“You are the only custodian of your own integrity, and the assumptions made by those that misunderstand who you are and what you stand for reveal a great deal about them and absolutely nothing about you.” ~ Maria Popova, Creator and Curator of Brain Pickings
I went to a fantastic workshop recently led by Jen Pastiloff. It was in a yoga studio. It involved some yoga, but it wasn’t a yoga workshop. It was a “being human” workshop. Mostly, it was about the willingness to be vulnerable in a room full of strangers and share openly.
I hadn’t heard of Jen when my friend invited me to this writing / yoga workshop, but I like yoga and I like writing so why not? Then I read the workshop description…
“This workshop is NOT your typical yoga workshop nor is it about the asana, although there is some yoga. You do NOT have to have any yoga experience. A writing workshop for struggling writers, to-be writers, and non-writers. A dance party and a sing along. A trust and love circle. A place to make shit happen. A workshop for humans.”
Shit, this sounds like it’s going to be good but also cheesy like the new-age-church-youth-group retreats of my early teen years, I thought. Confession: one of my armoring up habits is resisting doing things that I think seem uncool or might make me look stupid. I hate feeling like I look stupid.
Still, I was intrigued. So, off to the workshop I went having decided to kick my ego aside and try anything asked of me and see what might come of it. I got to the studio where yoga mats were laid out wall-to-wall, directly touching each other – the yoga version of an Italian’s concept of personal space.
Jen started and I’m not even sure what prompted it, but when tears started flowing almost from the get-go I knew I was sufficiently open and in for an emotional ride.
Even that one thing is indicative of how unlike my former self I am anymore. There was a time I only cried in the dark. Silently. I put a lot of energy into maintaining my poker face. But my heart – once like a marshmallow encased in a thin veneer of hardened shellac that held everything tender in and everything sharp and painful out – got broken open a few years ago, for real. Now, I feel everything. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G.
Jen’s words got in, too. They affirmed, soothed, inspired. I got clearer about the ways I hold myself back. Do you know that scene from The Walking Dead where Morgan finds himself inside a cage in a guy’s house, and after a couple days the guy shows him that the cell door has been unlocked the entire time and at any point Morgan could’ve just pushed it open and left? Her words reminded me of that.
I’m going to break my anonymity here and say that I have experience sitting in a room full of strangers and telling some of my deeper, darker thoughts and struggles. I’m in recovery. I’ve attended Al-Anon meetings for years. With all seriousness, I thank goodness for my alcoholic, emotionally unavailable Dad, because that relationship led me to relief in the recovery rooms.
Growing up with him ingrained early patterns of approval-seeking and people-pleasing. Dance, monkey. Dance! was my subconscious mantra if it could help me score the next hit of approval. If the alcoholic’s drug of choice is liquor, mine is external validation. Bonus points if it comes from an emotionally unavailable alcoholic, for whom I have a sixth sense.
They’re inevitably like bright, shiny objects in a room full of gray – super fun until they aren’t. So familiar and alluring are they in their aloof, edgy, liquidy courageous selves. I’ve been an external validation junkie for decades, and like the oasis that’s nothing more than a mirage, the approval I chased often stayed steps ahead of me, receding just before I could get close enough to drink from it.
For a while now I’ve been working on my shit though. Breakthroughs have occurred, blind spots have been discovered and acknowledged, legit healing has happened. But the work is never done, so I persist and employ any avenue that offers potential progress, hence the workshop.
Where I am now with it all is trying to unapologetically own who I am and live that out loud. I’m 47. It’s time. And this has me thinking about some of my favorite people. Inevitably, I’m drawn to the quirky ones – people completely owning their weird, every little bit, down to the last drop. They simply take a pass on contorting themselves to be anyone other than who they are. It reeks of boldness. It’s badass. Perhaps what’s most appealing about someone being her most authentic self is the tacit permission it gives me to do the same, like the relief of exhaling when I didn’t even realize I’d been holding my breath.
I think badassery, like happiness, isn’t a goal so much as a byproduct. The name of the game is surrender. Surrendering to unflinching self-honesty, open-heartedness, and vulnerability. Surrendering to risking connection, to relinquishing control and going with the flow, and to letting go of thinking I know what will happen or what others think. Surrendering to no longer caring so much what others think. Surrendering to believing there’s a gift in everything, no matter how fucked up the packaging looks. Surrendering to trusting myself fully. Surrendering to me as my top priority. Surrendering to owning and believing the quietly forceful voice in my head that tells me my particular brand of weird is amazing and luminous.
Mostly, though, I think badassery is about surrendering as a first resort rather than only after an internal street fight where some brute has me face down over a dirty puddle, knee jammed between my shoulder blades, arm wrenched behind my back, forcing me to say “mercy” before it will let me go. You see, that’s the old me, the supposedly tough me. The one who wouldn’t surrender until forced. And it’s just too damn tiring to be her anymore.
So, thanks Jen Pastiloff for the reminder of how beautiful being our individual human selves is.
I’m gonna do me, and you do you. Here’s to each of us owning our weird and the badassitude that it brings.