Whether or not others experienced it this way, I’ve lived my fair share of moments that felt excruciatingly ignominious as – new at some skill in life – I stumbled, performing in a way that definitely didn’t enhance my self-image – which at that moment was pretty shaky.
Being reminded by my nursing school instructor – in front of my patient! – as I carefully attempted my first ‘real’ sterile dressing change, that being sterile didn’t necessarily mean being slow. Stalling the car, completely blocking a busy intersection while learning to drive a standard transmission – and needing several tries before I could get it going again. Hearing the question from my mentor at the back of the room as I struggled to gather my thoughts in the early days of presenting in front of a group “Maralyn, what is it you’re actually trying to say?” Or those times in class when, desperately wanting to prove my competence, I was the one always ready with the ‘right’ answer to any question posed by the instructor.
Moving from frustration and fear …
Image courtesy of iosphere / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Often our tendency is to equate our being competent and ‘in control’ with being safe. When this is how we see things, it’s not surprising that those moments of our not-yet-skillful attempts at doing something trigger our sense of being in danger! This can be such a limiting factor in our lives.
Are these situations painful? Of course they can be! Is it easy to interpret our embarrasing or even humililiating experiences as shame-full? You bet! When that ancient human terror of being unacceptable and therefore at risk of being ostracized, banished, or abandoned gets triggered our bodies react! It’s SO completely understandable that, in an often unconscious pre-emptive attempt to regain some modicum of ‘respectability’, we are often quick to judge ourselves, or even completely step back from the learning itself.
So, what to do?! Not surprisingly, my instinctive response is Notice, Accept and Nurture – that Attentional Living way of being with ‘what is’ that’s at the core of my work. But what might that look like here? How can we respond differently than we might have in the past?
Well, as soon as we notice what’s going on inside us (the clutching in our guts, our racing hearts, the flush coming to our faces) what if, rather than trying to cover it up, or beat ourselves up, we take a breath and allow our hearts to open to that part of us that’s experiencing whatever uncomfortable feelings that are present? As Matt Kahn invites us “Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to an upset 5 year old!”
That witnessing and soothing of ourselves is a crucial first step. We may have to come back to it later and deal more fully with the upset, but even taking a moment to breathe and let our loving attention wash over ourselves can make a huge difference. It’s the way we let ourselves know that no matter what, we’re not abandoning us. It’s our acceptance of ourselves, lived out right where we are.
What we do next will depend on the situation – how best to nurture ourselves will be unique to us and the situation we find ourselves in. There may well be practical nurturing steps that are called for – a pause (even if it’s just taking a few minutes alone in a bathroom to come back home to ourselves!), sharing our experience with a trusted friend (one who as Brene Brown says “has earned the right to hear our shame story”.)
But there are also a couple things I want to point to that might be helpful as we be with that part of us that’s experienced being on the learning curve as ignominious, mentoring it (and us) into what’s more deeply true. Because that’s what will really make a difference here – our freedom comes when we can be at ease with being a learner. It’s allowing ourselves to be new, not get it right, stretch into areas we’ve not yet ventured but would love to experience!
… to powerful, grace-filled presence
Elizabeth Gilbert – image from her Facebook Page 2014.09.07
The first is to remind us all of the natural flow of the learning curve – we move from unconscious incompetence (we don’t know what we don’t know), through conscious incompetence (those times when a world that’s been there all along opens in front of us, and we realize, often with sinking hearts, that we’ve never seen it before). At that point we begin the phase of conscious competence (we begin to practice this new skill – this is often where we experience the sense of ignominy and the tendency to give up – essentially choosing to go back to our ‘smaller’ old life.) But when we consciously engage the practice of Attentional Living – noticing, accepting and nurturing ourselves right where we are – we have the best chance of coming to that space of ease of unconscious competence (ease in doing the thing that before we’d not even been conscious existed). When we risk following those inklings of deep desire – the call of Life to be who we came here to be – we open ourselves to the joy of stepping into and living from the center of our creative freedom!
And that’s the second thing I wanted to share here. As we have a practice, a way of being with ourselves as we learn, we can hold ourselves gently AND powerfully, stepping into those bigger spaces without feeling so at risk. The more deeply related we are to ourselves, the freer we are to engage our attention outside ourselves in ways that are true to us. In saying ‘yes’ to the call of our lives we become more full expressions of who we came here to be.
Just today, Elizabeth Gilbert (she of Eat, Pray, Love fame) posted some reflections on her experience yesterday at Oprah’s The Life You Want Tour. She didn’t, as she thought she might have, “walk around all day thinking, “I can’t believe I’m here!” or “I hope I don’t ruin everything!” And every time Oprah came near me, I didn’t squeal (internally or externally) “Oh my god that’s OPRAH FREAKING WINFREY, OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD I’M STANDING NEXT TO OPRAH!!!!!.” The whole post is lovely, I hope you have a look at it, but this is the part I want to share here. She wrote “I fell asleep last night thinking that if I can hold onto that state of being (the drama-free notion that we are here to offer our services to each other, and that we are here to perform with grace whatever task destiny is calling forth from us next) then maybe life can be a lot less overwhelming.” The practice of discerning where our attention is being called in any given moment – from what’s happening inside of us, to what’s happening out there in the world – is a powerful one.
I’m deeply thankful for the company of each of you in this community! I love the learning and sharing we do together. What Liz Gilbert says is true, “We were all invited to be here, and we all need each other’s grace.”