Off and on
Always coming back
My heart whispering
Asking me to pay attention
These are just a few lines that flowed into my journal after joining a local hike & write group at the beginning of the year . I was eager to follow the inner urges that nudged me to explore my desire for more connection, expression, and movement.
I began by assigning a block of time for creative development and I was excited to visit the writing group. This newly instated Friday Fun Day had me jazzed to gather with other writers for the first time since the days of my high school literary magazine.
The social connection while hiking and talking, the writing prompt, the return silent meditation walk were all incredible! I even enjoyed journaling on my first visit…right up until the moment when the others began to share. In that instance, I immediately felt as small as a fire ant and just about as hot. I felt my natural deodorant wearing off and was flooded with embarrassment.
The voice of my inner critic kicked in, “Oh no. My writing sounds nothing like theirs. I just have some silly journal entry…my thoughts about the present (and the role that thinking can play in taking me out of the present). Who am I to show up to this hike and write group and call myself a writer when I haven’t nurtured this skill since adolescence?”
Laughing, Smiling, and Sitting with Shame
And so I did what any reasonably protective social creature does when she wants to prevent from drawing attention to herself while in new territory: I laughed and smiled and went along with the group norm until I was alone. They shared great stories…rich, deep stories of their past, stories from their childhood, stories that made me feel my own tenderness. Sadness welled up in me and I grew uncomfortable. I wasn’t uncomfortable with feeling sad or sitting with their stories of sadness. I was uncomfortable with others possibly seeing I was sad. I was ashamed of showing my sadness.
Feeling ashamed of expressing sadness was ingrained in me. This has been ingrained in us. We live in a culture that says “grin and bear it.” Historically, men have been called pansies for expressing emotion while women can be labeled dramatic. Regardless, I stayed to listen to their stories with recognition of my own residual sadness, shame, and compassion for the tender parts of me that needed to be held.
I did not share what I wrote that day. I shared how incredibly uncomfortable I was to be there after having spent so much time away from this creative outlet and how much I valued and appreciated their willingness to welcome me, share with me, and include me on the next meeting. I made my way to the car and I let myself shed the tears I had held back. Later, I shared my experience with my loving partner and a dear friend in order to lessen the shame and move toward expression and connection.
Vulnerability is a journey beyond our comfort zone worth every step.
Since that first experience, I’ve returned almost every Friday and I’ve shared A LOT. I’ve read aloud. I’ve revealed my own childhood stories and let myself feel the flush of adrenaline and cortisol rushing through my system when I was afraid to share the truth, but chose to do it anyway. I’ve been vulnerable and allowed these women to hold and support my fear and insecurity in this new area. I’ve dared to share my shitty first drafts that are far from anything worth sharing elsewhere.
So why am I describing this to you? I want you to know I get this whole feeling the feelings and being vulnerable thing isn’t easy.
It takes courage to get outside our comfort zone. Showing up without knowing the outcome and letting ourselves be a beginner can feel terrifying.
Sharing our creativity is a particularly vulnerable territory as it speaks the whispers of our heart I mentioned above. As a therapist, I am used to holding space for others. When it’s my turn to show up and share pieces of myself, it can be hard to be seen.
While writing with a group and sharing my unedited drafts is new to me, I have been a creative for a long time. As a practicing artist, I used to put a lot of energy into creating and selling my paintings. Whether I am in a position to share my work or just create for myself, I admit there have been times when I’ve been tempted to quit. “I could just stop writing, painting, expressing and let other creatives do the work…wouldn’t quitting be the easiest and kindest thing to do for myself?” my protective ego says. I have learned to thank that voice kindly and carry on with what my heart desires.
I may have begun to slip into a ‘Not Good Enough’ Trance after that first group. I stuck my toe in the deep waters of the shame spiral, but luckily, I didn’t slide in. I held compassion for the tender parts of me that can get scared.
Mindful Steps in the Journey toward Vulnerability
There’s an art to managing vulnerable situations, especially when they involve your creativity. These steps don’t necessarily come easily at first, but when it comes to creativity and vulnerability, practice makes progress.
- Practice mindful awareness in order to notice your feelings and sensations. Pay attention to how you know when you are happy, content, grateful or scared, angry, ashamed, guilty, etc. What happens in your body? (check out these previous blogs on both mindfulness and the art of feeling for more explanation)
- Feel these feelings/sensations fully in your body as they arise with curiosity rather than harsh judgment (i.e. ask yourself what is happening without trying to get rid of it)
- Identify the feeling. Is it fear? Is it sadness, shame, or guilt? Now consider a time when you have had similar feelings. There’s more work to do here, but this simple awareness about the origin of your feeling can be really helpful. Allow yourself to sit with these emotions, self-soothing as necessary.
- Notice how you feel as a result of letting yourself experience any old pain triggered by the current situation. If it feels safe and helpful, you may continue practicing this exercise using grounding skills intermittently as necessary between leaning into your bodily felt sensations.
Each time you practice this exercise rather than avoiding your physical and emotional discomforts when you notice uncomfortable feelings, you build your own distress tolerance and ability to regulate emotional stress. This is a much needed skill for all – especially for parents and helpers who dedicate themselves to supporting others’ growth and vulnerability.
Your wounds may go deeper than what mindful observation of feelings and sensations can heal without additional support. Whether it takes time to sit with your own reactions or whether you need a professional who knows how to hold space and help you learn to contain, soothe, and integrate old wounds, staying open to your pain and discomfort is a portal to growth and healing.
And yes, the journey out of the comfort zone can be a painful one.
The truth is, pain is information. As I wrote in my journal, it was my pain that would show up “off and on, always coming back, my heart whispering; asking me to pay attention.”
Like most people I can avoid pain, seek pleasure, and distract myself from leaning into the discomfort that is actually an opportunity to heal. This time, I listened and allowed myself to get curious about what was going on within. Without fail, the shame lightened and the sadness lessened. I continue to feel lighter and more full of love each time I “wash, rinse, and repeat”.
My courage to share continues to strengthen and I continue to be more of my authentic self – more loving, less fearful, and open to giving and receiving without the need to force or control.
Are you ready to move beyond your old programming of fear, shame, or sadness? Are you ready to step into your own creativity and expression to fully be who you are meant to be? Drop my an email or leave me a comment and let me know how you relate to this story of being seen.
********Please keep in mind these steps are not a replacement for therapy and should not be used in place of professional care. Grounding techniques such as those linked above can all be helpful if feelings of overwhelm begin to surface.