What if you had to?

A few weeks ago I started a new workout class entitled “willpower & grace”. The title stood out to me, intriguing me enough to look up the class description and see if I wanted to make it in to try it out. The description was simple and noted that it was a barefoot class, focused on both endurance, strength and flexibility, coupled with being as “philosophical as it is physical, where functional workout meets sports psychology”.  So naturally, I had to attend.

During the first class I was on the fence as to whether this type of class was a good fit for me, hundreds of squats, plies, arm postures and dance moves, all while attempting graceful poise (which has never been a strong suit of mine). Halfway through the class the instructor launched into a bit of the philosophy behind the class, essentially describing the intention behind the practicality and basic function of its movements, and then she posited the question “what if you had to?” We were to each fill in the blank for ourselves, of what we were capable of if we had to, or what we would do if we had to. Suddenly I was all in.

This is what I have made my life’s work all about. The study of human behavior, of brain cognition, and the overarching scope of relationships. Positing the question “what if you had to?” feels as natural to me as “how does that make you feel?”. My mind is often consumed by pondering of interpersonal interactions, questions of meaning and purpose, motivation and challenge. I put a great amount of thought into the practical applications of psychology and what makes people tic and what people need in order to survive, and perhaps on good days, what makes us thrive.

Anais Nin, a well known author, famous for having said “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom”, gave us beautiful and honest insight into the human condition. Her words have been quoted and shared for inspiration, used in motivational speeches, in workplaces and schools, giving powerful insight into the human experience. Yet it is a statement that I believe requires deep reflection, even pause, for personal application for each of us.

Tonight as I wrapped up a full day of clients, I found myself pondering this question “what if you had to?” and Anais Nin came to mind as she so eloquently laid out the stunningly devastating reality, that there is both pain in remaining a tight bud and pain opening up to blossom… for they both involve risk. The duality of life is that there is pain in the journey, regardless. So what is it that pushes some of us to the point of blossom? And what about those of us who keep tightly bound as a bud? Does one naturally imply exposure while the other implies protection? Why would anyone willingly expose themselves? Perhaps the risk becomes a matter of survival…

The longer that I am in practice and the more people that I work with, the more strikingly convinced I am becoming that we human beings need each other. We do not function well in isolation. And we do not function well when we have been hurt. We act out. We lash out. We become addicts, we form habits, we isolate, we withdraw, we sink into despair, we scratch, claw, pull, push, cry, scream, all in protest to be seen, to be heard, to be known. By somebody. Anybody…

If we can dig deep, it is with bravery, that we take the risk to slowly begin to open up, to unfold one little layer at a time. All the while devastatingly aware that we could break a petal, fall from our place of security and yet we willingly open ourselves to the elements around us. Why? It is only within this brave moment that we are capable of letting someone else in… of connecting. Does it require naked vulnerability? Yes. Is there a high likelihood that we will get hurt? Yes. Will it require patience and heavy doses of grace? Yes! Is it ultimately worth it??

Anais spoke boldly and reminded us that life is risk. All of life. It is inevitable. So we are left with a daring choice… to lock down, tight like a bud, blocking out all light and potential for life, or to open up, expose ourselves to the light and other life and blossom.

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Letting go

I have been struck over the past few weeks of the number of relationships I have witness show signs of vulnerability. Some ultimately revealing that they are in a fragile state. Some fading, some struggling under pressures and beginning to fall apart. Some incredibly lost in a sea of feeling unknown, unheard and misunderstood. I have seen the looks on countless faces. I have felt the pain and deep sense of loss. I had heard the deafening sounds of loneliness.

Today it is on my mind to write a genuine heartfelt letter, personal yet universally applicable. I seek to encourage, to instill hope where it is absent and to challenge the impossibility notions of a relationship that lasts.

To those of you are hurting right now, whether all alone, in a troubled relationship and considering your options, on your way out of one that is empty, or considering making a commitment to someone despite your fear of the unknown, I am expressing solidarity. I will attest that attaching to another human being, committing to be there through it all, opening up and sharing ones whole self, is the scariest, hardest, most emotion laden experience one will ever come across. I will simultaneously express a profound belief that attachment can be the most rewarding, eye opening, heart engaging journey. If we allow it will expand us beyond what we ever felt we were capable of.

Committed relationships are not for the faint of heart. They are messy. They are complicated. They are confusing. They are painful. They can be filled with joy and laughter at times and at others they can cause the most intense hurt one will ever feel. Coming together with another person, expressing your whole self, the good and the bad and everything in between is terrifying. You are more vulnerable than you will ever be any other time in your life when the vulnerability involves a committed relationship to another human being. You are subject to shame. You are subject to being misunderstood, misrepresented, even disrespected.

You also will open yourself to love, which sounds cliche, but if you ever actually have the privilege of experiencing this kind of love, you will understand in your bones that it awakens life within. You will see yourself as if you were looking in a mirror, which means you will see wrinkles, dimples, an occasional rash, squishy parts, soft parts, angry parts… and you will also see the purest joy, the sweetest smile, innocent eyes and moments of flawless, effortless beauty. Perhaps even inquisitive exploration, hope and passion.

One thing that I know is the utterly exhaustive amount of effort and real life presence that it takes, to truly be there for another soul. You will think at times that you have nothing left, yet somehow you will find more as you dig deep within. You will discover that you are capable of more than you ever could have imagined. That if you are mindful, you will create a space within the very soul of yourself for this other being, to tend to and care for in a way that you never knew possible. You will be shaken. You will be rattled. You will be perplexed and on many levels you will be broken, however it will be the kind of broken that has the ability to make you even stronger once reinforced. You will learn what it truly means to sacrifice yourself and you will be surprised by how breathtaking that can feel, in an expansive kind of way.

If you find yourself in a relationship where you have not experienced any of such things, perhaps ask yourself what is missing, what has been left behind, cast aside or simply cannot exist within this person, this space or time. If you are longing for this kind of love, of being known and understood and having someone with whom you would give it all for, my greatest advice is to not give up.

Do not settle, do not convince yourself it does not exist. This is the kind of love worth fighting for. Whether doubting the relationship you’re currently in, or pondering the hard and desperate truth that what this is will never be what you once hoped, don’t give up. I mean no advice about staying or leaving. I simply encourage you to fight for what is real, substantive and sacrificial. Anything less will always be just that, less.

Sometimes the wisest thing we can do is let go. If fear causes us to hold tight, to cling and to anxiously grasp, then my hope is that you will reach for peace and the ability to be still and let go. If whatever it is you cling to is worth it, then it will still be there when you let go. Do not convince yourself for one more minute that you are worth less, that you deserve to live a life of less. I simply cannot buy into the notion that we are created to live lives that do not stir us to the core and require that we get a little uncomfortable once in a while, and that we dive in head first every now and again, that we push toward the unknown without fear holding us back. We must pursue that which we are most passionate about, or an inherent part of ourself will die. Seek the kind of inspiration you aspire to be.

To give the all of you, to lay naked that which uniquely pieces together to make you, you, is a gift and it is a gift that is earned through the painstaking time and effort of another human being doing the absolute same for you, and nothing less, no holds bar. No regrets. No shame.

May you hold desperately to this if you have found it. May you let go of whomever you need to if you have not. May you seek it out with all you have in whatever way you can. May you be blessed along the way!