Last night I redid the Courageworks workshop; The Wisdom of Story with Brené Brown and Glennon Doyle Melton. The foundation of the course is surrounding storytelling; owning our stories and taking the brave steps to write our own daring endings while learning to rise strong and influence others through our shared experiences. Brené; research professor, storyteller and bestselling author along with writer and activist Glennon share with us the importance of storytelling to help build a better world. Brené reveals that wisdom and worth lie inside our stories and she and Glennon communicate how to fully own our stories before sharing them so we can harness their absolute power.
We are sensitive beings and storytelling connects us to each other emotionally!
When I think of Glennon’s story Love Warrior, a book you might initially think is all about surviving infidelity, it very well could have been a different book if Glennon didn’t take the time to sit with her pain, to find the wisdom in her story and draw her truth from it. I recall a quote by Alex Den Heijer, “When a flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows, you don’t fix the flower.”
Glennon wasn’t broken, but she lived in an environment that was toxic to her. She lived by rules that kept her small and quiet. She wasn’t grounded and she wasn’t at peace with herself, in her marriage or with her body. Glennon, was able to eventually, with time; make sense of the chaos that she had been thrown into and to make decisions to live better, to be better, to challenge the rules of the world, to explore her emotions, intimacy and her relationship with her body. I am certain; if Glennon had chosen to write her story in the thick of her anguish, it would have been lost in agony and grief. She was able to step back, to sift and find the beautiful messages in her pain. Taking time to sit with her story, allowed her to tell it from the inside but from a place of gratitude and reason. It became a story not of the fall of her marriage but of her rising as a woman, and as a Love Warrior. She describes the transformation as an unbecoming.
Brené has spent several years researching such topics as vulnerability, shame and courage. She is the best-selling author of such books as Rising Strong, Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection. Her Ted Talk on Vulnerability was life changing for me. Discovering that vulnerability was actually a strength and not a weakness as I once believed, that to allow myself to be deeply seen, was actually an act of courage that would allow me to open up to love with my whole heart. I was encouraged to reclaim my wholeness and reunite with parts of myself that I had kept hidden from the world. My own stories have emerged and I have grown from honoring my vulnerability and living authentically.
Brené told the world that “Vulnerability is not a weakness and that myth is profoundly dangerous. Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change”
When to share your story
“When you are in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else.”
― Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace
Brené shares the above Margaret Atwood quote as she and Glennon discuss the significance of when to share your story, with whom and why.
Stories are wrought with struggle, it is the battle within us and the transformation that occurs afterwards that makes for such beautiful words on paper, drenched in heartache but cloaked in truth and wisdom.
Glennon, who wrote the bestselling book Love Warrior after discovering that her husband had been unfaithful to her their entire marriage, expresses that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. She recalls from her own wisdom filled experiences that pain is where we find our wholeness and Brené agrees that wisdom and strength are born of pain.
We need to inhabit our stories and sit with the pain awhile before we are ready to share our stories. If our intention is to share what we have learned from struggle, how we have grown and what has changed for us and in our world then we are probably in a place where we can tell our story from the inside. Brené assesses this as speaking from your heart, not from hurt and Glennon recalls advice from her friend Nadia about speaking from a scar and not an open wound.
If you are feeling desperate for help or connection, you may still be in the midst of the fight of your life, things are starting to fall apart and you cannot quite make sense of it, but you want to fix it immediately and avoid the pain. This is the time to reach out for support from a friend, a family member or a therapist but it is not the time to share your story with the world. I think journalling can be helpful when you are in the heart of crisis because this is when you are figuring it all out. This is a clever way to look back on the process later and put your fragmented thoughts into order and start to figure out what has changed and what stories have emerged.
What do you need to give yourself permission to do, feel, or not do?
Glennon communicates that when we share our stories with a lot of people they should be a service. Once you have sat with the pain; you have fully inhabited your story, you have found the gifts and wisdom inside the pain, you are ready to share your story with others.
The course is broken into a familiar three act process.
In act 1 we are asked “What is the “bru-tiful” (brutal + beautiful) adventure that you’re on?”
By identifying the “bru-itiful” adventure you are on you accept the relationship between beauty and pain in the world. Unfortunately, we cannot experience one without the other. Pain and beauty are both a significant part of our lives and when we learn to marry the two of those together, we can sit with pain without passing it along to others, we will take from it wise lessons and something beautiful will emerge if we allow it. As Glennon explains, in life we will love one another, and we will lose one another. Life is brut-iful.
Instead of using our easy buttons and trying to numb pain, we need love ourselves through it and instead of tapping out when things get tough, we need to tap in because it is in our struggles that we find our true strength.
Rules in the world
Sometimes there are “rules in the world” that are a hotbed of shame and they often provide the environment for struggle in our stories. These “rules” may be unspoken but they are rules you believe, that you live by and they are relevant in your family, community or culture. What are your rules? Do you stay quiet and not rock the boat? Do you smile through pain and never let anyone perceive you as anything but strong? Do you keep your problems to yourself and just be thankful for the life you have?
What is the moment when everything falls apart?
There is a moment when everything comes crashing down, it could be something huge or a succession of smaller things that send you over the edge. You realize that you can no longer carry on with the charade. The perception that you have been desperate to portray, that everything is fine, has gone to shit. You haven’t washed your hair or changed out of your pajama pants in days. The blinds are closed and you just want to sleep and avoid the pain. Buckle in.
Staying on the mat
What is it going to take to keep you “on the mat”?
Act 2 is when things are difficult. You have tried extremely hard to give the perception that everything is OK but you can no longer keep it together. You are randomly bursting into tears and you cannot seem to make sense of anything in your life, except that maybe pajama pants are suitable attire for public and the outside world is too people-ly!
This is the winter of your life, it is cold and bleak and hard. When winter comes, we gather firewood, pull out our boots and our heavy sweaters. We gather supplies. During this bleak time in our lives we decide what we will need to get us through this time, what connections and support systems we will call to action. What supporting characters we will call into our lives to help guide us through our story.
What are the easy buttons that we need to be aware of, the buttons that we will use to numb our way through the pain? Alcohol, drugs, food, social media?
What are the reset buttons that we will use to keep us tapped into life instead of tapping out? Eating well, exercising, regular sleep, time with friends?
Glennon refers to a hot yoga lesson where she wanted to run from the class but decided to stick out the hour, to sit on the mat with her pain and attempt to work through it. What are the things that make it difficult for you to stay on your mat in the midst of emotional turmoil?
How do you want it to end?
How do you want your story to end?
When we use drugs, alcohol, food or mindless TV to numb pain we also numb the beauty of life. We are essentially shutting the light out. When our world falls apart we often fall with it. Down, down down the rabbit hole we fall. We often feel small and frightened. Pain is an invitation, it means we are needed. So, we crawl up from the hole, through the dirt, through the rain, and we notice the sights along the way. In our memories, we recall not the hole, not the struggle up, but the emerging. We recall our resilience and our strength. For one day, the lights will dim again and those times when we find ourselves in darkness we will need to remember that we have been here before and that we can navigate our way out. We don’t lose our faith in love and goodness or happy endings because we know that they don’t just exist, that they live inside us. We are light, we are joy, and we are love. When our world looks unrecognizable we need to keep showing up, even when it hurts like hell.
What is the wisdom in your story?
This is how you find the wisdom in your story, through the emergence. One day, it won’t hurt as much and though it doesn’t mean that you will never hurt again, it means that you know the way out. The only way out is through. You cannot go around pain; you need to be still, you need to sit with it awhile. Glennon and Brené aptly remind us that you cannot rewrite a truth; the plot of our story is largely out of our control. We control our character, how we live inside of our story and how we emerge from it. The three-act process is a great reminder during the bleak winter of Act #2. The winter can be long and harsh and even though experience may not shed any light on your struggle, deep down you will know that there is a way out. Glennon likens crisis to a child at the beach sifting through the sand, they let everything fall away and see what is left over. When troubles overwhelm us, we are forced to do the same, sift through the wreckage of our lives; allow what is not needed to fall away. When this happens, we are left with exactly everything we need. As we write the endings to our stories we may find that the rules have changed, that is our redemption. You do not have to be strong all the time, yes, it is ok to not be ok, and you don’t have to fix everything. You make your own rules! You get to look back and stroll through your story with a new outlook on life. You can draw from your strengths to assist in your transformation.
Just as pain lets us know we are alive, stories let us know that we are not alone. If we have the courage to dig deep and be honest our stories have the power to help others on their journey. Whether our story is one of tragedy, of disaster or heartbreak, we are not alone.
An activist inside all of us
How will you use the wisdom of your story?
This was an addition on to the three-act story. Brené and Glennon talk about their work with the Compassion Collective, which emerged as a response to the Syrian Refugee crisis. They call on us as individuals to identify what global story or community struggle that we desire to influence and how we would propose to write ourselves into that story. This is a really interesting exercise, simply by identifying something that truly breaks your heart you can also realize your ability to affect positive change. There is an activist inside all of us.
We are more than one story, we are a range of our own inspiring stories, the stories our grandparents told and the stories that have influenced and entertained us over the years.
The energy in our stories
In the past couple of years, I have become keenly aware of energy, I try hard to bring positive energy to the world in hopes of getting it back. Bad energy is tiring and it sucks the life out of me. I limit my exposure to negative people and when I did The Warrior Goddess Training with Heatherash Amara I realized how important it is to tell stories that serve us. As Brené said, we cannot change the plot of our story but Heatherash Amara reminds us that we can re-wire and re-write our stories so that they help us to be more present instead of deeply rooted in the past. The narratives by which we choose to express ourselves can energize and excite us, or drain us. We can choose how we want to use our words and our energy to share our stories.
Once we have walked through our stories and gained perspective we may be able to see them from a different viewpoint, focusing on the growth, the wisdom and the positives, instead an exhausting tale of woe that leaves us weary.
My interactive challenge to you is to be aware of the energy you are putting out into the world when you share your stories. Has time enabled you to gain perspective? Can your story be re-wired to focus on the growth and change that emerged?
For the next week when you share your stories reflect on how they make you feel and try to be aware of how they are being received by others!