The Challenge of Being Real:
Thoughts on expressing my spirit in my work and life...
Some recent experiences - and Spirit at Work breakfast discussions - have left me wondering about what real authenticity is. I hope you find them useful. - Cate
Was I abducted by aliens, without knowing it, as I walked down Bloor Street? Had I left my body and not even realized it? All I know is my words don’t seem to be getting through to my friend. Is it even me speaking to him? I think it’s me since I can hear my thoughts and lips chattering on. But I can’t feel a word I’m saying. I notice my friend’s blank look. He can’t feel me either.
I stop my racing talk and feel a momentary nakedness in the silence. He looks at me with kind concern, and gently asks me, “What are you feeling right now? In your body?” I hesitate. But I trust him and feel safe with him. I take a breath. I drop inside and bring up the buried truth. “I feel sad and tender”, I whisper quietly.
He holds me in an open-hearted gaze. As I feel his compassionate presence, my chest eases. I settle more fully into my body and feel my feet on the ground. I now speak from a different place, feeling my heart and not just my thoughts. Finally the difficult words about recent losses flow and find a listening home both in me and in him.
This recent, actual experience made me wonder once again what brings my soul out of hiding and what keeps it hidden for safekeeping inside a shell? It’s not just sadness and grief that I shield. I can be shy sharing my joys, triumphs and desires as well. I can also feel tender sharing a new insight that still feels tentative and barely formed, as if I’m afraid it could be trampled by rough boots. These fears can come up even when I’m with a safe friend or in a safe group! (I ‘know” rationally I’m safe, but some ancient part screams “shark tank!!”)
I was thinking about how much this relates to expressing my spirit in my work and in my life. If it means being authentic in the moment and sharing what’s deeply meaningful to me, OMG, look at how much vulnerability that brings up - even in “safe” situations! It just reminded me how difficult this journey can sometimes be, even as we keep putting one foot in front of the other and trying to be spiritually optimistic.
I know I’m not alone in this longing for, and avoidance of, the personal and real. I saw this challenge play out at one of our Spirit at Work breakfasts hosted by the Centre this summer. After a small window of vulnerable sharing opened up, it closed before I even had time to figure out what had happened. I noticed the shift, but couldn’t name it. I was just aware the discussion had veered towards more general observations of the type that we might distil and share as well-founded advice for clients, or global observations about “people” and ways to “help the world”. It was only the gentle nudging of our facilitator, Eric Hellman, that brought it home for me. When he invited us to bring our reflections into our own lives, we realized how readily we had slipped into finding it easier to talk about “people” - and not ourselves! One person refreshingly expressed the honesty of this challenge, “What?! (gulp!), talk about our own fears, our own growing edge, our own lives and longings, aack!”
Since expressing “spirit at work” or “spirit in life” is about expressing MY spirit in MY work, in MY life, it seems like a supremely practical inquiry to explore what helps me bring my authentic voice out, and what stops me. I don’t have the PowerPoint answer here! I am living the questions by being mindful in the day-to-day crucible of my own life, and having the good fortune of being in community with others who are brave enough and willing to ask the same kinds of questions. I find myself living this poignant paradox. I have longed to feel “at home” or to “come home”. And I have felt that delicious feeling of connection within myself and with others. Yet I’m the same person, who when things feel like they’re “too close to home” can also go running for the hills (or another planet!). I’m struck by how my deepest longing can also be my deepest vulnerability.
- Cate Laurier