I was in Bali teaching a writing retreat the day of the United States Presidential election in 2016. For the first time in my life, I felt ashamed to be an American. When I first arrived in Bali, the taxi drivers would ask me where I was from and I’d say, “California.” They’d respond with things like, “Oh . . . naked naked sexy Hollywood.” I’d say, “No, not that California.” After the election, they’d ask where I’m from, I’d say “California,” and they’d say, “Ah . . . Donald Trump.”
You came like a bolt of lightning in the form of a man. You gazed into my eyes and showed me myself. You quieted my mind and dropped me into Awareness. You held my hand and coursed through me like a river of pulsing vibration. You came into me and shook me with pleasure. You told me all you know and showed me who I am. You glimpsed the future and revealed the past. You broke through my illusions and unveiled the truth. You created miracles and so did I. Together, we were a miracle. Together, we were God seeing God, Goddess staring into the eyes of Goddess, witnessing Creation Itself, Stillness Incarnate. We merged together, one Unibeing, one Mind, one Heart, one Body. We became heaven on earth, the Godself celebrating the Godself, Shiva dancing with Shakti, wholeness embodied, skipping hand in hand on the beach like magical children with enjoyment bodies of light.
I’ve experienced a lot of loss this year. Most of the loss has come as my own choice, which in some ways makes it even harder. I can’t even fall back on feelings of victimhood because I’ve brought all this loss upon myself, not because I’m a masochist, but because I’m being called to align with the integrity of my Inner Pilot Light in radical ways. It’s hard and scary and wildly uncomfortable. And it hurts. My heart feels heavy as big changes have uprooted me. I’ve had to really lean into my spiritual practice to stay grounded, avoid the downward spiral into fear, find peace with uncertainty, and allow loss to grow my soul, rather than shrink it.
Eckhart Tolle says that if you’re enlightened, there are three responses to what happens in life—acceptance, enjoyment, and enthusiasm. In other words, even when you’re facing the worst life throws at you, peaceful acceptance can be your baseline. Clearly, I’m not enlightened, because today, a yard full of roots thrust me into despair. The house where I live just changed owners, and the new owner, very well intentioned I'm sure, just sent over gardeners who ripped up every plant in my entire yard, including my beloved rosemary and artichoke plants. I've experienced a great deal of loss this year, and I keep saying that all of my roots are getting pulled up so I'm free to flow to whatever is most aligned for me. But as I came home from dropping my daughter off at camp and looked at the piles of literal roots and the barren, vulnerable nakedness of my front yard, I burst into tears. It's all so . . . empty and ugly and dirty and lonely. I’m sure the new landscaping will be beautiful, but right now, I’m feeling a little tender. Not quite up to peaceful acceptance, much less enjoyment or enthusiasm.
I recently attended an event with a coach who challenged us to stop dreaming so much and start DOING something about our dreams. He likened our big dreams to an acorn that had the potential to become an oak tree, and in scenario after scenario, he gave us examples about how “law of attraction” based inaction could thwart the acorn’s potential to become the oak tree. Sure, we could visualize the acorn as an oak tree. We could affirm the oak tree’s potential. We could even adopt a gluten-free diet and drink more green juice, in hopes that our efforts will help the oak tree grow. But unless we plant the acorn in fertile soil, nurture it with water, sunlight, and patience, that acorn is never going to realize its potential.
To demonstrate his point, he challenged us to an unusual form of “meditation.” Instead of sitting still and trying to calm our thoughts, we were invited to lift our arms over our head and bring the mind into present time while scissoring our arms together until our arms and shoulders got so tired and sore that we were ready to scream. Then, when we were all in pain and yearning to quit, he pumped the music up louder and dared us to keep going. Giving us permission to modify our movement if needed, he pushed us to keep up the pace if at all possible, to grunt and growl and cheer each other on. By the end of the exercise, I’m sure many people felt a sense of accomplishment and patted themselves on the backs as an acknowledgment of their determination, commitment, and self-sacrifice in the face of pain. As I looked around the room, most people were grinning with the kind of relieved, endorphin-laden “We did it!” looks you see when people finish running marathons.
But that’s not how I felt. I may have been the only person in the room of pumped up people who felt…PISSED- not with the coach, but with myself.
No Pain, No Gain
Maybe it’s because I endured the pain of twenty years of self-sacrifice during medical school, residency, and my medical practice that I find myself resistant to anything that forces me to hurt myself, especially if it’s fueled by the kind of peer pressure you feel when a group is pushing each other to keep going, even when it hurts. After years of living by the “No pain, no gain” philosophy, these days, I’m much more inclined to feel attracted to Martha Beck’s mantra- “Play until it’s time to rest, then rest until it’s time to play.”
As research for my upcoming book The Fear Cure, I’m rereading Brené Brown’s ground-breaking book Daring Greatly. In it, she discusses the difference between how men and women experience shame. There's a lot of talk in our culture about how women have been oppressed by the patriarchy- and I'm not dismissing the validity of this conversation. But we spend less time talking about how women help perpetuate the shadow side of the patriarchy. The section in Brené's book about how women experience shame left me nodding my head. “Yup. Felt that. Done that. Seen that.” But the section about how women shame men left me gutted and feeling at risk of what Brené calls a “shame spiral.” As in, “Oh shit. I’ve left men feeling that way.” It inspired me to share what I read with you, in case you too are guilty of triggering shame in the men you love.
Apparently, according to the research, men live under the pressure of one unrelenting message: Do not, under any circumstances, be perceived as weak.
The Shame Message
When Brené interviewed men of all ages about what shame messages they experience, one answer prevailed. “Don’t be a pussy.” She talks about how men are raised to hide behind a curtain of strength, like the great and powerful Wizard of Oz who turned out to be nothing more than a blustery old man. As women, we tend to keep them behind the curtain because we don’t want to witness their weaknesses.