Being Present

Can we be truly present?

For more on the man she sees (her ex=partner and collaborator, Ulay), this piece in Zen Garage (and thanks Regan, Lee and Susan for sharing).

For more on the background to this piece, The Artist is Present, see this article in The Atlantic.

[Day 57: Listen]


Following Up with Shame

Confession time. The term “vulnerability hangover” is not my own. I have absorbed it from Brené Brown reflecting on her TEDxHouston talk on the power of vulnerability. Here how she started at TED 2012.

I’m going to tell you a little bit about my TEDxHouston Talk. I woke up the morning after I gave that Talk with the worst vulnerability hangover of my life. And I actually didn’t leave my house for about three days.

The first time I left was to meet a friend for lunch. And when I walked in, she was already at the table. And I sat down, and she said, “God, you look like hell.” I said, “Thanks. I feel really — I’m not functioning.” And she said, “What’s going on?” And I said, “I just told 500 people that I became a researcher to avoid vulnerability. And that when being vulnerable emerged from my data, as absolutely essential to whole-hearted living, I told these 500 people that I had a breakdown. I had a slide that said Breakdown. At what point did I think that was a good idea?”

I went for a walk this morning, the random shuffle gave me Joy from The Sundays. And I was taken back to a time in my life when I felt truly ashamed. Such a beautiful song, such a strong sense of shame. Not what I felt I needed this morning, but opening this big question on compassion and vulnerability means being brave enough to receive an answer I might not want to hear.

So Brené Brown’s second TED talk has been on my mind – for the vulnerability hangover, for courage, and for thinking deeply about shame.

[Day 38: Listen]


Open to Imperfection

Yesterday I was reflecting on how scepticism – the type based on keeping an open mind – was really about allowing ourselves to vulnerable.

When I started this study, one of the first sources to revisit was Brené Brown’s talk from TEDxHouston in 2010. There are so many insights that resonate for me in her talk, and must resonate for others – 7.6 million views – if you haven’t watched it, watch now.

What strikes me as relevant to scepticism are her comments on the mindset we bring to research. As a researcher she felt her role in studying phenomena was to control and predict, control and predict. And yet the power of inquiry comes from being open not closed. Open to new discoveries, open to the imperfections.

Revisiting her talk emphasises the singular importance of connection. Connection is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. She notes that people who feel worthy of connection have a strong sense of love and belonging – described as whole-hearted lives. They have the courage to tell the story of who they are with their whole heart, the courage to be imperfect. They connect because they are able to let go of who they think they should be and be seen for who they are. And they get that the practice of compassion first requires us to be kind to ourselves.

That a practice of compassions requires us first to be kind to ourselves is discussed in Karen Armstrong’s book also and something I’ll come back to.

But the other traits of whole-heartedness? The courage to be imperfect? To let myself be seen for not who I should be, but who I am? This is awkward. I thought in some ways I’d managed this, but it seems as though in trying to do this I swap one set of assumptions and identity for another. It’s that ungraspable truth that in trying to reach it, you push it further away*.

[Day 29 – Listening]

*Dog bites basketball, Chasing a greasy pig and Trying to catch vapour, Pushing opposing magnets – These were the best my Twitter plea elicited to describe this feeling. That I think there is a common way express this, and that’s it’s sitting out of reach in the back of my head, and yet the more I think about it the further away the word slips is unhelpful but wryly funny.

iO Tillett Wright at TEDxWomen

Visibility is key. Familiarity is the gateway drug to empathy.

By taking photographs of the faces of people who were not 100% straight, sparking empathy became the backbone to iO Tillet’s Wright’s project Self-Evident Truths.  Human beings are not one-dimensional, overly small boxes to categorise each other are useless. Appreciating each other’s complexity is valuable. And we do that by really seeing each other, by getting to know the stranger.

Seeing them makes it harder to deny our humanity. At the very least I hope it makes it harder to deny their human rights.

[Day 21: Listening]

Hat tip to Stephen Collins and Anneka Deva.

RadioLab on Morality

Through the Charter for Compassion website, I found a link to a RadioLab podcast on Morality (Season 2 Episode 3).


RadioLab explores responses to the “railway track” ethical dilemma

In exploring responses to ethical dilemmas, the episode looks at whether our sense of right and wrong comes from deeply ingrained instincts within the brain, or develops over time. It touches on issues of shame and guilt and wonders how these experiences shape our response to empathy.

There is so much in this hour that links back to the other things I’ve been researching that it’s taken me days to write nothing. Instead I offer this as an update and a bookmark for me to return to in exploring brain science, parenting, shame and ethical dilemmas further.

[Days 14-19: Listening to this, Researching more]

(Image Credit: National Library of Ireland on The CommonsThis photo was taken on January 21, 1959 in Windy Arbour, Dublin, DUB, IE.)

The Science of Compassion

Do you believe in the innate goodness of people?

I’m rusty, spiky and often pessimistic, but this interview with James Doty on ABC Radio National’s All in the Mind opens the heart.

“Compassion is looking someone in the eye and saying we are the same.”

Getting to compassion though, well that can be harder. As founder of the Centre for Compassion and Alturism Research and Education at Stanford University, James Doty draws on his background in neurosurgery, meditative practices, entrepreneurship and philanthropy to deepen our understanding of the science of compassion and find ways to nurture our individual capacities to connect with each other.

“The act of connecting with others defines your purpose, it defines who you are and sticks with you at a deep level.”

[Day 1: Listen]