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You are braver than you think.
We're all braver than we think. Several weeks ago, I talked about everyday kinds of bravery on episode 17. Since then, I've been talking about mending broken things in our lives, which can require an awful lot of bravery. So, I thought I'd follow up with an episode or two about bravery and how we can do the hard things.
First, let's talk about some bravery basics. Bravery is defined as courageous behavior or character. Vocabulary.com says it's the admirable quality of being able to confront frightening things.
It's not the absence of fear. It's not something reserved for the best among us. It's not something unattainable. It isn't something fixed, something you're born with that can't be changed.
Bravery is more like a muscle. My son bench-marked some fitness things a few weeks ago in boy scouts. He is not in the athletic crowd. He's in the I-prefer-to-sit-on-the-same-chair-and-play-video-games-for-days-on-end crowd. So, he said to me sheepishly, "Mom, I only did 13 sit ups in a minute. I think that's really bad." My answer to him was that it really didn't matter where he started...just that he did start.
Sit ups, push ups and the other things required by Eagle Scout merit badges...like 50 mile bike rides or 20 mile hikes...are not elite-skill-dependent. In other words, If you work at it, you improve. It's a given cause and effect. If you spend the time, you get stronger. It's not a matter of being good enough or not. It's only a matter of whether or not you're willing to do the work. Bravery is the same way. If you practice being brave, you will get braver. If you do the things you're afraid of, you'll be less afraid of them.
Bravery looks different for everyone. The things that you're afraid of are not necessarily the same things that require bravery for me. For example, how do you feel about public speaking? Public speaking is generally listed as the number one fear in the United States, rated scarier than death by most of those people. So, if you're afraid of public speaking, you're not alone. Most of the population shares your feelings. But, it doesn't bother me much. It doesn't require much bravery for me to get up in front of people and speak. But, there's a good chance that something you're not afraid of at all, I will be.
Bravery can also look very different to the same person on different days. I suffer from depression at times. For me, it's usually hormonal and it's generally a short term thing, from a few days to a week. I've learned that I just need to ride it out. I know intellectually that it will go away. But, still. in the midst of it, I feel like it will never end. Getting out of bed requires bravery. Speaking to anyone requires bravery. Facing my work day requires bravery. Not giving up requires bravery. Things that take minimal effort on a normal day require large doses of courage on those days. Even if your circumstances aren't like mine, we all go through times when it's hard to function at our best. These may be days, seasons or even years. These may be illnesses, sleeplessness or stress. Sometimes things that you usually or used to do easily, require bravery.
So, to recap, bravery is like a muscle, you can get braver. it looks different for me than it does for you and different for you than for your spouse, friend or relatives. And it may even look different to you on different days.
What do we do about it? How can we get better at being brave? Here are a handful of things that will help.
A sidekick. A pal. A partner-in-crime. We need our friends! They encourage us when we're unsure. They cheer us when we're in the midst of the struggle and they provide a jolt of you-can-do-it Rosie power when we need it to be brave. With a wing-man, we feel stronger and braver than we do alone. Find yourself a stellar wing-man.
Start small. You don't start with a 20 mile hike if you want to succeed. You start with a walk in the park. Something that stretches you only a little until your muscles get the hang of it. You build strength incrementally, in small steps. Start with things that make you only a little uncomfortable. Small steps. Short time frames. Train yourself to tolerate uncertainty and nerve-wracking things in baby steps. Then, as your brave muscle gets stronger, try larger steps and bigger challenges.
Practice. I used to be terrified to speak in public. I would want to stay home from school every time I had to give a speech in High School. But, now, I enjoy it. What made the difference? For two years in college, three days a week, I had to present my ideas, projects and sell my solutions in front of a group of students and faculty. I got very comfortable on stage making presentations and accepting critique. When you do the things that frighten you on a regular basis, they become far less scary.
Choose to do it anyway. Bravery isn't the absence of fear. Bravery is simply doing it anyway. Fear has a valuable place in our lives, it's there to keep us safe. Which is great...unless it's allowed to make all your decisions. But, that's why you have a brain, to be able to overrule fear when necessary. Elizabeth Gilbert has an analogy in her book, "Big Magic" that talks about life as a car ride. Fear is allowed to come along, even invited along for the ride. And he gets a voice. But, when you need to be brave, thank fear for his input and tell him to get in the back seat and be quiet, because you're the one driving the car. His place is to speak when needed, but not be the one making decisions.
It's ok to be afraid. If you aren't afraid, you aren't growing. I believe the amount of growth and success in our lives is directly proportional to the amount of uncertainty we're able to tolerate. The people you think of as brave are not unafraid. They just make the choice to do it anyway. And then they choose to do it again. And again.
The art this week is about taking steps. The colors shift from light to dark and dark to light in steps. Sometimes those transitions are evenly spaced and smooth. Sometimes they're a bit bigger jumps. But they change step by step. If you take those small steps regularly, at some point you'll look back and see that you've gone from orange to black, something that's not possible in one jump. In incremental steps, you can be there before you know it.
Here are some micro steps you can take to flex your brave muscle. There are thousands of these you could do. If these aren't things that make you a bit uncomfortable, choose something that will. The idea is to choose something that will make you nervous, self-conscious, slightly afraid...not something that's terrifying.
What if you're braver than you think? What could you do? What could you accomplish? Who would you be?
I can't argue with that phrase, "Don't sweat the small stuff." We shouldn't focus on the things that don't really matter. But, sometimes the small things ARE important. More important than they seem. My intent was to talk about something a little lighter this week. I guess that may have been a bit selfish. I have a lot going on in my head this week that it's hard to really keep digging at brokenness at the same time. Lighter would have been easier. But. I couldn't quite get away from it yet. So, Let's go at it and see what we can learn.
So far in this series, I've said that broken things are not beyond usefulness (episode 18) and that a mended life can be beautiful, authentic and worthwhile (episode 19). Today, let's talk about the practice of mending.
Being broken is a state of fracture. When emotions, relationships, bodies, circumstances or minds even are in a state that the pieces have been torn, there's wreckage. It's painful. I know. I do want to recognize that some states of being broken are permanent. They just are. Not everything is fixable the way we want it to be fixed. There are physical issues, for example, that cannot be healed, barring a miracle. We have to realize that.
But, that being said, much that breaks in our lives can be mended. Probably much more than you allow yourself to believe. Mending may take time, effort and resources, but, much in our lives can be mended. These are things I'm talking about in the last few weeks. The things we can impact.
We're not taught to mend our broken pieces. We don't talk about the process or the benefits. Our culture hides broken things away. It's not modeled for us and frankly, it can be an awful lot of hard work. Really hard work. It's much, much easier to ignore the broken pieces of ourselves.
I'm thinking a lot this week about learning to mend those small chips and breaks. The little ones that happen but leave us functional. The kind we might notice in passing, might not thing about too much, we just adapt to automatically or that we put off fixing because something else is more interesting, easier or urgent.
I've been involved in several meetings about my son this week. One of the things that came up is that I'm concerned that he breezes through his homework. On the scale of problems, it doesn't seem huge, but someday. he's going to run up against something he can't figure out intuitively in a few minutes. At that point, he's not going to be able to deal with it because he has no study habits and no experience of working at figuring things out. If that happens in school, he'll crash and burn in a classroom. If it happens in life, he'll crash and burn in a job situation or a relationship. I'm not willing to take the chance that it happens in life. I'd prefer that he learn how to study, how to learn hard things and how to work with persistence now, so that when that day comes, he has the skills and experience necessary to learn something that's hard for him.
We do this with our kids all the time. We teach them skills at home in a safe environment so that when they grow up and get out where it matters, they're well equipped to handle life. Let's apply that idea to ourselves for a moment. If you mend the small chips in your life, when catastrophic breaks happen, you're much more likely to have the tools and experience necessary to cope with them. But, how do we mend the small chips?
First, stop ignoring them. It's very easy to hide the small imperfections, those little cracks, small chips. Society says to hide them, so we have social and cultural pressure to stash them away where they're not seen so that we look perfect to the world.
We do it with our health, we ignore small warning signs like numb toes when getting off a road bike that I ignored for a year or more. When it started to be a numb leg and happen off the bike too, it took me 2 years to heal and still affects what shoes I can wear 15 years later. Had I dealt with that problem when it first appeared, it probably wouldn't have been nearly so severe. I ignored it because it didn't seem like a big deal, I was busy and I could compensate. We do it in relationships and in work performance.
Let's stop. Let's stop ignoring the small chips and cracks and create a habit of dealing with them as they arise.
Not only do we ignore them, though. We compensate for them. My son has issues with transitions. Getting him from one task to another can be really hard--even if he likes the thing I'm asking him to do. I realized this week that rather than force him to deal with that issue, I've learned ways to compensate and get around the problem. We all do this. Metaphorically, we walk around so long with a pebble in our shoe that it becomes the norm. We compensate by standing or moving a certain way to minimize discomfort. We get so used to doing that that we forget the pebble doesn't need to be there, we can choose to stop for a moment and remove it.
What would your life be like if you removed all the pebbles?
Let's stop that too. Let's stop compensating and making excuses for things that need to be fixed. Let's just fix them.
Start small. Learn strategies and gain tools to handle the small stuff. You'll gain confidence because you've done it before. Dealing with things instead of ignoring them becomes habitual and part of your approach to life.
Think about this concept in terms of a relationship. It can be very easy to ignore seemingly small irritations. These grow into resentments over time and lead to much bigger problems. But, imagine if you take the hard step of dealing with the small irritations as they come up. You work through them. It's still emotionally risky, but you get through it. I'm telling you, the risk is much smaller in a small chip than a large fracture. Learn on the small chips.
The next time, it's a little easier. You know you did it before. You develop a habit of dealing with those things as they arise. You gain experience, confidence and trust over time. When a big break happens, a large fracture in the relationship (and all relationships have hard times), you have the habits, tools and experience to tackle it.
On the other hand, if you've not dealt with the small things when they arise, when the big things happen not only do you have no experience, no tools, no history. you have the added problem of all those unresolved issues. Those small things, they don't magically resolve on their own. They just stack up in the back of the closet and come crashing down when the doors to another problem are opened.
Learning to deal with the small chips, whether they're health issues, relationship issues, character issues or in other areas of life will pay off big dividends in the long run. I know it's much easier not to. I know it might seem like you don't have time. I know it seems like a lot of work. I know you can get by without doing it. And I know that they don't seem that important.
But, the payoff is a big deal. You'll be surprisingly free-er in the short term. But, in the long term, your increased capacity to cope with the big breakages in life will be so very valuable when life crashes. It could be the difference between a hard time in your marriage and divorce.
It's never too late. Start now and start small. I'm not teaching my son how to make a four course meal. I'm teaching him how to make scrambled eggs. Someday, maybe he'll have the skills to make me a lovely, complicated dinner. But, unless he starts with the basics, that's impossible. We all know this. Let's just apply it to the small broken pieces of ourselves.
The art this week is a quilt. It didn't exactly start out that way, but that's where we arrived. A patchwork, hand-stitched piece of work that represents that mending you can do in small pieces. I've been following several folks on Instagram who are working on an everyday stitching project and it was enough to inspire me to start one of my own. It reminds me how much work can be done in small bits of time consistently spent. Pick up your mending and work on the small things.
The mended, stitched cloth is the important part of life, but the needle is there representing the daily work. I was going to make it large, like the bird from last week, but I realized that needles are small. They get lost easily. They're easy to drop and dangerous when we do. So, it's smaller on this piece. It blends in. It's not the easy thing to see...or do. But, it's the way a quilt is made. One piece of patchwork or piecing at a time. One stitch at a time.
Let's start stitching. Let's start dealing with the small stuff.
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Thursday is Valentine's Day and whether you think it's a sweet holiday to show affection and lavish gifts on a loved one or an evil manipulation by card manufacturers...it can be hard to navigate with a broken heart. In fact, we all have broken hearts. Even when we're in the midst of the infatuation of a new relationship, there are places in our hearts that are broken.
Relationships can wound us deeply. I experienced two abusive relationships in my late teens and while I thought that they hadn't affected me in lasting ways (they weren't permanent relationships and it's now 30-odd years later), I've realized that there have been lasting emotional repercussions from those relationships that show up now, not only in my relationships, but in other areas as well. Close relationships that end badly - think more than just divorce and breakups - think betrayal, friendships, business relationships, family - these leave lasting wreckage that bleed out into our lives in more ways than we think.
Broken hearts don't just come from dramatic events though. Even careless words can leave permanent scars. Every time my mom takes a beautiful photo, she hears the thoughtless and rude words someone said about one of her photos years ago. Every time I get in a situation where dancing is happening, I hear the rude comment of a drunk guy on a dance floor in a bar in my 20s and I shut down. I know, in the light of day it sounds ridiculous. Why would you think that an offhand drunk comment from a stranger could wound in that way? I would find it hard to believe that you don't have similar broken places in your own heart. Well, maybe not drunk guys dancing, but wounds from both small and large things.
I'm not going to talk about how to heal that brokenness today. Let's talk about a step before the healing. You have to choose to live with your brokenness. We usually choose to shut it away in the closet. To bury it as deep in the back as possible under last year's coats, extra blankets and the clothes needing buttons sewn on. But, what if we didn't do that?
Boro is a tradition of mending the clothing that was worn by peasants, merchants or artisans in Japan from the 17th – early 19th century. it's from a traditional value of 'mottainai' translated as "too good to waste". These people couldn't afford the silk kimonos and obi of the aristocracy, which is what we think of when we think of feudal Japanese clothing. Instead they recycled scraps, recombined pieces and stitched together fragments of cloth that was too precious to throw away until the story of a family could be found in the mended and patchworked cloth that was used throughout their homes and lives. Babies were born onto clothing worn and used by generations before them. Families were wrapped in, slept in and wore the history of their people. Women mended frequently, elaborately and beautifully with sashiko stitching. Each cloth is absolutely unique.
Here are a few ways we can apply the concepts of Boro to our broken hearts.
Wear and breakage had to happen before mending took place. Mending was what created the uniquely beautiful piece of cloth. Mending was what transformed the scraps into something useful and beautiful. Mending was what made the cloth stronger than they were as individual fragments.
No matter how ragged you feel your broken places are, they can be mended and redeemed. The mending is what will turn your hurt, your wreckage, your pain and your pieces into something useful, strong and even beautiful. In Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway said, "The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places." Your broken places have the potential to become great strength.
Families used and wore these fabrics on a daily basis. They were wrapped in and surrounded by the patchwork of their lives. They were a visual reminder that broken things are not beyond usefulness. Your life is much the same. Be reminded that you are never beyond usefulness at any age, in any circumstance.
When you think about the broken areas in your life. In your heart. Consider that they're worth mending. It's worth living in the strong, beautiful, unique story a mended soul is. Living a mended life is an authentic presentation of who you are, a confirmation of the beauty in this journey that we all travel through. One that inherently involves painful things. Consider that allowing those places to be mended and a visible part of your life tapestry makes us all richer. Consider that your experience, your pain and your process may be encouragement, learning and comfort to someone else.
I would rather live an authentic, mended, useful life than a perfect, plastic pretend one.
Living with your brokenness means allowing it to be brought to the surface. Allowing it to be mended. Allowing it to be seen. Allowing it to become part of your story. Not the whole story, but a part.
The art this week is an interpretation of a boro cloth. There is both real and painted stitching that pulls the paper collage pieces together. There's hints of the gold kintsugi repair method I talked about last week as well.
I have an annual trip to the beach each New Years that functions as thinking time. A re-set at the beginning of my year. Several years ago on this trip, bird imagery kept coming up over and over. Too often to be coincidental. I was at the point in my life where some new freedoms were on the horizon. More like the promise of future freedoms, but I was in the midst of emotional muck at the time. The symbol gave me hope that there would eventually be freedom, no matter what the current situation felt like. Birds represent hope of freedom and expansion of perspective to me and I included it here because when you choose to live with your brokenness and allow it to be mended. To choose an authentic portrayal of your life, to present your full story as beautiful. Worthy. Precious...you allow the promise and hope of freedom to be borne in your life.
What if you lived with your broken heart?
Why are we so afraid of broken things?
I've been thinking about this question from Ann Voskamp's new book for the last few weeks, since I first read it. The official dictionary definition of "broken" is, "having been fractured or damaged and no longer in one piece or in working order."
In our culture we throw away broken things. They're no longer useful. They're replaced as quickly as possible by something new. If we can't replace the broken thing for financial reasons, we feel we're "making do" by repairing it, because the better solution was to have something new that's never been broken.
We should re-think that attitude.
There are two historical approaches to mending in the Japanese culture that fascinate me. One is a method of mending ceramics and one of cloth. Two materials near and dear to my heart.
Kintsugi is a traditional method of repairing ceramics performed with lacquer that's dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. The result is a repair that is not only visible and beautiful, but adds value.
It's a golden scar.
A healed wound.
It's a philosophy of celebrating the breakage and repair as part of the history of an object. Not something to be hidden, repaired as "good as new" or disguised. The event and the repair make the item more interesting and more beautiful than the original piece.
Do you understand what a profound shift in perspective that is?
I spoke with someone the other day about the power of reframing our life goal to be learning rather than success and how that redefines failure as a pathway, not an end point. The failure actually becomes a success, because all failure can lead to learning. If learning is the goal, then it's been obtained by the failure. This isn't just playing around with words, it can make a big difference in how you respond to life events.
This philosophy surrounding breakage is just as fundamental a shift.
What if you looked at breakage as being part of a narrative? A point in history. A moment in a timeline that requires change, but results in a more beautiful thing?
Do you understand I'm no longer talking just about ceramics?
We all have events that cause us to experience breakage in life. Experiences where we are knocked about. Chipped. We lose a handle. Or shatter into big chunks. Or a million small pieces. We view ourselves as damaged goods. We view others that way too. We see the broken places in both others and ourselves and we apply labels and judgments.
Why are we so afraid of broken things?
Because it reminds us in a very fundamental way that we are all broken. We're imperfect. We are both chipped around the edges and cracked to the core. We can't escape wear and tear as we experience life. It's an intrinsic part of the process.
But, what if we view those broken places not as something to be ignored, disguised and hidden? Not as an indictment of uselessness. But, instead, as something to be claimed as part of our narrative? Part of our story? Necessary and perhaps even beautiful as a means of creating who you are today? We treat the broken places as things to hide, to be locked away where others won't see and we can forget they're there, at least for a few moments when we're in public. Kintsugi says they're milestones in a life. That they're to be honored as such.
Transformation is a core value of mine. Breakage is an unavoidable part of transformation. When a seed becomes a plant, it is completely transformed. It must be completely broken to become something new. When a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, it is completely undone. The butterfly can't exist unless the caterpillar gives itself up wholeheartedly to the process. If I am going to grow, to change to become all I am intended to be...there will be breakage.
Perfect and unblemished is not the only kind of beauty. In fact, it's not the most important kind of beauty.
Do not be afraid of being broken. No one is beyond repair.
Broken is a pathway to growth and transformation.
What if you weren't afraid of broken things?
How would you experience life differently?
How would you experience people differently? Those you know and those you don't?
How would you experience yourself differently?
The art this week is a visual fusion of Kintsugi and the sashiko stitching of boro (I didn't talk about that in this post, maybe next time). Sometimes in pottery repair, another piece is added to substitute a missing segment. Sometimes, we need the same. The paper has been stitched together and has the gold threading of Kintsugi repair. I loved this piece of blue paper. I made it about two years ago and I've never torn into it. But, now...I love it more. Much more. It's more beautiful for the breaking and healing. Not the same as it was, certainly. But, more beautiful.
If this episode or art has spoken to you and you'd like a copy of this print, you can find it here.