Category Archives: authenticity

Brene Brown, game changer.

I first heard of Brene Brown last winter when my friend Lindsay told me I had to watch her TED talk called “The Power of Vulnerability.” It was a game changer for my emotional health, y’all.  Then Lindsay and I decided we would both read her book The Gifts of Imperfection and it was the perfect follow up for helping me process through what it means to live with meaning and purpose and without anxiety.  Reading the book and reflecting on Brown’s research and how it related to my life has been an incredibly powerful experience.  I’ve slowly and reflectively read this book over the past five months or so. This post is a little vulnerable, but I think Brene Brown would be in favor of me sharing and owning these pieces of my story.

My core spiritual beliefs (grace, love, forgiveness, stillness) have remained much the same over the years, but there came a time when I had to face the fact that from every angle I was hearing: strong people of faith ________.  As a high achieving people pleaser, for many years I ran without stopping in my volunteer work, my actual work, and in the commitments I made in my free time.  Sometimes despite hearing an overarching message of grace and love, I felt as though I was constantly not measuring up to what I was “supposed” to be doing, which was difficult for a perfectionist (though now I consider myself a recovering one) and felt as though I had to be apologetic for my introverted nature.  I’ve taken the past few years to redefine what a spiritual life looks like for me and to (finally) learn to be ok with the fact that it does need to look like anyone else’s.

A lot of authors have mentored me through this journey: Mother Theresa with Come Be My Light, Anne Lamott with Traveling Mercies and Bird by Bird, Joan Didion with The Year of Magical Thinking, Susan Cain with Quiet, Colum McCann with Let the Great World Spin, Eric Metaxes with Bonhoeffer, and of course the poetry and music of Over the Rhine.  What I appreciate about Brene Brown is that her book seemed to pull together all of these literary influences and helped me to redefine and find freedom in what spirituality looks like for me.

In the journey of trying to define what my spiritual life looks like now, it honestly can be easy to simply not think about it, thus avoiding existential dilemmas.  But, the anxiety that so easily creeps in reminded me that being grounded and intentional is life giving and I noticed that not having an intentional grounding in faith, I became less hopeful in general, a bit cranky, and I forgot to look for beauty.  Brown’s definition of spirituality piqued my interest because I was (still am) so tired of the minutia of Christian theology:  “By spirituality, I’m not talking about religion or theology, but I am talking about a shared and deeply held belief.  Here’s how I define spirituality: Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in compassion.  Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives” (64).

When she wrote “It’s not about denominations or dogma. Practicing spirituality is what brings healing and creates resilience. For me, spirituality is about connecting with God, and I do that most often through nature, community, and music.  We all have to define spirituality in a way that inspires us,”(74)  I was reminded of the life nature gives me and how washing dishes or walking with music centers me, and how dinner with my husband and great friends grounds and connects me.

One of the messages I have struggled with as a Christian is that “everything happens for a reason,” which I simply cannot buy into no matter how many scripture based conversations I have.  This felt really isolating, especially in the early days of this journey.  I have landed in a place of confidence and rest with this issue and others, and reading Brown’s book helped give greater clarity to me: “At first I thought faith meant ‘there’s a reason for everything.’  I personally struggled with that because I’m not comfortable with using God or faith or spirituality to explain tragedy…Here’s how I define faith based on research interviews: Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of certainty” (90).  Faith as a beautiful mystery has been one of the most healing perspectives I’ve run across.

To close, one of my favorite parts of the book was when Brown discussed the fact that we can change our neurological pathways, something one of my old pastors used to talk about, too.  It is possible to physiologically change our patterns of thinking (google neuroplasticity).  I’m now living in a way where I am trying to incorporate rhythms into my life that help me feel grounded, connected, grateful, and covered in grace.  This is happening for me through reading, taking time to be creative (watercolor and calligraphy lately), cooking, looking for beauty, and  practicing stillness.  It looks different, but feels beautiful.

The Morning Paper (Online).


My favorite part of the week might be waking up on weekend mornings and reading with some tea. I don’t often blog about newspaper articles, but seeing as I am without someone here to discuss them with, I felt compelled to write. (This is similar to me watching Lost alone, and sending out links to articles about each episode. Sorry. Can’t help it.) These aren’t coherent, per se. It’s the beginning of a conversation. With myself. Ha.

The article “The New New City” by Nicolai Ourousoff is about cities like Dubai and Shenzhen that have literally just popped up recently compared with cities that were developed by a combination of historical and cultural events and phases. It is interesting because there seems to be an architectural freedom and creativity, but a lack of cultural inspiration. The cities want everything to be new, but does that harm the city to be without the (beautiful) mess of human cultures? I’m also confused about where on earth the funding for all of this comes from. A really interesting read, especially while living in New York, a city where development can mean something different to everyone. The most interesting quote to me, found at the end of the article: “The amount of building becomes obscene without a blueprint,” Koolhaas said. “Each time you ask yourself, Do you have the right to do this much work on this scale if you don’t have an opinion about what the world should be like? We really feel that. But is there time for a manifesto? I don’t know.”

The article “The Snare of Privilege” by Elizabeth Bumiller was pretty thought provoking, and I mean that it the widest sense: it spurred me to think about a lot of things, so this rant isn’t necessarily closely related. It’s main tenet is that the majority of high powered politicians come from privileged backgrounds and elite universities, and that they have to connect with the everyman–appear to be trustworthy, likeable, relateable–to be elected president. Bumiller mentions that candidates often play down the privileges that money had afforded them when talking with the those not of similar heritage. What struck me in this article is what wasn’t discussed at all. One of the top qualifications that I am looking for in a president is that he/she is brilliant when it comes to history. Obviously, it would be nice if this historical genius was also well-rounded, believed in social justice and protecting the environment and was not corrupted by politics. But seriously. Why aren’t the degrees obtained ever discussed–and only the university.

The other part of this discussion that is uncomfortable for me is the whole concept of playing down privilege. Because let’s be honest, privilege can be a nice thing, and even though I’m planted firmly in the middle class, I am still ridiculously more privileged than the majority of people on the planet. It’s interesting to me because I get so disgusted by wealthy people who spend thousands, millions of dollars on x, y and z when those dollars could be put to such better use. But am I the same as I make my purchases, just on a smaller scale? Do I want to give up the ability to buy or do things that I have grown accustomed to? No. But I want to consider this. I hate social ladders and yet I inhabit a rung. Ugh. The never ending dialogue of my mind.

In Remembrance of the Nineties.


Gen.u.ine. Adjective. Truly what something is said to be; authentic.
Au.then.tic. Adjective. Done in a way that faithfully resembles an original. (2) based on facts; accurate or reliable.

The past few weeks I have indulged in some greatnesses of my adolescent experience, including starting this post with the most basic strategy to start a paper, also reminiscent of sophomore Honors English circa 1996.

Others:

The Catcher in the Rye. Quite possibly the book that made me start thinking about what I was reading. Haven’t read it since. What that says about me, I’m not sure.

My So-Called Life. I really think Angela Chase’s voiceovers are the most accurate picture of being 15. And although this will be mostly based on Holden, as I was thinking about what I wanted to say, Angela Chase (via Claire Danes) is in the midst of an identity crisis. If you don’t remember, she has recently made new best friends, moved on from her old one and to represent it all dyed her hair. Her neighbor has a particular problem with this and in his infinite sophomoric wisdom (speaking of, weren’t you insulted when that showed up on SAT vocabulary lists, but see it’s brilliant value as an adjective now?) tells her that it’s all an act. Angela responds that everyone is an act. Interesante.

Holden Caulfield feels the same way. We get inside his head in a way not all that different than Angela—on a higher literary note, yes, but his narration takes you inside the head of someone wrestling with the world. Holden’s biggest complaint is that everywhere he goes, people are just a bunch of phonies:

“Lawyers are alright, I guess…I mean they’re alright if they go around saving innocent guys’ lives all the time, and like that, but you don’t do that kind of stuff if you’re a lawyer. All you do is make a lot of dough and play golf and play bridge and buy cars and drink Martinis and look like a hot shot. And besides. Even if you did go around savings guys’ lives and all, how would you know if you did it because you really wanted to save guys’ lives, or because you did it because what you really wanted to do was be a terrific lawyer, with everybody slapping you on the back and congratulating you in court when the goddamn trial was over, the reporters and everybody, the way it is in the dirty movies? How would you know you weren’t being a phony? The trouble is, you wouldn’t.”

The great irony is that, to me, Holden is a phony himself; wanting to do noble, true acts, but finding himself completely unable.

So I guess what I’m thinking about is what does it mean to be genuine? (Note the definitions now…the one for genuine is rather circular.) Authentic? Here’s what I love. The idea of resembling an original…who I was created to be by my Creator, rather than who the world wants or tells me to be. Even more so, being based on facts. And to me, the facts are that I am human. I mess up. A lot. I want to be transparent about that. I don’t want to try to cover that up and pretend to be something I’m not. I don’t want people to think that I’ve got my act together because I don’t. But the other fact of that matter is that I am loved. Jesus looks right at my messiness and loves me anyway. I am amazed at the beauty of grace. Because isn’t that our fear, anyway? That people won’t love us if they see our true selves? What a lie. The other fact is that I am blessed. There are so many hearts who mean so much to me, from Kentucky to Kenya, that I am literally overwhelmed…that my cup does indeed runneth over, which was the only feeling that rattled in me last weekend. (see last post…sigh)

So yeah. I just want to be free.