Recently, I was blessed to be able to spend an hour on the phone with my shero and mentor Brené Brown, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Daring Greatly. We had so much giddy fun on our teleclass about the intersection of vulnerability and health, how shame is lethal, and how daring greatly and practicing mind over medicine helps you heal. (If you missed the live call, you can get the free download here.)
I had an epiphany during our call that I want to share with you, so pull out your big highlighter. Brené says the most terrifying emotion we experience as humans is joy. We're so frightened of loss that we can't even allow ourselves to lean into those moments when we're standing over our children watching them sleep or when we're falling in love and it feels like our hearts will burst. The second most of us start to feel joy, instead of relishing the blessings, we tend to get swallowed by the fear that the other shoe is about to drop.
Brené said, “When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding." Instead of allowing ourselves to feel the vulnerability of how much joy we feel and how much hurt we would experience if we lost what we have, we dress rehearse tragedy so we can beat vulnerability to the punch. We look at our kids with so much love and then imagine them dying. We feel such tenderness for the person we're falling in love with that we fast forward straight to the day when we get our heart broken. If things are going well in our professional life, we imagine the day we get fired or lose all our money, power, and status. It's like, by trying to imagine the worst case scenario, we somehow think we're protecting ourselves from what we fear most.
But guess what? It doesn't work. If your child dies or the love of your life abandons you or you lose your job or you declare bankruptcy - or whatever tragedy you imagine might befall you happens - no dress rehearsal will protect you from loss and pain. And in the interim, you've missed your chance for effervescent joy, radical presence, true bliss - and the health benefits that accompany joy.
If we’re not mindful, it’s easy to plunge into the New Year with a sense of lack, disappointment, or frustration about what didn’t go perfectly. But when we take a moment to reflect back on what we are grateful for, what went well, and how much we’ve accomplished, it shifts your perception from a glass half-empty perspective to a glass half-full one, and that type of shift attracts more abundance, joy, love, and success.
So I invite you to try this two-part exercise. Today, we’ll focus on Part One, and in the next blog post, we’ll complete the exercise.
Start by reflecting back over 2012, starting last January. Pull out your calendar if your memory needs a jog. Make a list of your accomplishments - not just professional ones, but personal or spiritual growth areas as well.
I’ll go first.
When my beloved eight year old Bichon Frise pup Grendel died unexpectedly, my heart was broken. I cried almost all day, every day, for over a week, feeling as if the pain would never end. I woke up in the middle of the night with my pillow wet with tears. I prayed the whole thing was a nightmare. I wished I could turn back time, if only for a few minutes, so I could hold Grendel just a few more moments, treasure her just a little while longer. When you’re rolling in grief, you wonder if you’ll ever come out the other side. The pain is visceral. The void is palpable. It hurts so much you pray you’ll never have to feel it again. In fact, you feel like you’d do almost anything to avoid such abject misery.
But as I told Siena when she was mourning her friend Vivien, who had to return to Chicago after an extended visit, and as I warned her when she took in two baby rat-coons who died soon after, when we fall in love - whether it’s with pets, parents, lovers, or dear friends - we must give those we love permission to break our hearts. Otherwise, we can’t really fully experience the gifts of love and life.