Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Will the real cat please wake up?

Powder pondering his true self.

Who is the real cat inside of us? How do we really know which personae we put out into the world or which mask we wear is the authentic one? The game face that we put on may bring about some wins from time to time but what are we really losing? If we are honest about who we are and let it all hang out, will we be punished by ostracization from society? No one really wants to be banished; we all want connection. I often philosophize about these things.

These thoughts bring to mind a part in the children’s book, “The Velveteen Rabbit,” where the Skin Horse is sharing his knowledge of how he became “real.” In a nutshell, what the Skin Horse says is: becoming “real” takes a really long time, it can hurt, and you lose a ton of hair. Bumble says, “Sounds like the aging process.” 

At the turn of the century, I worked doing US Census taking and my assigned territory included an active adult senior community. Knocking on doors, meeting the residents, and asking them the appropriate census questions led to interesting conversations with these mature folks. After a few days all I wanted to do was sit and listen to their stories – stories of times gone by and of lives remembered in eras I only knew about from Hollywood. They were stories told from a bold perspective of looking back with nothing to lose  - to just share with a stranger. At the time I was so enthralled with the stories coming from these older folks I wanted to record them.  I went to a local documentary film maker and pitched my idea. She said, “Yeah, well no one wants to listen to old people – I am not interested - it won’t go anywhere.” After melting in a heap on the floor with my idea, I wrapped it up and stored in away in my idea file.
Dr. Brene Brown - and if you haven’t heard of her work, I suggest you explore it - is a research sociologist. During her doctoral research she found something a bit unexpected from her original predictions and theories. She found that the people who explore and deeply search for a well-lived life all seem to incorporate these three elements:
Authenticity - the courage to be who one really is with emotional honesty,

Connection -  the feeling of love and belonging which begins with compassion and acceptance of all the imperfect parts of oneself and one's life, 

Resilient spirit - the ability to tell one's story and  truth while embracing vulnerability and hope.

Dr. Brown named her discovery “WholeHeartedLiving.” People who exhibit a certain amount of courage and allow themselves to be vulnerable live more authentic lives. The root of the word “courage” is cor (or cuer) or heart -- if one lives a life working towards these elements, they are living with their whole heart. This courage to be vulnerable and imperfect takes compassion and that compassion starts with one’s self. To tell your real story with wholeheartedness means you have to accept yourself with all your warts and hope one day someone else will also. Authentic connections with others happen when we are truly honest about sharing ourselves. One must rise above shame and quiet that awful inner voice which says that we are "not good enough."  Being vulnerable is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign we believe we are "worthy of love and belonging" and that we are good enough just the way we are.  This is really truly amazing!


Williams, Margery. The Velveteen Rabbit: Or How Toys Become Real. New York: Doubleday Books, 1958. Print. 

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