Fragile

It hit home today, the fragility that lies within each and every one of us. I often take for granted the strength and invincible nature that seems to enshroud those I admire and care for most. Somehow despite knowing much of our shared humanity, our insecurities and shortcomings, many of us often default to believing that others are unshakeable, ever present, indestructible constants in our lives.

It is a powerful awakening to be faced with loss. To at the end of the day sit with a reality that much of what we come to lean on, trust in, fall to, can change ever so rapidly. Like cracks in ice, we hold on as long as we can. We have within us the ability to bend, to accommodate, to modify, we can compromise, and we can step toward, we can even carry. The ugly truth however is that regardless of how strong we are, how resilient and buoyant we fight to remain; we all have breaking points.

The nature of relationships has always fascinated me. They are complex and intricate and to many of us they are lifelines and a foundation to stand upon. While they hold within them the power to bolster vitality and create a sense of intimate connection, they simultaneously hold the power to tear us apart, hurt us to the core and leave us feeling desolate if ever lost.

How does one reach out, seek connection, share the intimate details of ones’ life, create laughter and shared stories to support us through the darkest of times… while simultaneously shelter our hearts from the greatest kind of agony known? Friendship is both life sustaining and life obliterating rolled into one. The capacity to elevate and the capacity to destroy, to give and to take away, to uplift and tear down.

It is interesting to me that we do not make vows in friendship like one might in a romantic partnership or marriage. I am not necessarily suggesting that one should exchange friendship vows, but I have to wonder if that would at all change the nature of friendships. Obviously commitment vows do not assure anyone of unfailing love and never ending commitment… people get divorced and separate every day despite the vows they have taken to love and cherish and adventure together through sickness and in health, good times and bad. Perhaps the vows mean little to nothing in our culture today.

Nothing is omniscient or infallible as a human species. We make mistakes, we hurt one another, we neglect to show up when needed, we let one another down, we misspeak, we miscommunicate, and we batter one another from time to time. Yet somehow we continue to make friends, to partner up, to marry, to journey alongside one another, despite the inevitable pain that will come from such a friendship/relationship. Why do we do it? Why do we risk so much of ourselves and our safety in order to share our life with someone?

I suppose it speaks to our inherent, and insatiable need for human contact, that we would risk such pain and offense to our hearts, in order to share who we are with someone else. Because we know that we are capable of hurting and we know all to well how capable we are of being hurt and carrying scars from the wounds. Yet we sign up for this potential all the time. We sign up and we make unspoken vows of commitment and of safety and of a willingness to give a shit… about the little things and the significant things. We allow others into the dark spaces that lie deep within; we open ourselves to another, all with the hope that we will be known. We long to be known and we long to know someone else. Romantically, platonically, we are relational beings in need of connection, in need of understanding, in need to friendship.

We are so desperate for this type of knowing and being known that we are willing to sacrifice anything, everything. When a relationship falls apart, when it falters, when it cracks; its impact is global. We can downplay it, we can shuffle it to the side, we can bury it, but its impact is universally devastating. We do what we can to recover from such loss, such separation, such pain, and many of us do this very well. But everybody bleeds, even if they bleed in solace, quietly.

Accepting my own fragile nature, and acknowledging the fragile nature of those around me, that we can all be standing near a precipice at any given moment… We all have vulnerable places within, which are subject to triggers, subject to hot emotion, subject to pain. Perhaps one would be wise to learn to tread lightly, not in a tiptoeing, shallow nature, but in a way that acknowledges our shared human frailty. None of us, not even one of us is invincible. We all feel. We all are capable of breaking. We all bleed. Yet we all need somebody.

I looked up the definition for friendship and found this “a state of mutual trust and support between allied nations”. It seems that this thing we call friendship does have an unspoken oath… It is a powerful, life changing state of being, a privilege; one not to be taken lightly. Such a delicate balance; to dive in unabashedly sharing ones self, while keeping a keen sense of awareness of the vulnerable nature involved in being human and sharing that with another soul.

Today I am owning my own fragility and I am choosing to honor the fragility of those around me, our shared humanity and our shared need for safe connection.

The Power of Community

I spent a large portion of my day today grieving and processing the loss of a mentor and friend. In my own grief and sadness I could not help but watch the storm of messages being written on the walls of family members and the continual updates in news feeds about this man, and the impact he had on so many individual lives and the legacy he has left behind…. Hundreds of messages sent to his wife, words of encouragement and support and shared grief. His son made a post with a tribute to his dad part way through today, and over 270 likes and close to a hundred comments were displayed in response. This a community that bans together, shares in the joys and the sorrows. They show up. They make phone calls, mail cards, bring food and meals, send flowers and offer their hands anywhere they are needed. This is a community I have been a part of for the majority of my life and have taken for granted. 

Today as I watched the support stream in from every angle possible for this family, I was awestruck. While reaching out to my own set of connections and friends to share this painful moment with, I could not help but feel a sense of gratitude for community and all that it provides. The ability to know that someone else is there and they know what you’re going through and they want to be there for you. Powerful and life altering.

I have watched families go through this sort of tragedy countless times, and it is powerful to step back and see what a community can do for a family or individual, to rally around them and share in their journey. What I have witnessed is an enormous amount of strength and courage and an incredible resilience that rises up in these families and individuals that are surrounded by support systems, and not left to process life’s journey on their own. There is a shared space that we experience when we are aware that we are not alone, that someone cares, that somewhat has witnessed the unfolding of our day. 

In her 2004 movie “Shall We Dance”, Susan Sarandon has a scene where she describes why people marry;

”We need a witness to our lives.  There’s a billion people on the planet, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything.  The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things, all of it, all of the time, every day.  You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it.  Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness’.”

This is one of the most powerful descriptions that I have ever heard regarding the real reason for marriage or commitment. A community can be each and every one of these things. Whether large or small, new or old, religious or professional, a neighborhood or organization. A group of people that join together in one way or another and end up forming a connection, a bond. We congregate together in order to share our lives, to bare witness to others lives and support and share in them, to find encouragement and care and concern, to seek wisdom and learn from one another. We are social beings, made to connect with one another, and to co-create meaning as we live our lives. 

One of the greatest tragedies that I see is when someone isn’t sharing their life with someone else. This does not need to be a marriage or family I’m talking about someone who isn’t connected, and doesn’t have others in their immediate world who bare witness to their life. We are not beings that function best or even well in isolation or solidarity.  We are social. We are fragile. We are vulnerable. We need an other in our world, to make it real, to bring it meaning, to simply survive. 

We attach to the person who is there for us most, and we attach securely when that person is consistent and reliable and unconditional in their care-concern. When attachment needs go unmet, illness and disease show up, they begin to infiltrate our minds and our bodies and wrecking havoc. 

The beautiful reality is that attachment begins between two individuals and has the ability to grow and expound from there. The growth of a community, the connection of a group of individuals is not instant and does not happen overnight. It happens in the mundane everyday realities of each of our lives. As we reach out, as we open up, as we allow others to share in our journey, we are invited in and gifted with the opportunity to share in theirs. To give and take, to grow and share, to expand. It starts simply, it happens slowly, but these encounters-exchanges of words or actions begin to build bridges of connection. They begin to foster friendship. And one day you realize that you are surrounded by people who know you and care about you and for whom you would do pretty much anything for.

You find that you are a part of a community, of a whole, and you are a small part, but a necessary part that allows the whole to exist. You find that you are more resilient than you ever imagined, that you are stronger than you ever thought possible and you are not alone.

Tonight I am challenging us to connect. I am challenging each and every one of us to connect in some small or big way. To reach out, to get involved, to share, to give, to open, to receive and to engage in the building of a community, even if that community begins with two. 

How do you define success?

I had considered titling todays post “how do you handle failure”… however it seemed a bit dark for a title, so I opened with your definition of success. I believe that these two things go hand in hand: both how you define success and how you handle failure. Seems to be that you can learn a lot about a person by how they view their success and failures and how they behave accordingly.

When I think about successes and failures, I cannot help but think about how one defines the terms, and how they vary widely from person to person. And once they have been defined, how do these definitions impact our lives?

For example: If my definition of success in a marriage involves deep conversation and weekly strolls through the neighborhood, sharing emotions, and philosophical debates, how will I feel about my partner’s silence in the evenings, or lack of desire to be active?

Or if my definition of financial security involves a loaded savings account and a plush 401K, how will it impact me if my partner feels it’s more important to have a nice home and nice things for quality of day to day life?

Without realizing it, we all go into relationships with these templates or expectations of how things should feel or how they should look, and we don’t mean to be selfish, but it’s difficult to change what you have always thought or how you have viewed things.

The challenge of any relationship in life is that we each bring our own set of templates or expectations, as well as definitions of successes and failures, and often times these do not line up or match someone else’s.

For some of us, there is a realization somewhere along the journey through life, that our template or expectations may not even be serving ourselves very well, let alone another relationship. At that point we are left with more questions than answers. What are my options? Do I have options? Is it possible to change? I will readily admit that this particular junction can be rather stressful and presents with a rather daunting level of involvement.

But is it possible to reconstruct these templates, either for the sake of another or simply for the sake of a healthier definition or expectation?  Dr. Dan Siegel says yes, through the study of interpersonal neurobiology, we now understand that we can remap the way a brain functions. This allows us to change the way we think and the way we behave. How is this possible? Through literally rewiring the brain to focus on something different and therefore encourage a new, and perhaps healthier template to emerge.

The simple science is that “neurons that fire together, wire together”, which is another way of saying what you think about and what you regularly do, become your template for how you think and what you do… so if you want either or both of those to change, you have to begin to think and behave in a way that is more in line with what would be considered healthy.

Perhaps in order to further explore this, one could benefit from identifying what their templates are and what expectations come with those templates. We need to first identify these definitions and expectations before we can begin to look at how they were created in the first place… let alone go about the work of changing them.

The more that I explore within the field of psychology, the more I realize the long and arduous process, of becoming, of changing, or growing, of expanding… and the more I get excited for the ride.