Very.

Seeing an opportunity to practice my Chinese narrative I humour the Beijinger with the tales of pettiness shown by the various men I've dated that no doubt send her into culture shock:

That time a date and I stopped into a Tim Horton’s and he asked me to buy my own donut. That time at a concert when a date lined up for drinks, bought two, one for each of his fists and none for me. That time I was invited to a barbecue and was expected to bring my own meat. That time I was invited out to dinner and my date bought us an entree to share. Those times absolutely everything from TTC fares and five-dollar cab rides were expected to be split right down the middle. More awkward moments over donuts at Tim Horton’s. I should probably stop going there. Especially on dates.

The judgement on those dates came only in the looks of disapproval and concern for me from bus drivers, concession stand workers, waiters and taxi drivers. I waited until after the date was over to judge them.

But not once did I ever speak up about how their cheapness bothered me, instead I recluse, become unavailable, and hope they would just go away. They always do.

I am content with being a woman who pays the bill; for friends, for lovers, for family. I’m agreeable to splitting the costs of dates, I get by fine without lavish displays of chivalry, and I’m cool with cinema coupons and dinner at fast food drive-thrus. But I suppose my notion of without money we’d all be rich just wasn't working in a practical sense. Yet dumping a guy I’m crazy about just because he is petty seems really….well, petty.

You’re a poor man’s dream!” my friend says. “Your problem is that you are not judging enough!

The truth is, I do not want to live in a world where women expect men to pay for everything. I’m not even sure I believe men are obligated to pay on first dates. Who pays the bill because of the absence or presence of a penis isn't the entire issue. Money and feminism aside, I remember a chéngyǔ that goes: yán xíng yī zhì; simply put: practice what you preach, sexy bitch.

Seems the one common thread between all the tight-wads I've dated is me. And not once did I communicate my values to them.

Wang Xiu Ying dusts off the lotto machine with her cloth and offers me a plastic-wrapped candy which judging by the wrapper is bean-curd flavour and will be disgusting. I accept.

You know, in China, man pay for EVERYTHING. If man doesn't pay, woman must never marry him”. She says.

I nod knowingly because I've seen it and I've been there. And I explain to her in simple Chinese phrases:

I suppose deep down I’m purposely seeking non-marriage material. My heart is not ready to find another husband. But I do gravitate to love without all the bells and whistles.

You will soon be ready but you should NOT love any man who doesn't give you the whole wide world. A gold ring for your mother and long-life vitamins for your father. And save his money for university for your children.

I laugh at how culturally inappropriate those foreign expectations are, and are as relevant to me as a red herring sitting on the Great Wall of China in a thunderstorm.

But you deserve the whole wide world!” she exclaims and it sounds so natural, like something my native-English-speaking mother would say.

What is your worth? Do you know your worth?” she probes sternly.

I pause and carefully construct my sentence using a mix of complete honesty and lyrics from Chinese karaoke pop songs. It’s delivered with quite sturdy pronunciation:

Yǔ shìjiè gèdì dì dìfāng hé tián tián quān”.

It takes her a moment but she clues in.

“Somewhere in-between the whole wide world and a donut.” We say in unison.


Monday, May 23, 2016

The Bicycle

I often compare the "doings" of modern life like peddling a bicycle, just as Tara Brach points out in her book True Refuge. We spend our lives on a bicycle pedalling to get somewhere. Pedalling to get away from this moment. Pedalling to avoid feelings. Pedalling to make something happen. Pedalling to prove how great we are and "Look at me! Look where I'm headed!" -- chasing a dream, forgetting to breathe, racing away from presence. 

Meditation allows for the "un-doings" of things so we can actually become free. The undoings of our controlling behaviour,  the undoings of limited beliefs, the undoings of labels and stories that we carry about ourselves and other people, the undoings of physical tension that we carry in our bodies, the undoings of defensive armour.

We do not choose to meditate to get somewhere. 
We do not choose to meditate to turn us into something different.
We do not choose to meditate to get to some spiritual achievement.
We do not choose to meditate on a quest for self-improvement.

So when we make regular visits with ourselves - when we meditate, we should try our best to set an intention that brings us closer to ourselves. Not to get closer to a destination or a goal.

Examples of intentions may be: for spiritual realization, to seek truth in your present emotions, to calm thoughts of anxiety or distress, to address longing, to sit with unpleasant emotions for a period of time so they are safe, to simply connect with presence, to pay lovingkindness to yourself or another, to activate peace, to say hello to yourself.

Whatever the intention is -- we must do it with sincerity.
Sincerity is simply connecting with what matters most in your heart. 

"The most important thing is remembering the most important thing."
 - Zen Master Suzuki Roshi

So the analogy of the bicycle affixed to the purpose of meditation provoke the following inquiries: 

Who rides the bicycle? Who pedals the bicycle? What part of your body do you use to pedal the bicycle? What sits on the seat? What holds the handle bars? What smells the passing lilacs? What breathes in the fresh air? What sees the way? What tells us where we are going? What knows we are safe? What are the benefits to our bodies? Our souls? Our minds? 

The answer to these questions are all the parts of ourselves that we bring to the experience of life and also into meditation.

Presence. You. Your body. What you're equipped with. This moment. You. You. You. You. Who cares about anything else right now -- just YOU in presence. YOU.

To read what I've learned from meditation, read my post here.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Nachiketa and the Kingdom of Death

The following is my adaptation and interpretations of an ancient Upanishads story. These original stories were written in Sanskrit likely somewhere between 400 and 200 BC and centralized its teachings on philosophy, moral conduct and the path to salvation. 

 Nachiketa and the Kingdom of Death

Nachiketa was a young woman who lived with her father in a small village along the rice fields of India. Her father was on a quest for spiritual bliss and had heard that if he gave away all his material possessions to the saints, sages, teachers and priests, this would fulfill his vow for spiritual attainment. 

Nachiketa discovered that her meager father was hiding all their finest possessions under the cushions and offered up only their useless property: lame cows that did not produce milk, broken furniture, and decaying fruit. 

Boldly, Nachiketa confronted her father on his insincere offerings in front of their fellow villagers: What you have done is not right. If you didn’t want to give away everything, why take the vow?” 

With the rage of shame and betrayal, the father shouted: 
You can go to hell, Nachiketa. I give you to Yama, the Lord of Death!” 

Nachiketa wrapped her garments around her body and set off willingly beyond the rice fields into the dark forest where Yama lived in the Kingdom of Death.

For days Nachiketa searched for death, but he didn’t come. Exhausted, lonely, and hungry in the frozen Kingdom she was greeted by Yama’s three assistants: Pestilence, Famine and War. They tortured Nachiketa and caused her more injury. When the Lord of Death finally arrived days later he was moved by the young woman’s resilience and determination. 

He offered her three wishes before he would take her life. 

Nachiketa uttered her first wish: “I want peace with my father. That all be forgiven.” 

Yama granted her wish and in just one pulse of her heart, Nachiketa felt pulled by a sudden and radical undefended openness. She felt a peace she had not known and an insight that she could not meet death if she was pushing her father, or anyone out of her heart. 

In that space and freedom of forgiveness, Nachiketa posed her second wish: “I want inner fire.

Yama didn’t understand so he asked her to explain. 

I want the courage to experience and commit fully to everything that happens, good or bad. Every moment.” 

Yama granted her this wish and gave her three days in the Kingdom of Death to live with her newly acquired power and then to report back. 

When they met again Nachiketa told him: 

My journey began with disenchantment and disillusionment. 
I have faced my horrors. I have been thrown out of my nest.
I’ve learned that everything goes away. Everything changes. We get sick and die. 
The ground we walk on is always shaking. 
What made us happy no longer applies. 
Life just doesn’t cooperate. Our own moods just happen. 
I have confronted impermanence.

Curious, Yama asked what were the markings of her inner fire, to which she replied: 

I make my choices and cultivate my creativity with sincerity, and from a place of innocence. It is not coming from duty or guilt, pretension, or one of the ‘shoulds’. I am wholly moved by a trust inside my belly.” 

Yama was impressed by Nachiketa’s insight and asked her to tell him her third wish so that he could grant it:

 “I want to know who is the real Me. What would be left of me after you take this body? I want to know the mystery of my true being without the shell and beyond the grave.” 

Yama was taken aback. 
Young woman, you could wish for anything you want! Why not wish for eternal beauty, riches, a beautiful baby to hold in your arms, your own land to roam free, perhaps?” He suggested. 

But Nachiketa was not easily swayed. She pointed out that all those suggestions were objects that would eventually die and end up in his Kingdom. 

Yama handed Nachiketa a mirror.

In fact, I do not have that wisdom. But you can look within yourself to find the answer.” 

Nachiketa spent three days in the Kingdom holding up the mirror, looking at her own nature in hopes of discovering the truth of who she was. Frustrated, she learned that self-knowledge was not necessarily good news. There were the stories she told herself about who she was. There was anxiety. There was chronic commentary. There was a pile of 'shoulds'. She was fixated on surface waves. She did not trust the depth and vastness of the ocean of her being, so she stayed skimming the surface.

Nachiketa asked her reflection: “How do I begin to relax and really see what’s here?” 

And then it dawned on her that this was the most important inquiry and the only thing she had ever wanted. 

Nachiketa sat down on the cold ground and quieted her mind a little. She didn’t fight thoughts, nor did she turn them off. She became mindful of her thoughts. She began noticing. Nachiketa learned that in that moment of noticing thoughts, she felt she was no longer hitched to them. She was floating above them. Which meant that she was no longer inside. She was free. 

Free from preoccupation, there was a space between thoughts. 
That space was pure, quiet, untainted. 
This is your true nature. 
This space is who you really are. 
Do you see her? There she is. That is you. 

Nachiketa stayed with it for days, with the days turning into months. Yama let her be, approaching her finally after an entire year. Nachiketa bowed before him. She thanked him for the gift of the capacity to look into her own being and find true love. 

And in that moment the landscape suddenly changed from the frozen Kingdom of Death into the rice fields of her beloved India. 

Nachiketa went home to embrace her father, who was now aging and near death. 

She started her new life; just as she was and dedicating herself to finding space.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Free Spirit

Religious folk will talk about the longing to touch God or to feel God. The longing for me since as far as I can remember is to experience reciprocated emotional intimacy on a depth that I am certain I have never experienced in a relationship. And like an untouchable mystic spirit tucked away out of reach -- it’s the Holy Grail of romantic life.

Married, single, or somewhere in-between, here is the paradigm: Those who fear intimacy are the ones who long for it. Those who fear it most likely have no idea what it actually is. Those who don’t know what it is, would really like to know.

I’ll go out on a divine limb here and try to describe it myself:

"Emotional intimacy is a process of opening and softening to the life that’s here, without shutting it down. It’s the desire to be known and to know. It’s exposing the deepest parts of ourselves to another person and allowing the deepest parts of another person to be shown to us. It’s an energetic power that gives us strength to reveal ourselves without fearing the consequences."

Intimacy is deeply interwoven with shame and vulnerability -- three pieces of the same puzzle.

Despite the closeness we had with others growing up, most of us have been shut down by peers and family in some way as a means of keeping us in line. This taught us very gradually and systematically that intimacy is risky business.

As parents to our own children, we learn that emotional intimacy can only go so deep because we must protect them from knowing our darkest fears, our anxieties, our failures. Those barriers are what keep them safe. 

The Fear

Despite the gift I have for connecting and bonding easily with others, I would have to agree with Baggage Reclaimer Natalie Lue* that relationships that have “a connection” and "so much in common", even shared pain, admiration, offspring, experiences, attraction, hobbies, interests, and orgasms does not necessarily equal intimacy. An authentic, emotionally honest, loving and caring relationship means very little on the depth scale if we fundamentally are afraid of the consequences of closeness.

We all have some fear of closeness, be us single or attached, and it can feel like this: that being you; vulnerable, emotionally available, with all your quirks, your mess, your horrid past, your personality -- will result in another person leaving, disappointing, criticizing, fighting with, or rejecting you. Therefore we either don’t even bother, or we shift the blame on the other person’s shortcomings, or we build walls, and limitations (or choose insecurely-attached people) that cocoon us from deep experiences ever happening.

The History of Intimacy

Intimacy isn’t typically pitched to us as a basic human right. It’s a luxury. And it's still taboo. Traditionally marriages were set up with the expectation for sexual intimacy, living out gender roles which didn’t deviate, the woman’s sexual needs likely didn’t matter, anything relating to the woman’s sexual reproduction was kept private, and when the man felt burdened by the pressure to provide for his family, he had to “man up” -- channeling the stress into hard labour, sports, or war. Marriages were (and still are) setup to guarantee reproductive success, to optimize quality of life, to increase our chances of survival, and to carry on the family name.

Historically, intimacy was encouraged through God and through prayer, but not necessarily with your spouse.

So how do we build intimacy?
My short answer is this: In order to start exploring a new process we first need to be aware of what it is we are missing out on -- and what patterns we take on that block us from experiencing life and love from a deeper place. The answer to building intimacy is, as Rumi suggests:

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

Intimacy versus Autonomy

Intimacy can feel like it’s at war with our autonomy. Countless studies have examined the inquiry I admit has been my recent personal struggle: Will the desire for intimacy with another person get in the way of my independent personal fulfillment

It’s like the child learning to take those thrilling first steps away from their mother, and then when she falls and gets hurt, throws herself back in the comfort and solace of her mother’s arms.

But in truth, autonomy thrives when paired with intimacy; the more we have those safe harbours, those secure attachments to fall into -- without shame, without inhibitions, without doubt of a loving response -- the easier it is to explore, thrive and take risks.

For most of the Western world depending on your culture, in this day and age, we have complete opportunity to choose how much intimacy we want, and who with, and for how long. This denotes to pure freedom, but can feel like pure chaos. We are living in a time in history where we have the most romantic/sexual power, yet are completely ill-equipped with the value systems we need in place to survive this climate.

Intimacy is blocked by Self-Aversion

Self-aversion is a desire to avoid or turn away from the parts of ourselves we don’t like. Let’s face it -- being with another person is like having a giant mirror held up to our flaws; we are constantly tested, provoked and exposed, in good times and in bad.

Makes you wonder why so many single people have pets. Pets provide the company and unconditional love but without the judgement. 

We Meet our Match

We choose what we are. We find our mirror.

We don’t want to talk about our feelings so we find someone who also doesn’t. We don’t value our orgasm so we find someone who doesn’t either. We don’t like revealing much about our past so we find someone who doesn’t do a lot of probing.

If you’ve chosen a person who frequently shuts down intimacy that could be a strong indication that it reflected your fear of being intimate at the time you met. And not to crush anyone’s spirit here, but now you may feel you’re stuck with the consequences.

That’s not to say you need to throw the baby out with the holy bathwater. When both partners have a desire to explore intimacy and recognize the patterns that have been blocking it, keep the faith that love can continue surviving -- and thriving. 

However, when a person is unwilling to know or touch intimacy in any way, there is no amount of date nights, eye-contact, candles, tickle-fights, new sex positions, or nagging that can solve that problem. The person has to tap into an awareness and go to that place willingly, and in most cases that requires professional help.

Behaviour patterns that block intimacy are: Shame about our bodies and/or our mental health, lying, faking, picking fights, being secretive, having lots of rules, holding back emotions or opinions, casual dating, faking orgasms, substance abuse, cheating, withholding sex and/or affection, avoiding conflict to “keep the peace”, proximity without closeness, separate lives, being “busy”, small talk, physical/emotional abuse.

Are any of these your patterns? Your partner’s?


God Willing

Of course, along the path there will be people who just don’t want intimacy or who are hard-wired to loath it. Intimacy does not need to happen in every relationship if it is not worthy of it. 

Intimacy is a slow process of time and safety. It requires mutual vulnerability, trust, and most importantly -- shared values. The operative word being “mutual”. It requires a transparency and openness that is received first and then reciprocated; and that becomes the trickiness (and the fun) of it all. It does not happen immediately or all at once but it can happen in many different relationship structures. What’s most important is that we take ownership of our exploration and awareness.

Before finding intimacy in a partner, first learn how to be an intimate partner.

Practice peace and acceptance for our own selves and the circumstances in our present life, and the desire to share our whole body and soul with another human will send a light to the worthy ones. We also have to take a few leaps of faith.

There's a simple question we can ask ourselves when we feel heaven might be knocking on our door:

How does it feel to reveal? 

Well then, keep doing it.

Well then, keep doing it too.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

No Walls Required


I don't know what you're talking about....

That's not something I have....
Can we please not talk about that....

The intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefor unworthy of love and belonging is how researcher and storyteller Brene Brown defines shame.

It's the unobtainable, hopeless, conflicting expectations about who we are supposed to be.

Shame is the feeling that something is inherently wrong with us.

Shame in our body can feel like a disturbing rumble across our chest wrapping around to our back. It feels like a straight-jacket. And in my opinion, it is the worst feeling. I reckon most people would rather feel any other negative emotion than shame - and so we do.

I know not one single person who is immune to shame but I certainly know a lot of people who won't admit to feeling it, or who cannot identify it, or who shrug it off like it's not a big deal. Shame, yeah so what?

Shame, So What?

My theory is that shame doesn't get the awareness and conversation it deserves because it's too arcane. Too hard to identify. We know what it means when it's actively done to someone (slut-shaming, fat-shaming), but we don't talk about how it feels to carry it around even if we haven't fallen victim to a specific incident. It's just there.

You know, that feeling that we are just not good enough. The feeling that we are just too flawed to function.

I've realized the reason it's mysterious is because it's too difficult of an emotion to sit with. No one wants to look at it making it still so under-researched and taboo. And alas there is the chicken or the egg of shame.

Shame can mask itself pretty well. It doesn't have a distinguishable facial expression like embarrassment or surprise. I expected Disney/Pixar's Inside Out to include shame, a primitive and prominent human emotion. Instead it creeps up subtly as a side-kick to sadness, fear, disgust and anger.

And as Inside Out depicts, emotional repression isn't selective. We can't numb ourselves to difficult feelings, such as shame, without numbing ourselves to empowering feelings, like joy, passion, and peace, and when we try, this lessens our true experience as humans.

Shame, if not recognized and not treated with compassion can turn lethal; depression, addictions, promiscuity, violence, suicide, deception, eating disorders, anxiety, self-loathing.

It's shame that sits with kids who shoot up schools. It's shame that sits with hockey players who sexually assault their fans. It's shame that sits with fearful businessmen who run for president.

We build prisons to enforce shame on others, but ironically, whether you are a convicted criminal or not, when you live with shame, you may as well already be living in a prison. No walls required.

The Stress of Shame

Shame isn't embarrassment; which is a passing, temporary emotion of awkwardness or self-consciousness.

Guilt is not the same as shame. Guilt can be healthy; it's a signal that we are conscious of other people's feelings and that we take responsibility for our choices and are accountable for our actions.

Shame gets thrown under the blanket term "stress". 

"The stress of the holidays" for example -- a time of year where we observe and participate in a struggle with planning parties, gifts, social etiquette, booze, staying sexy, not over-eating, pleasing our families, over-parenting, not fucking up.

That feeling tied to all those events that we are not doing enough, that we are not giving enough, that we haven't planned enough, that we are not caring enough, that we are not earning enough -- that's shame.

The threat of being kicked out of our tribe, or not belonging because of our flaws can ignite a fight-flight-freeze response, and that is the stress of shame.

You know that tension we feel when we are overwhelmed with deadlines, pressures or rocky relationships? Those pressures wouldn't exist if we weren't constantly trying to cover up shame. Unfortunately it gets diagnosed as "stress" and a recommendation of a stiff drink, a day at the spa or a weekend get-away is ordered. But none of those remedies tap into the issue of shame, hence why they provide only temporary relief, if at all. 

We live in a culture that normalizes jokes about parents relying on booze to put up with the stress of family life. Blame your children as much as you want -- it's not kids who make you drink. The fear and sadness of believing that we are not good enough parents or providing enough for our loved ones -- that's shame. The emotion of shame is so unpleasant that we reach for anything to not feel it.

And when it comes to our children, many cultures hold the belief that if they don't achieve our required goals this not only disappoints and embarrasses us but also causes intense family shame. It's a toxic cycle of let's shame them into behaving accordingly as to reflect positively on me, because otherwise I will feel that feeling that would be the product of their failures -- shame.

The Opposite of Shame

My elementary school days taught me the opposite of shame is pride - but pride can be a mask of shame. It can be an inauthentic and narcissistic attitude to covering up shame.

The opposite of shame is courage. And courage can only happen if we practice vulnerability.


Vulnerability is basically uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. It's about showing up and being seen. To me it means tender and honest, while society sums it up as "weak". Vulnerability is the ability to show others and admit to ourselves that we are not perfect and we don't expect things to be.

Traditionally, for women the resistance to vulnerability sounds like: "Do not let them see you struggle".

Traditionally for men, it's: "Do not be perceived as weak".

Strong is not the radical opposite of vulnerable (I consider them to be synonyms). It's cool.

Cool is "suck it up", "chin up", "Keep Calm and Carry on", "Fake it til you make it" and other mainstream ethos that are inauthentic and counter-intuitive. Though having a desire to "Live, Laugh, Love" is of course a desired state, it's a futile mantra to tell yourself when dealing with hardship because in order to overcome hardship, we must be willing to look at how it makes us feel.

We try to outrun or outsmart vulnerability by making things certain and definite, always having a plan, refusing to admit failures, labelling people and experiences as black and white, good and bad and blaming others or the universe when things go wrong. It's ignoring the tender feelings that creep up which if you really listen to, can be your guide, and instead following what you perceive as "tough" or "cool".

In the past, when I was avoiding vulnerability I would start hustling; and it's manic and exhausting. There is a belief in our culture that being grandiose, being extraordinary, being the best, having the most talented offspring, being the family everyone admires is what we should strive for. There's a fear of being ordinary. The moment you can look around and believe "I am good enough, this is good enough", you stop shame and narcissism in its tracks.

"What I am is good enough if I would only be it openly." - Carl Rogers

Perfectionism is trying to gain approval.
Self-improvement is a healthy way of growing. 

Why Vulnerability Works

Vulnerability and failure is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change. Hand on heart, being vulnerable opens the door to greater experiences and greater intimacy. When we feel like we have nothing to hide, we experience complete freedom.

Vulnerability is not weak, nor giving up. But over-sharing on social media or crying to anyone who will listen is not a form of healthy vulnerability. Vulnerability is about sharing our feelings and our experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them. Being vulnerable and open is mutual and an integral part of the trust-building process.

According to Brene Brown, in order for shame to thrive it needs 3 things:

  • secrecy 
  • silence 
  • perception that you will be judged by others 

So if we experience something which causes us to feel shame and we can be open about it, without feeling like we will be judged by the listener, it simply cannot live. We stop shame in its tracks. When your friends/family approach you with their vulnerabilities; it's not your job to council them, help them or change them; it's simply to be an empathic presence for which the person can use the conversation for personal growth.

I have had to learn the hard way about who is safe to expose myself to and who isn't. Not every friend/family member is capable of seeing our vulnerabilities and sadly there are still many people who find the whole concept uncomfortable and may even shame us for it. Oh, the cycle of shame.

Secrets and Lies

Consider the secrets we keep, even the little ones that we retain from our spouses, our parents, our children -- our closest tribe members. Shame breeds in the places where we cannot fully be ourselves and honest with our near and dear -- I reckon most of us live this way. We lie about our past, we lie about how much we spent, we lie about who we were with, how much we indulge, want we want/don't want in bed, we put passwords on our phones. Each time we tell one lie or omit one truth we are building another wall between us and the people we love the most. The irony is that when we are lied to or tricked we feel intense shame. And the result is to shame the person who made us feel that way.

So here's where courage comes into play:

The First & Second Arrow

We all make mistakes. We all fuck up. We all make really risky choices sometimes. We all have the capacity to have our feelings crushed.

The First Arrow is: I made a mistake; I made an error, and I got it wrong. This may invoke feelings of guilt or frustration. 
Or the situation may be; someone hurt me. Someone shamed me. But if we were to stop here, the crisis would only represent an error to correct or a lesson to learn, extending the opportunity to grow or advance. Imagine it like an arrow in your body. Look at the arrow, then pull it out. Take care of your wound. This is called self-compassion.

The Second Arrow is the one we pick up and stab ourselves with when we've still got the first arrow in. This is the "I fucked up. There must be something wrong with me if I behaved this way. What is the matter with me? I am such an idiot. I'm a bad person." This is the self-critic. This is the person who is attached to the story that we are damaged. This is shame. Alternatively if after getting struck by the first arrow we look around and seek external blame: "Who did this? They are going to pay for this!" and pick up the second arrow and throw it at someone (anyone!)...this is shaming.

The key is to bring awareness to how you react after the first arrow strikes. Do you take care of your wound, or do you bend down for the second arrow? Whether you have a pattern of directing blame inward or sending blame outward, the goal is to change the pattern of reaching for the second arrow.

To become shame resilient we need to practice self-compassion and forgiveness to ourselves and others. There is no other way but this. It's as simple as putting your hand on your heart and saying your name or the other person's name. It is not easy. It takes honesty and it takes a lot of practice and time.

Reap the Rewards

For me the actual sensation of shame is less distressing because of my quest to understand it. But how and when it puts up walls and limitations in my life and stunts my communication skills, that I am still working on. I believe all humans sit with some dose of shame, be it small or toxic. 

I believe boys and men especially have been dealt a very unfair and cruel hand with how society treats them for exposing vulnerability. 

Changing that status quo is what I consider to be part of my personal journey and it is part of the plight of feminism. 

If I could send a message to any man in my life or any man who has been in my life, it's that I am here, I will listen, I promise not to judge, you are loved more than you probably know, and you are forgiven.

For absolutely everyone reading this, including me:

Be kind to yourself. Go easy on yourself. Repeat. Reap the rewards of this radical behaviour.