Thursday, January 25, 2018

I Choose Authenticity

(Published in The Enneagram of Death: Helpful Insights by the 9 Types of People on Grief, Fear, and Dyling, 2012)
Authenticity is a daily practice. Choosing authenticity means cultivating the COURAGE to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable; exercising the COMPASSION that comes from knowing we are all made of strength and struggle and connected to each other through a loving and resilient human spirit; nurturing the CONNECTION and sense of belonging that can only happen when we let go of what we are supposed to be and embrace who we are. Brené Brown, Ph.D.
Many people who've had cancer report significant changes in their lives and a gratitude that might seem strange to those who haven't been there. Having had breast cancer, I realize how difficult it is to put into words the gratitude I felt. Of course I'm grateful to be alive, grateful to all the helping professionals, friends, and acquaintances who were part of my healing, grateful to my body that the cancer didn't spread through the lymph nodes, grateful that I didn't have to have chemo. But my gratitude spread beyond those happy aspects -- I was grateful to the cancer because it brought me into greater presence than I'd ever experienced.

The important question became, "Now that I am present to my impermanence, how do I live every moment going forward?" The answer to this question was not a conscious decision. It bloomed in me as a consequence of opening myself, of having yielded and embraced breast cancer. The biggest lesson I learned was how I'd contributed to the burden of caretaking I'd felt -- in my life and in my work -- by keeping the focus completely on other people and not asking for what I needed. I was giving, but not allowing myself to receive. 

Caretaking fed my ego and also exhausted me. Having cancer required that I learn how to ask for help and be clear to those around me what kind of help I needed: to be listened to, encouraged to talk about myself. Instead, my gift of focusing on the positive had taken charge, and left no room for feeling tired, disoriented, lonely, or that dreaded state -- NEEDY.  Everyone was rejoicing in how brave and amazing I was, while some newly acknowledged part of me simply wanted to curl up and be held. 

Exactly as Dr. Brené Brown's research on authenticity suggests, I'm more connected now because I learned a new kind of courage -- to be imperfect (needy), to set boundaries (ask for what I want and don't want), to allow myself to be vulnerable (admitting these needs without shame), and along with this came true compassion (giving is no longer a one-way street). Thus, I'm grateful to Dr. Brown for having put into words the lesson I most needed to learn.

Once my energy and mental balance returned, instead of feeling I was "back to my old self," I found myself "going forward into a new self," one that has a squishy part I didn't have before. Vulnerability can be interpreted as feeling defenseless, exposed, insecure. My new squishy part has none of those negative connotations. It has made me softer, more yielding, tender, sensitive, open, and accessible.