by Heather Plett | Oct 28, 2015 | growth, journey
Every week, I have the privilege of talking to coaching clients who are learning to tell the truth. They sit in front of me, on Skype or sometimes in person, and they speak the most tender words about what they really believe, what they really want to spend their time doing, or what they are longing to walk away from. Often, I have the honour of being the first person to hear these tender new truths.
I applaud every one of these truth-tellers. They are courageous in their desire to be authentic and in their willingness to be witnessed by at least one person.
It doesn’t matter to me how long it’s taken them to get to this place, or how long it will take them to speak it to an audience larger than one – I only care that they are here now and that they are saying it out loud, that they are daring to whisper what their hearts have been nudging them to speak. Always, they have walked through fear and sometimes through fire before coming to this place.
We hold those tender truths in front of us while we talk. We admire them, like tiny green shoots emerging after the Spring thaw. We caress them and encourage them and wish them heaps of blessings as they begin to make their way in the world.
Sometimes my clients are launching new businesses, sometimes they’re learning to share their stories with the world, sometimes they’re finding the courage to teach what has long been growing in their hearts, and sometimes they’re stepping onto new spiritual journeys unlike what they’ve embraced in the past. There are differences in what they share with me, what they want me to help them with, and what they’re transitioning into, but there are also many similarities.
The similarities are these: they are trying to find the courage to live more authentically, they are seeking a witness who will hold space for them and help them see more clearly, they are admitting that something about their old way of walking in the world no longer fits what is emerging in them, and they are facing resistance (whether external, internal, or both) that tells them they should stay safe.
But these are not people who are comfortable with staying safe, or they wouldn’t have hired me. The very act of reaching out for someone to witness them and help them find clarity was an act of courage. These are people who know they can no longer live with the status quo.
For most of these people, though, it takes a long, long time to get to the place where they are ready to hire a coach and do the hard work of articulating and growing whatever beautiful, tender green shoot they’re holding. Some clients are in their sixties, seventies, or even eighties, and though they sometimes worry that it’s too late to embrace a new way of living, they know they can’t be satisfied with the old comforts anymore.
And that, dear reader, brings me to what I want to say to you…
It doesn’t matter how long it takes. It only matters that you don’t ignore whatever is whispering in your heart.
Give it as much space as you can right now and forgive yourself for what you just can’t do yet. This is not a race.
Sometimes it takes a long time because you’re afraid a change in you will hurt the people near and dear to you. Sometimes it’s because you are busy raising children and you are too exhausted to do anything else. Sometimes the whispering is frighteningly counter-cultural and you know the risk of trusting it is just too overwhelming right now. Sometimes you first need to extricate yourself from a bad relationship before you can dedicate time to your own growth. Or sometimes you find yourself in the kind of financial or emotional distress that just doesn’t leave any energy for truth-telling.
It’s not hard to find coaches or teachers who would give you “easy” answers for all of those things that get in the way, but none of that is truly easy and nobody else can know the challenge of your reality. Only you know what is holding you back and only you know when you are ready for the next step. Only you know the depth of your own fear or trauma or old baggage.
Good things take time to grow. Some bamboo plants grow roots for four years before anything begins to emerge above ground. You don’t need to rush it and you don’t need to take on anyone else’s story of what you should be capable of right now.
Just take the baby steps you can take right now.
In the early days of my own emergence, when I was employed in a government job and raising small children and thought it was taking far too long to find the path I knew was searching for, I wrote many tender thoughts and ideas in my journal. For years, that was the only place those ideas found a home. I dared not speak what I didn’t fully understand yet and what didn’t fit with what was expected of me. It took several years before I started to find like-minded people to whom I could tentatively speak of that which I longed for. At first, there were only a few trusted people, and gradually, as I felt more and more safe, the circles grew. With each growth of the circles, I had to work through a new level of fear and practice stepping into a new level of courage.
These things don’t happen overnight. There is a lot of learning to do along the way and a lot of tiny acts of courage that take more energy than we expect. This is even more true if the growth includes healing from past trauma and/or grief, as it does for many of us.
Give yourself time. Take the step you are ready to take, and then when the time is right, you’ll take the one after that.
by Heather Plett | Apr 8, 2015 | Community, Compassion, connection, journey
“It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
“Sometimes helping is an act of violence.” That was one of many thought-provoking things Peter Block said in a talk I heard him give a few years ago.
Really?! Helping as an act of violence? How could that be possible?
The part of me that places a high value in my ability to help others didn’t want to believe it. Surely I hadn’t been conducting acts of violence in my efforts to help people. I’m a good person – how could I have inadvertently been guilty of violence?
But the more I’ve thought about it in the years since I heard it, the more I’ve realized that there is truth to it, and I have been guilty of it.
Sometimes helping is the wrong thing to do. Sometimes, despite our best intentions, helping is destructive rather than constructive.
I witnessed the truth of this when I used to travel in my non-profit work. In some of the poorest communities in the world, good-hearted foreigners have tried to help and have instead done damage. In Kenya, for example, I tried to find some colourful African fabric to bring home and discovered that the market for locally made fabric has been nearly wiped out by well-meaning people who have glutted the market with used clothing from North America and Europe. Thinking they were helping by sending their hand-me-downs, they have instead killed local businesses, put people out of work, and taken away the dignity of people who want to dress in their local attire rather than adopting Western wear.
The same can be said for churches and governments that thought they were serving First Nations children by giving them access to their version of a “good education”. Out of their good intentions, residential schools emerged. Children were ripped out of their homes and harshly disciplined while educators tried to “kill the Indian in the child”. Who can argue that their version of “helping” was the wrong thing to do?
Peter Block is right – sometimes helping is an act of violence. Sometimes it does more harm than good.
“But…” you might be thinking, “I’m not destroying anyone’s culture or violating their dignity. I’m just trying to help a friend who’s in trouble. What can be wrong with that? We all need help now and then.”
Yes, it’s true – we all need help sometimes, and often it’s absolutely the right thing to do. When my Dad was killed in a farm accident, for example, my whole family was grateful beyond words for all of the help we received. It didn’t take long for the neighbours to rally round us, bring us food, look after Dad’s animals, and care for our children. I am so grateful that those people didn’t stop to ask “how can we help” but instead found a gap and stepped in to fill it.
That’s what community does and it’s a beautiful thing to witness. I wish that we could all have access to that kind of support in our darkest times.
But… that kind of unconditional help in times of need doesn’t alter the truth that helping isn’t always the right thing to do.
Imagine you’re in a conversation with a friend and she tells you that her marriage is in trouble. Because you care for this friend and her partner, your immediate response is to try to help, so you interrupt her with what you think is a great solution. “All you need is some time alone with your partner. You should plan a surprise getaway this weekend. I’ll look after the kids and you can go away – just the two of you. It will all be fine by the time you get home on Sunday night. Trust me. I did it last year and we’re more in love than ever.”
How might your friend feel in that instance? She may not know how to articulate it to you, but she will probably feel diminished and even dismissed. Instead of taking the time to really witness her pain, you have brushed it aside as insignificant and easily fixed. She’ll probably assume that you’re better than she is at knowing how to make a marriage work, and so she will question herself and her choices. While you walk away feeling good about yourself because you’re able to help, there’s a very good chance she walks away feeling shame because she’s failing at her marriage and now feels judged by you.
In that instance, what your friend really needs is not your idea of a solution, but your willingness to listen without judgement. It’s possible that she’d also appreciate a childless weekend away, but that should only be offered AFTER there has been unconditional listening, and the offer should be extended as a gift of love rather than as your idea of a solution.
As good-hearted as it may have been, your idea of a solution may very well invalidate her struggle and diminish her sense of self-worth.
What can you do the next time you have the impulse to help and don’t know for sure if it’s the right thing to do? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Did I listen deeply FIRST and let my friend know that I am holding space for her without judgement?
- Does my offer to help come out of my own arrogance and assumption that I know better than the person I’m helping?
- Will my help in any way diminish the other person’s dignity, power, or self-worth?
- Is this the kind of help the other person wants or is it the kind of help I think that person needs?
- Do we have a reciprocal relationship and would I be willing to receive the same kind of help from this person?
- Am I offering help in humility or judgement/pity/condescension?
- Am I making this about me or do I have the best interests of the other person at heart?
- Is my advice or offer of help a defense against my own vulnerability? (From the work of Brene Brown)
- Am I willing to “look at suffering without turning away” (a quote from my friend Doug Koop, a hospital spiritual health specialist), or is my need to help a way of fixing so that I don’t need to feel uncomfortable?
- Am I expecting something in return, or is this an unconditional gift?
If you can answer these questions and know that your help is coming out of a place of humility and unconditional love, then there’s a very good chance it will be well received and will not be an act of violence. If, on the other hand, it creates a power imbalance between you and the person receiving the help, then it may not be the right thing to do.
This is far from an exact science, and each situation will have to be evaluated independently, based on your relationship with that person and your own motives for helping. Sometimes, when there is a crisis, for example, and the person is overwhelmed or incapacitated, you’ll need to make choices that will feel like violation but are still the right thing to do.
We won’t get it right every time. Sometimes we’ll offend people and sometimes our fear of offending will mean that we’ll withhold the kind of help that is really needed and wanted. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t show up and keep trying.
When we are genuine in our humility and authentic in our love, we’ll get it right more often than not.
by Heather Plett | Apr 15, 2014 | Uncategorized
This post is not a completely thought-out post that feels clean in my brain like some of my posts do. It’s more like a conversation, a contemplation, a meandering through some questions that are on my heart.
I’m on a quest to understand more deeply what it means to live authentically. Almost all of my work – my coaching, workshops, writing, and teaching – is centered in that quest. I want to live authentically and I want to help other people do the same. I delight in those beautiful moments when someone sitting in front of me – in a circle I’m hosting, in a coaching conversation, etc. – admits something that emerges from deep in the vulnerable recesses of their heart, and in that moment takes a step into authentic living.
But… even though I’ve done so much of my work in this realm, I still find myself wondering what it really means to live authentically, why it’s so hard for many of us to do so, and what conditions best support authentic living.
With those questions (and more) on my mind, here are some of my random thoughts on authenticity…
1. Authenticity is a journey, not a destination.
I don’t think you ever arrive at a city called “authentic” and then set up camp there. All of your life, you’ll be on a quest to discover who you are and how you can live in that truth more fully. You’ll try new things, test out new ways of being in relationship, realize that some of those things work for you and some don’t, and then you’ll try again. At the same time, there will always be forces working against your quest for authenticity. Those forces – your own fear of failure and rejection, the voices of your ancestors, the oppression of your lineage, the judgement intrinsic to your religion, etc. – will try to convince you that it’s much safer living behind a mask.
Carl Jung used the term “individuation” to define “the process by which individual beings are formed and differentiated [from other human beings]; in particular, it is the development of the psychological individual as a being distinct from the general, collective psychology.” Essentially, individuation is our quest for authenticity. As we mature into adulthood, we individuate, separating ourselves from the worldviews of our parents, the teachings of our childhood, the indoctrination of our religion, etc. There is a risk inherent in individuation, and some of us never work up the courage to take that risk. (Living with three teenagers has been an immense opportunity for me to learn about the individuation journey. Each time they disagree with me, I try to remind myself that they are learning who they are apart from me.)
2. The journey to authenticity is not a linear journey.
Sometimes you’ll grow in authenticity and courage, and then something will happen to make you feel unsafe, and you’ll shrink back behind a mask (or behind the safety of the rules of engagement you learned in your youth). It might be a change in a relationship, a big move that finds you in a place where you don’t feel at home, or some kind of trauma that halts your growth. Or sometimes you’ll be part of an authentic community and you’ll feel at home there, but the relationships will change, betrayal will happen, you’ll grow in ways others in your community haven’t, or people who model authentic leadership will move away and the community will cease to show up in an authentic way for each other. This is not failure – it’s simply a detour along the journey and an opportunity to learn new things about yourself and/or your community.
3. Authentic living is supported by spiritual practice.
Authenticity takes a lot of courage, resilience, and self-reflection, and these things are best supported by a spiritual practice of some kind. Spiritual practice helps you peel away the layers of ego to reveal the authentic self underneath. It also helps you stay grounded, letting the waves of self-doubt and fear of rejection pass over you without destroying you. In mindfulness practice, for example, you are taught to simply label your thoughts and feelings as such and let them pass without attachment. They are not wrong, they just are. Let them come and then release them. When I find myself getting lost in an ego-place, with fear of rejection threatening my quest for authenticity, I go for a long walk in the woods and that helps me return to ground zero where the ego has less of a hold on my life.
4. Living authentically is easier when you are supported by people who make you feel safe.
When you fear judgement or rejection, it’s very difficult to stand in your truth and live authentically. Your ego will do its best to convince you that your safety is more important than your authenticity. When you’re alone in a crowd of people participating in an activity that runs contrary to your values, for example, it’s hard to find the courage to do otherwise. If you can find at least one person in that crowd who will stand by you when you buck the trend, your chance of success goes up exponentially. Growing up in a religious context that did not support women in leadership, for example, I found it difficult to speak out against what I believed to be oppressive. It was easier to simply go along with it and stay silent. Once I discovered there were other people asking the same questions as I was, however, I was able to find my courage and walk away from (or challenge) those places that did not honour me as a leader. When we create places of safety for each other, we all have the opportunity to live more authentically.
5. Shame is the greatest barrier to authentic living.
When you let shame control you, you hide. You convince yourself that you are unworthy and that nobody will love you. You don’t dare take the risk to reveal your heart to other people because you’re certain that your secrets will scare them away. As Brene Brown teaches, in order to let go of shame, you need to become vulnerable, to dare to share your shame stories with people who make you feel safe.
6. Authenticity doesn’t mean you have to “bear your soul” to everyone.
Sometimes people mistakenly believe that being more authentic means they have to share their deepest, darkest secrets on Facebook for all the world to see, but that’s not the case. You have to be judicious with how and with whom you share your most tender stories. If a relationship doesn’t feel like a safe place to be vulnerable, inquire into that feeling and ask yourself if it’s simply fear holding you back or a true sense that the person cannot be trusted. Sometimes the fear is unrealistic (and the person is ready to wholeheartedly accept you no matter what) and sometimes it’s well-founded (and the person really isn’t ready to see you in a different light). When my mom was dying, for example, I struggled with whether or not I needed to be more authentic with her and share some of the ways my belief-system and worldview had changed. In the end, I decided that the risk of wounding her was too great and I preferred to simply be present for her in the most authentic way that I could be without causing unnecessary pain or a fracture in our relationship.
7. Sometimes what appears as inauthentic is actually about respect.
Just as you don’t need to bear your soul to everyone, it’s not always necessary to offend people for the sake of your own authenticity. When you travel globally, for example, you may find yourself in situations where you’ll need to conform to the culture you’re visiting rather than risk offending people. Just because you cover your head in a Muslim part of the world, for example, does not mean that you’re being inauthentic about your belief that women have the right to choose how they adorn their bodies. Showing respect for people’s culture helps break down barriers that might keep you from meaningful relationships.
8. There’s a fine line between authenticity and over-sharing for the sake of getting attention.
I’m not sure what to say about this one. I don’t want to judge people’s motivation for sharing their stories. I simply want to suggest that sometimes people believe that being an open book is about authenticity when it’s really a cry for attention. (It’s a fine line and it’s hard to know when you’ve crossed it. If you find yourself on Maury Povich talking about your sordid affair, you may have crossed it.) If you’re seeking attention, you need to work on your self-acceptance first and foremost. If your quest for authenticity overpowers the conversation and means that someone else is silenced, then you need to step back and re-examine what it is you’re looking for and why you’re sharing. If you’ve found a loving, supportive community, they may help you recognize what it is you’re seeking and what is the most healthy way of having your needs met.
9. We are all responsible for co-creating Circles of Grace where people can live authentically.
As a citizen of the world, you are responsible for serving those around you and offering them safe places for vulnerability and growth. We do this together, all of us seeking healing, seeking truth, seeking grace, and seeking community. We do this by withholding judgement and allowing others to be fully seen in their weakness and their strength. We do this by holding space for each other’s courage. We do this by showing up in our own authenticity and modeling it for each other.
10. Authentic living is risky but it’s worth it.
You may lose relationships when you choose to live more authentically. You may have to stand up to people who don’t honour your truth or who threaten your safety. You may even need to quit jobs or leave communities in your quest for authenticity. These risks are real and your fear of them is not unrealistic. That’s why many of us choose to stay safe. BUT you won’t feel fully alive unless you take the risk to step more fully into yourself. Your freedom and your happiness depend on your courage to be authentic.
What are your thoughts on authenticity? I’d love to hear them. Be part of the conversation by leaving a comment, or sharing this post (along with your own thoughts) on social media.
If you are seeking a more authentic life, consider joining Pathfinder Circle, starting May 8, 2014.
by Heather Plett | Aug 21, 2013 | Community, Spirituality, Uncategorized
I am spiritual. That’s no surprise to you if you’ve been reading this blog for any period of time.
But it might be a surprise to you that I haven’t always been comfortable being “out” about my spirituality.
For starters, I was raised in a fairly conservative evangelical Mennonite family where faith was fairly black and white and you didn’t walk labyrinths, make prayer flags, take Buddhist meditation classes, pray to the Divine Feminine, embrace other faith perspectives, or talk about the way God speaks through a deer or a tree.
When I started exploring those things, I was afraid of rejection, and so I kept most of my exploration secret. There was a little too much fear of going to hell if you “worshipped false gods” in those circles, and that fear lingered deep in my own psyche long after I thought I’d dealt with it. I still don’t talk about it very much in some circles, and to be honest, I’m still excavating some of my rejection and fear stories around that. (I still consider myself a Christ-follower, by the way, but my understanding of what that means has shifted dramatically.)
For another thing, I spent a lot of years in the corporate world where any talk of spirituality was strictly taboo. Though I sometimes thought that my staff or the management teams I was on might be better off if we brought mindfulness and more spiritual openness into what we did, I wasn’t confident enough in my own exploration yet to introduce it. Again, it was mostly fear of rejection that kept me silent.
When I quit my job and started my own business, I started out as a split personality, still trying to keep my spirituality mostly in the closet. I had two websites – one was the polished, corporate-looking one I showed potential clients and students in my university classes, and the other was the blog where I explored the things that mattered most to me, including spirituality. Every time someone from the corporate/university world found the blog, I cringed a little, worried that they would no longer take me seriously as a consultant or teacher. There is, after all, an assumption in our culture that being spiritual means that you’re less intellectual and probably a little weaker than others.
About a year and a half ago, I started to realize that maintaining these two public faces was creating angst for me and making me feel disingenuous. After a couple of failed consulting gigs, I realized that I really didn’t want to work with clients who wouldn’t be comfortable with my spirituality. After trying to be something in the classroom I really wasn’t, I realized that my best teaching happened when I was authentically me.
And so I came out. I combined my blog with my website, integrated my spirituality into my consulting/facilitation/teaching work, and got used to stepping into a classroom where students and administration might think me a little “flakey or too woo-woo”.
I can’t tell you that it magically brought me all of the “right” kinds of clients (it’s still a gradual process), but I can tell you that things started to shift. In the very first class I taught after deciding to be more open and sharing my blog with students, I had four students approach me individually, interested in coming to me for coaching because they were looking for something deeper than they could receive in a classroom. And I started to get invitations to do amazing work that fits me perfectly, like the week long artists’ retreat I facilitated last week in Saskatchewan.
Yes, my work has shifted, and I’m sure a few corporate clients have been turned away by language that feels uncomfortable for them, but that’s okay.
More and more, my work is a true expression of who I am, not just the skills I can offer. More and more, I am bringing the full basket of my gifts and wisdom into what I offer.
And the right people are showing up. Almost all of my coaching clients, for example, share stories of how they too are trying to live more authentically and more boldly in a world that expects them to be more “corporate, straight, conventional, unemotional, etc.” They show up with their own fear of rejection stories and I can truly say “I see you.” And in the last six months, I’ve had the opportunity to host half a dozen retreat/workshops that are all about connecting on a deeper, more spiritual way. Again, I am more prepared to host them because I have been on my own journey to this deeper, more authentic place.
Another interesting thing has happened. Some of the people whose rejection I feared are coming forward and saying “Your work resonates with me. I’m curious about labyrinths/mandalas/etc. Can you tell me more?” My own “coming out” is encouraging others to be more honest about their own questions and exploration.
What about you? Do you sometimes feel like a fraud because you’re hiding the titles of the books you read from your colleagues at work? Do you take meditation classes in secret because you don’t want your family to know? Do you furtively read blog posts that make your heart sing, but you’re quite sure nobody in your world would understand? Do you feel like one of my clients, who said she is “kind of a weirdo, but in a good way”? Have you despaired of finding a circle of people like you who have questions that most people think are too “out there”?
You will need to find your own path through this, but you don’t have to do it alone. There are more of us spiritual seekers out here in this big world than you might imagine. Trust me – when I started being more open about my quest, I started connecting with a lot of amazing people who, like me, want to dive into meaningful conversations that go far beyond small talk, straight to the heart.
Here are a few thoughts on how you can begin to move into a more integrated, authentic life:
- Start small. Find at least one person who feels like a safe space to talk about your quest. This might be someone you already know and trust, someone at a yoga class, or a coach like me. Before you start the conversation, though, be sure that the person you’re talking to can respond in a non-judgemental way. If you face judgement in your very first conversation, your authentic you will run further into hiding.
- Find a place where you can be true to yourself. This might be your journal, a secret place in the woods, your favourite coffee shop or bookstore, or your art studio. In that space, commit to being totally honest with yourself about who you are and what you seek in the world. Read the books you want to read, write the truth that longs to be said, and dare to stand in awe of an eagle that seems to have a message just for you.
- Find a practice that connects you with your spiritual Self. There are many options – yoga, dance, meditation, walking, running, painting, mandala-making, etc. Do something that brings you peace and leaves you feeling connected to that authentic part of you that’s been buried under other people’s expectations.
- Practice truthfulness one tiny step at a time. If you are feeling inauthentic at work, find a least one co-worker whom you trust who won’t laugh at you when you admit to going on a meditation retreat. If that feels safe, take another step. You may be surprised to find other secret questers longing for the same conversation.
- Consider your priorities. If your steps to being more authentic at work feel unsafe or leave you feeling judged, consider how important it is to stay there. Is it time to walk away? Are you living a lie if you stay there?
- Recognize that some people will never “get it” and that’s okay. Some people might suggest that you should walk away from anyone who rejects your version of a spiritual quest, but life is far more complex than that. If a family member, for example, doesn’t understand it, then find other topics to talk about in their presence. You don’t need to lie to them, but you also don’t need to reveal your deepest heart to everyone in your life.
- Find community where you feel safe. With the internet making long distance relationships more and more accessible, it has become easier and easier to find circles where you can talk about your questions and spiritual quest. I wouldn’t say that virtual circles replace in-person relationships, but it’s at least a place to start. For example, many of the people who sign up for Lead with Your Wild Heart say that one of the best things about the program is the fact that they no longer feel alone in their quest for authenticity.
- Read a book or two that helps you understand your own quest. A few recommendations: Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, The Seeker’s Guide: Making your Life a Spiritual Adventure, and What We Talk About When We Talk About God.
In all that you do, remember this – this journey is a long one. You don’t get to authentic overnight. It took me many years to realize some of the places I was living a divided life, and I know that there are still more realizations to come.
Take the journey one step at a time, and find companions along the way.
by Heather Plett | Aug 2, 2012 | Beauty
My daughters and I are home from vacation. We spent a few days camping in the woods (complete with our family’s traditional goofy conversations around the campfire that usually deteriorate into fart jokes), and then a few days doing more hedonistic things, like visiting the Mall of America and Valley Fair. (We try to satisfy everyone’s interests on our trips, and my teenage daughters are more inclined to shop than sleep in a tent in the woods.)
After a couple of days of consumerism and entertainment, I went for a walk near our hotel. First I found myself in a progressive independent bookstore in which a local social activism group was discussing which protests they should participate in. Then I wandered through a gritty, ethnic, low income neighbourhood, where my pale skin put me in the minority.
As I wandered, I found myself smiling. Though the shopping and amusement park had exhausted me, I found myself coming alive in this fascinating place where women in hijabs and men in long cloaks stood chatting in the streets. It reminded me once again how comfortable and energized I feel when I am in places where I don’t speak the local language or know the customs – places where it’s okay to be an edge-walker instead of a conformist.
This neighbourhood was as different from the mall or amusement park as it possibly could be. This neighbourhood showed its brokenness, its flaws, and its heartbreak. Most of all, though, it showed its heart.
Like my trip to Kensington Market a few months ago, I was reminded again how much better I fit in gritty, colourful, artful neighbourhoods than in places where shiny, happy people pretend that consumerism and entertainment will fill the empty spaces in their lives.
Our society likes shiny happy places. We like to gloss over the mess, fix the holes, and pretend the brokenness doesn’t exist. We pretend our relationships are fine, we put on happy faces in our social media interactions, we flock to “gurus” who will help us fix our lives in ten easy steps, we pretend grief can follow simple stages, and we seal ourselves off from relationships that get too messy.
But all of that shininess doesn’t make us come alive. It only makes us look like we’re alive. It’s like Weekend With Bernie – we’re already dead, but still propped up by lies that make us look like we’re having a great time at the party.
Real life is in the grit and the messiness. Real life is about embracing the shadow. It’s about diving into the depths of our grief instead of glossing over it. It’s about wrestling our way through difficult relationships to try to find the value under the layers of brokenness.
In a workshop I once did, I challenged the participants to consider what it meant to be authentic in their relationships. One woman struggled with the exercise I’d given them, and finally approached me about it. “I’m always authentic in my relationships,” she said. “If someone gets on my nerves, I just stop being in relationship with them.”
“That’s not exactly what I mean,” I said. “Stepping away from difficult situations is not what authenticity is about. Authenticity is about diving deeper into the brokenness and trying to find the oyster buried in the ugly clamshell. It’s about being real and living in such a way that others can be more real in our presence.”
Living authentically is not about fixing every flaw, abandoning every broken relationship, or following every self-improvement guru we can find to better ourselves. It’s also not about airing all of our dirty laundry in public.
Authenticity is about embracing the grit, celebrating the mess, living with discomfort now and then, stretching beyond our comfort zones, asking real questions, honouring our brokenness, and holding our place in community despite the difficulty it may bring.