Sunday, November 18, 2012

Book Review - The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene' Brown


Every once in a while you encounter something so unique and special that it stands head and shoulders above the crowd.  That is most definitely the case with Brene' Brown's book The Gifts of Imperfection!  The subtitle of the book says it all:  Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.  I have spent my life smothered by what I perceived as the expectations of others.  So much so that I am, at 62, hard pressed to know who I really am.  And now, at long last, I have someone who gets that and is willing to teach me how to climb out of the trap.

                                                        **   WARNING  **
In the final chapter Brene' warns:  Choosing to live and love with our whole hearts is an act of defiance.  You're going to confuse, piss off and terrify lots of people - including yourself.

I intend to continue with my transformation to living with my whole heart.  If she is right, which I strongly suspect she is, I imagine I will be busy fulfilling her prophecy.  So be it.

That said, I also have expectations of acceptance and encouragement in my quest.  Last evening my wife's family gathered from far and wide on the occasion of the blessing of a new baby in the family.  We gathered at the church cultural hall for pot luck and games and lots and lots of visiting.  Part way through the activities the young girls announced a program they'd put together.  The stage curtains were drawn and we enjoyed dance and drama and song.  After the children had exhausted their repertoire, they invited the audience to participate.  I'd just read Brene's chapter on song, dance and laughter.  While reading it I was jealous of those who can openly express their joy in song and dance and other silliness.  It is a very vulnerable thing to do.  I decided that my time had come to reach inside and resurrect the inner child.  I climbed on stage (not so gracefully) stepped into the wings, and emerging, walked like a chicken across the stage.  The audience called for an encore and I complied with my imitation of an egg beater.  Another round of applause called for my famous fried egg imitation, which rendition I had not done in 30 years!  That was also received with hoots and laughter.

My point?  I had let my need to be cool, suppress all that wonderful joy and personal expression.  For years and years.  One of the things I loved about our visit to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland was the participatory nature of their entertainment.  Everybody sang, everybody danced.  I hope they never lose that.  I hope they never decline to the spectator society the rest of the continent as acquiesced to.

Brown calls the enemy gremlins.  I suspect she does this because most of the shame-based feed back we get, which tends to keep us in our place, is not a maliciously thought out assault, but rather, the effect of an entire culture gone off the beam.  She says:
The gremlins get lots of mileage out of "supposed to" - the battle cry of fitting in, perfectionism, people-pleasing and proving ourselves.....To overcome self-doubt and "supposed to," we have to start owning the messages.  What makes us afraid?  What's on our "supposed to" list?  Who says?  Why?
We get a lot of "supposed to's" in the church.  And some of them make me afraid.  Many of them are not expressed by current fellows in the church but are echos of the lessons and experiences of the past.  Still, friends in my Ward may well expect some "Why's?" and "Who said's" from me.

Now, lest you expect you'll find me more obnoxious as a result of my quest for wholeheartedness; I'll be trying to follow the rest of Brene's advice by seeking to be Courageous, Compassionate and Connected.
By Courageous she means being willing to fully embrace who I am and being brave enough to be that vulnerable.  Obviously, that means my "cool factor" will be in decline.  By Compassionate she means that I must let go of my resentment toward any whom I perceive as trying to shame me back into my old people pleasing, inauthentic ways.  It also means that I must realize that most everyone is just as afraid to be themselves as I am.  By Connected she means that I must seek to develop meaningful relationships along my journey by helping others become authentic as well.

There are Pharisees among us.  I know because I've been one.  I hope I've rooted that out of my system; though I rather doubt that it's entirely gone.  I too am a product of this culture.  The Pharisees like the control their manipulations create and the status that results from it.  They are bound to find me threatening and I'm just going to have to deal with that with all the charity I can muster.  I will most certainly blow it now and again.  This quest for wholehearted authenticity will be, no doubt, a life long journey.  Let it start today!

There are also, wonderful, authentic, exemplary fellow travelers.  One hero was Cheiko Okasaki, who wrote a wonderful book entitled Lighten Up!  I remember her saying in that book:
In principles, great clarity
In practices, great charity
I didn't like that very much when I was a Pharisee.  I'm going to re-read that book next because I strongly suspect that in light of what I've learned from Brene' Brown, Sister Okasaki's book is going to make a whole lot more sense.

Brene' Brown has taught me that:
Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness.  It's about cultivating the courage, compassion and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.  It's going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn't change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging. 
E. E. Cummings wrote:
To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself - means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight - and never stop fighting. 
It occurs to me that the late Stephen R. Covey's observation is apropos.  He observed that the chief characteristic of those who reach the Celestial Kingdom is being "valiant in the testimony of Jesus."  He then points out that it is quite possible that that statement refers to Christ's testimony about us as well as referring to our testimony about Him.  His testimony, based on everything He was, said or did, is that we are of infinite worth and divine potential.  We are worthy.  Worthy of love, acceptance, belonging - just as we are.  We may not yet be worthy to attend the temple or enter into Heaven, but we are enough, for now, just the way we are.  In so many ways, Jesus said so.  I pray the day soon comes when our message to one another parallels His.

*****

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