I’ve got a confession to make: I was pretty bummed out in the week leading up to my birthday.
Not so much about my birthday itself (I like birthdays!), but rather the fact that it called attention to other aspects of my life that are not 100% how I’d like them to be. Relationships that have ended or are currently in flux, uncertainties about who I am and where I stand in the world, the vulnerability inherent in saying “It’s my birthday, will you celebrate with me?“
Sure, I have so much to be grateful for, and really truly I am. And I am so often joyful these days that it’s easy to lull myself into thinking that “this is how it is,” not “this is how it is right now.” But the dark moments still come. I get sad or nostalgic. I feel embarrassed and worry about what people will think. I have deep-seated fears about rejection. And I find myself reflexively hiding my weaknesses beneath tiny white lies and slight exaggerations.
Turns out I am not alone.
Elizabeth Lesser writes:
One of the greatest enigmas of human behavior is the way we isolate ourselves from each other. In our misguided perception of separation, we assume that others are not sharing a similar experience of life. We imagine that we are unique in our eccentricities or failures or longings. And so we try to appear as happy and consistent as we think others are, and we feel shame when we stumble and fall.
A good place to start, and a place we come back to over and over again, is what Rumi calls the Open Secret. He says that each one of us is trying to hide a secret — not a big bad secret, but a more subtle and pervasive one. We have perfectly innocent exchanges of ordinary banter (hi, how are you? fine! how are the kids? great! the job? just fine!), but it is probably not an accurate representation of our actual lives. It’s almost as if we are embarrassed by our most human traits.
Rumi says that when we hide the secret underbelly from each other, then both people go away wondering, How come she has it all together? What’s wrong with me? When we don’t share the secret ache in our hearts — the normal bewilderment of being human — it turns into something else. Our pain and fear and longing in the absence of company, become alienation and envy and competition.
The irony of hiding the dark side of our humanness is that our secret is not really a secret at all. How can it be when we’re all safeguarding the very same story? That’s why Rumi calls it an Open Secret. It’s almost a joke – big surprise, just like you I’m human! For all my strengths and gifts, I am also a vulnerable and insecure person, in need of connection and reassurance. This is the secret I try to keep from you, and you from me, and in doing so we do each other a grave disservice.
Rumi tells us that the moment we accept what troubles we’ve been given, the door will open. If you’re interested in opening the door to the heavens, start with the door to your own secret self. See what happens when you offer to another a glimpse of who you really are. Start slowly. Without getting getting dramatic, share the simple dignity of yourself in each moment — your triumphs and your failures, your satisfaction and your sorrow. Face your embarrassment at being human, and you’ll uncover a deep well of passion and compassion. It’s a great power, your Open Secret. When your heart is undefended, you make it safe for whomever you meet to put down his burden of hiding, and then you both can walk through the open door.
Choosing to get real.
On Friday, during our yoga school check in circle (where we share little tidbits about our lives and talk about how our experiences relate to what we’ve been studying), I finally choose to get real. (Or, more accurately, the choice was made for me when the words “I don’t have plans for my birthday” sprung unexpectedly from my mouth and I figured, “oh well, cats out of the bag, might as well share the rest of it now.”) I explained that my birthday was rapidly approaching and that I hadn’t been able to bring myself to invite friends to join me for a celebration, thinking:
+ What if they all said no?
+ What if they judged me for not having more fabulous plans?
+ What if they didn’t want to celebrate with me?
Until that moment when I got real, I felt isolated and alienated. After I put the Truth out there in the Universe, however, it was as though space had been cleared for something else … something better. Like suddenly there was room for a shared sense of humanity — I’m human and wonderful, but my life is not perfect, and you’re human and wonderful, but your life isn’t perfect either. And because of that, we can relate to and love one another.
Continuing to keep it real.
This recent experience was a striking reminder about why I choose to bear my soul on this blog (and, as much as possible, in real life too). I used to spend a lot of time feeling isolated and alienated — the way I felt last week. However, through reading other people’s blogs like this one, this one, and this one, I began to suspect that maybe I was a whole lot more normal than I had once thought. These amazing women shared a glimpse of the aches and pains that exist in their own hearts, and their words deeply resonated with me. I viewed their vulnerability as courage, their pain was met with compassion. Their openness gave me permission to share many of my own secrets.
So, to all you wonderful people who read down this far (thanks for sticking with it, this turned out to be a long one!), I invite you to join me in opening the door to your secret self and offering the world a glimpse of of who you really are. I bet we’ve actually got a whole lot in common. ♥