I normally like to listen to electronica/dance music while I run. I like the fast beats that compel me to move one foot in front of the other. On Sunday, I decided to try running to a podcast. I've been listening to Tara Brach for about two years now, and figured I'd listen to her while I ran. I was all fine and good until she (as always) said something that startled me a bit.
Okay, a little background if you don't want to listen to all of the dharma talk: Tara explores how we construct and buy into an identity that is other than our true self (both positively and negatively) -- the "space suit self." Our suffering comes about because we believe ourselves to be the space suit self, not our actual self when we let go of identities and labels.
She goes on to say that we create these spacesuits based on negative characteristics (i.e. that we're needy, that we're failures, that we aren't worthy of good things) and positive characteristics (i.e. that we're funny, we're smart, we're good meditators).
She then guides her listeners/students in an exercise where you imagine a friend/someone you spend time with and while you have that person in mind, ask yourself "what it is most about yourself that you don't want this other person to see?" (i.e. our negative characteristics, things we find shameful or disgraceful) The second question is "what do you want people to know or understand about you?" (i.e. our positive characteristics) The third question is "In this moment, can you let both qualities be there? What happens when they both exist at the same time. What happens when you don't own those identities so much?"
And this is where I almost came to a dead stop on the elliptical. So many people recognize me as being a strong, independent, brave person. What would happen if I let them know how sad and weak I feel sometimes? How could both of those identities exist at the same time? Truth is that they exist all the time whether I acknowledge them or not. They're facets of being human, yanno?
I think lots of this came from my reactions to the death of my mother's mother (I was in the room when it happened) and my mother. Somewhere along the line I think I learned, or was told, to be tough, to show no tears, to soldier on. With my own mother's death, my own emotions were often eclipsed by my father. I'd admit to feeling sad, and he'd use it as an invitation to tell me how sad he was instead of just letting me be sad.
For me, showing sadness became an chink in my armor. Back in April my father called me at work to tell me that his stepmother had died. And I roared with tears. And then apologized for interrupting other people's work. It was easier to feel mortified than to admit that what I needed most was someone to hold on to me until it stopped hurting.
I'm going to try and work on telling people I need them, or that I'm hurting.
It's okay not to be so brave all the time.