When I'm with a child, I feel about a million times lighter. What does this kid know that I don't? What is so a part of children that they can leaves us feeling like dopey adults, left out of their secret?
Certainly, life gets more complex as we grow and many childlike attitudes and activities have to be relinquished -- but not all of them. While I'm no expert on relationships, I am an astute observer. I keenly watch marriages and long-term friendships and notice trends. Here's some of what I've learned:
As modern lifestyles creep further and further away from the "it takes a village" model, I believe -- whether they realize it or not -- that many adults feel the need to protect themselves emotionally the way our ancestors protected themselves physically. The way I see it, this has made us much more cerebral and out-of-touch with the way we feel.
Many people tend to suppress the natural flow of feelings and thoughts as they come, often even feeling shame for having had the feelings in the first place. I think the root causes of many big, bad, grown-up fights and confusion can often be found in simple, child-like statements: "I'm sad." "I'm scared." "I missed you."
I didn't always hear these messages so clearly, but that changed a few years ago. Shortly after, I began communicating them to the people in my life. The result has been phenomenal.
To illustrate what it feels like to be "radically honest," let me invite you to participate in an activity. Recall a time when someone made you feel embarrassed, angry or scared. Now, just within your mind, observe any thoughts or feelings which might arise; lastly, consider what it would feel like to speak these truths to the person the thoughts or feelings are about.
If you did this activity, did you feel anything? Relief, terror, calm? I believe the ability to be this honest within yourself and then kindly convey the messages to the relevant parties is the definition of radical honesty, and incredibly helpful to relationships. But it might not be easy...
Speaking the truth can be scary. Did you know the Latin origin of the word courage means "heart?" I believe it takes incredible amounts of courage to be truthful with matters of the heart. But -- oh! -- what beauty and tranquility it can yield.
Kindness (to others)
Alright, let's say you hear your heart messages loud and clear and want to speak them. Hooray! But authentic expression can sound a little raw at times, especially if the person speaking is new to the practice. Do you know what your truths sound like to others? If, after deciphering your emotions, you come up with something like, "My boyfriend was a d*ck last night and that makes me angry!" Let's just pump the breaks for a minute.
Before you share your truth with the person it is about, I invite you to say it to yourself, aloud or in your head, is it kind? Whatever the truth is, there's probably a kind or neutral way to say it. Also, sometimes it is helpful to take time for solo reflection, or process things with a buddy before communicating such important messages. If not, you might say something you regret.
Kindness (to self)
The results of practicing the kinds of things I'm discussing here are sweet beyond measure, but no doubt, can also be maddening and make you question yourself. So please, whenever exploring this kind of "work within," remember that whatever you feel is a-OK, and be kind to you!
Sharing hopes, hurts, joys, fears and even the day-to-day details of our lives can make us feel really connected to those we open up to. But I've noticed many folks hold back a lot of these things out of fear. Perhaps they believe someone they love will hear something they don't like? If that's true in your case, I encourage you to push through this fear and work on expressing yourself authentically as much of the time as possible.
I believe that no reasonable person -- secure within themselves -- is going to stop loving you solely based on something you tell them. If that person has a problem, I encourage you to trust that he or she will tell you and that it can be worked out. People are truly splendid and can really surprise you if you let them, but this can never happen if you don't give them the opportunity.
In the paragraph above, I said "reasonable person -- secure within themselves..." There's a reason I have two sections here based on kindness, ya'll. I believe this world is lovely, incredible and holy; but it's also got a lot of ugly, and many among us seem to encompass this ugly. I believe most people who come across as mean or hurtful are probably battling their own demons and are just trying to get by the best they can with what they've got.
I'm not giving people with problems the greenlight to be jerks. I do think knowing they're struggling and having compassion can help us understand why people do what they do and can help ease the spirit when feeling frustrated by their actions. I think it also helps to remember that the hard road so many of us trudge often hinders our ability to be honest, open and communicative with ourselves, let alone with others.
Discernment is imperative. You can be the healthiest, most hard-working person around, but if the other half of the relationship isn't on your level, you're not going to get the results you seek. All this is to say: Don't give your heart or hard work to just anyone. If a person repeatedly rejects you or is unkind, I encourage you to evaluate whether or not this is a relationship you want in your life.
Never be afraid to be alone! I know you've heard it a gazillion times, and there's a reason. We all know that ending a friendship or relationship can be incredibly difficult. Sitting with the grief of loss can bring you to your knees in that kind of crying which feels like a knife to the gut, making you wonder if you could actually die from it. Fortunately, like everything else good or bad in this world, it always passes. Never be afraid to be alone.
So what separates us dopey adults from carefree children? I believe many adults could be a lot happier if we engaged more often in a trait which children are blissfully unaware they've mastered: vulnerability.
I'll leave you with these words from Brené Brown:
I know vulnerability is kind of the core of shame, fear, and our struggle for worthiness, but it also appears to be the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging, and love... To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen. To love with our whole hearts, even though there's no guarantee. To practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, to be this vulnerable means that we're alive.
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