This week’s book is “Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone” By Brene Brown. It is a book about how to aloneness – something that I feel often. This idea that even though I might be with other people, I am by myself. That no matter what I do, I find that my brain makes me want to do something slightly different – and many times it is what I do. The truth is (and she says this often in the book) those are the times that I find that I am happiest – those times that I am doing what I feel is just right and what is needed. Usually it is not something SO crazy (she brings a time she wore jeans to speak a conference) – it is how I wanted to do theatre with students and seniors; or that I wanted to volunteer in a nursing home; or that I wanted to play a bit with my audience when I directed plays; or that I wanted to run a ball with people who can’t move on their own; or that I was willing to fight to study Torah at a high level.
She talks about how sometimes going “into the wilderness”, those places that can be scary, those places we know we will be on our own, is the place that we also with thrive. It is taking that step (which could feel like a giant leap) that will allow us to flourish, accomplish more, and create change. I know that I used to feel pretty ok doing so, but lately (ok, over the past 4 years), I am more wary. Over the weekend I kept on thinking what would it be like if I actually shared my story, my anger, my frustration at things happening in the world – especially in the world of Orthodox female rabbis- where it is the most personal? What if I wasn’t afraid of what the personal push back would be? What if I was willing to put myself on the line? Part of me feels like I would actually be less angry. I would feel like I have a voice that I can share, not a voice that I constantly feel like I need to keep hidden and quiet. I would be able to maybe be a more authentic me…
I also thought about, as a start, what if I started to share this blog with my friends and family? For those who don’t know, I don’t share this blog anywhere. The only one’s I know who are reading it and complete strangers. I guess there might be people reading it that I know, but they don’t know it is me writing. What if I started to tell you more about myself? That I would not be some anonymous woman writing things. I am thinking about starting with sharing this…maybe only to a few people and see what happens. But I do think that it is a start to something.
One issue I have, and I have been noticing it in a lot of these books, especially the one’s that talk about feeling powerful being “alone” in doing “your thing”- is that each author talks about their spouse, and the support they receive from that person. I am aware that I am fully capable of doing things on my own, but it would be really nice to have someone in my corner. Someone to come home to. Someone that supports me and encourages me, even when it feels like the world around me is against me. I just wish that one of these authors was writing about being “alone” and actually was alone (ok, maybe that might be my cue…but then speaking about that experience is being vulnerable…which I guess is the whole point, blah, blah, blah). But still, I do think that it is important to note.
This book actually fits in well to something I was thinking about earlier this week, with regards to my work. I was talking to my supervisor about long term vs. short term patients. For the most part, the floors I am assigned to, people are short term – every so often there are people there for a long time or people who are in and out a bunch. But mostly I will see people once, maybe twice. I was reflecting on the differences I felt with the family I was with for a whole month, really being fully in their lives. (Comes to think of it now, there was also more consistency as I was in the hospital five days a week). I enjoy working in places or situations that I feel part of it. I want to belong or feel part of something, I want to be needed. And when I am working with longer term patients, I have the place of belonging and connection, in some ways I become part of the family or be part of the community- something I find that I am greatly missing.
I don’t have a community. I am not really sure where I am meant to be or where I actually belong. And the truth is, it is quite lonely to be alone. In my professional life, I don’t care if people don’t want me – it is fine with me when a patient says, “no, I’m not interested in talking” or “I don’t need a chaplain”, it is not really about me. But in my personal life, rejection hurts, and I feel like all I have is rejection – which is just hard to be in that state. So then, when I have to say goodbye to someone or a situation that I feel part of it is hard. It is hard to say goodbye to feeling somewhat comfortable. To say goodbye to a situation where I wasn’t constantly introducing myself, but I was actually able to just be myself.
I know that the future is coming, and in reality I need to start thinking about it. But being forced to think about the future brings to the forefront that I have still yet to find a place that I belong and soon, once again I will need to start over and make a place for myself.
I know that I am capable, but I am just tired of doing so. I wish I felt compelled to be somewhere or do something or just to know what the path I’m supposed to pursue.
Where will I feel settled or whole or part of something?
Maybe it is why I connect so much with people that are alone or on the “outside”. I want people to talk to me, to notice me. So then I go make sure to notice them (which might be similar to an article I read about non place and the noticing the unnoticed, being there for someone who doe not have someone else to listen or care — which maybe is why I’ve always been drawn to geriatrics).
A think happened in class the other day, that was both joyful and terrifying. (Which she writes is something many people do, we are afraid to feel joy…) I wrote a theological reflection that I really like (I had a lot of fun writing it). And my supervisor asked me, why am I stopping myself from my ministry. It seemed that I knew what I thought this person should do, but I did not push them to do it. I backed away. I allowed myself to be cut off. There was something in that interaction that made me gasp, and when I was praying I was a bit in shock, almost how I felt when I found out that I got in. That maybe there is something real in what I am doing. Maybe I am doing my own thing, but that is why I am doing it so well.
Maybe this is the place that I will find I belong?
Well, here are some quotes:
…Dr. Angelou said:
You are only free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.
Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.
True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.
…Hunger is a warning that our blood sugar is low and we need to eat. Thirst warns us that we need to drink to avoid dehydration. Pain alerts us to potential tissue damage. And loneliness tells us that we need social connection – something as critical to our well-being as food and water. He explains, “Denying you feel lonely makes no more sense than denying you feel hunger.”
Yet we deny our loneliness…We feel shame around being lonely- as if feeling lonely means there’s something wrong with us. We feel shame when our loneliness is caused by grief, loss or heartbreak….We used to define loneliness as a “gnawing, chronic disease without redeeming features.”…
Cacioppo explains that loneliness is not just a “sad” condition – it is a dangerous one. The brains of social species have evolved to respond to the feeling of being pushed to the social perimeter -being on the outside- by going into self-preservation mode. when we feel isolated, disconnected, and lonely, we try to protect ourselves. In that mode, we want to connect, but our brain is attempting to override connection with self-protection. That means less empathy, more defensiveness, more numbing, and less sleeping.
The foundation of courage is vulnerability – the ability to navigate uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. It takes courage to open ourselves up to joy. In fact,…I believe joy is probably the most vulnerable emotion we experience. We’re afraid that if we allow ourselves to feel it, we’ll get blindsided by disaster or disappointment. That’s why in moments of real joy, many of us dress-rehearse tragedy…We try to beat vulnerability to the punch by imagining the worst or by feeling nothing in hopes that the “other show won’t drop.
Pain is also a vulnerable emotion. It takes real courage to allow ourselves to feel pain. When we’re suffering, many of us are better at causing pain than feeling it. We spread hurt rather than let it inside.
Dr. Halifax…I’ll never forget what she said to me. “Tonight we will exhale and teach. Now it’s time to inhale. There is the in-breath and the out-breath, and it’s easy to believe that we must exhale all the time, without ever inhaling. But the inhale is absolutely essential if you want to continue to exhale.
A powerful example of a strong back comes from my friend Jen Hatmaker…I asked her about what that wilderness looked and felt like to her. Here’s what she wrote:
I won’t sugarcoat this: Standing on the precipice of the wilderness is bone-chilling. Because belonging is so primal, so necessary, the threat of losing your tribe or going alone feels so terrifying as to keep most of us distanced from the wilderness our whole lives. Human approval is one of our most treasured idols, and the offering we must lay at its hungry feet is keeping others comfortable. I;m convinced that discomfort is the great deterrent of our generation. Protecting the status quo against our internal convictions is obviously a luxury of the privileged, because the underdogs and outliers and marginalized have no choice but to experience the daily wilderness. But choosing the wily outpost over the security of the city gates takes a true act of courage. The first step will take your breath away.
Speaking against power structures that keep some inside and others outside has a cost, and the currency most often drafted from my account is belonging. Consequently, the wilderness sometimes feels very lonely and punishing, which is a powerful disincentive. But I’ve discovered something beautiful; the loneliest steps are the ones between the city walls and the heart of the wilderness, where safety is in the rear view mirror, new territory remains to be seen, and the path out to the unknown seems empty. But put on foot in front of the other enough times, stay the course long enough to actually tunnel into the wilderness, and you’ll be shocked how many people already live out there — thriving, dancing, creating, celebrating, belonging. It is not a barren wasteland. It is not unprotected territory. It is not void of human flourishing. The wilderness is where all the creatives and prophets and system-bunkers and risk-takers have always lived, and it is stunningly vibrant. The walk out there is hard, but the authenticity out there is life.
I suspect the wilderness is a permanent home for me, which is both happy and hard. A dear friend sent me a text during those harsh first steps out… There is this wonderful and strange story in Genesis 32 about Jacob physically wrestling with God all night in the literal wilderness, and upon realizing that Jacob was positively not giving up and in fact hollered, “I will not go unless you bless me!,” he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of socket, a permanent reminder of the struggle of a determined, stubborn, dogged man with God; an absurd and ballsy move, as outrageous as it was impressive. My friend texted me: “You are like Jacob. You refused to let go of God until He blessed you in his space. And He will. You will indeed find new land. But you’ll always walk with a limp.” So I’ve chosen the wilderness, because it is where I can tell the truth and lead with the most courage and gather with my fellow outsiders, but this limp will remind me of the cost, what lies behind me, what will always feel a little sad and a little bruised. Was it worth it? Unquestionably. And I hope the limp shows my fellow wilderness dwellers that I’m acquainted with pain and didn’t make it out here unscathed either. Outliers, I suspect it won’t hinder our wilderness dance party in the slightest.