Exposing Myself: Goodbye Shame, Hello Fire
Posted on May 10, 2014
We’ve all had experiences of our fire being snuffed out. What are the major fire-snuffers? External inputs that devalue our internal potential. Things that tell us we are shit. Things we are ashamed of.
Why wouldn’t you believe all of these inputs, doubt your value? What makes you believe in you, when you’ve accumulated thousands of reasons not to? Well of course it’s hard to get your fire roaring. Of course you struggle daily with getting some traction to realize your potential.
So, let’s fight fire with fire.
I’m about to open one huge, sealed vessel of shame. In it are 200 shameful things nobody would ever know about.
As always, I intend to shake you up with this blog. But this time, I am shaking myself up, too. I’m about to open one huge, sealed vessel of shame. In this vessel are 200 reasons not to open it. 200 shameful things nobody would ever know about. But, I am going to open it anyway, and stop putting so much effort into holding it shut. It is exhausting. I am doing this, as we pretentious yogis say, “as a practice.”
Because in the bottom of that vessel, maybe there is an ember of the fire that once burned.
Here goes – full exposure.
Seven years ago, I was asked by a professor friend at the state university in town if I wanted to teach trigonometry. (Disclaimer #13: I have a Masters Degree in Engineering Management – a bitchin’ hybrid of technical and business shit.) The semester was gonna start in a few weeks. I interviewed with the department head. He liked me. I was in.
But wait – I had no teaching experience other than some math tutoring and teaching yoga at a rec center. Whatevs, I’d be fine! I was on fire about teaching!
Result: a very humbling direct experience of just how excessive my vata had become. Vata – the air element that, as defined by people with too much of it, means “creative.” Defined by people who aren’t flying high on it, it means “distractible.” Let’s just say it’s what happens when raising young children destroys your linear processing entirely. So, every few classes, I’d find myself “back-spacing” on a problem. I’d make an easy mistake and have to go back to fix it. Which, turns out, students hate. They started questioning everything I did. And so did I. I got through about 75% of what I’d planned for that semester. Fire wasn’t beating air.
I received my first batch ever of student evaluations. They took me to my knees. “Doesn’t know what she’s talking about.” “Always makes mistakes.” “Thinks she’s making it interesting but it’s just confusing.” Yeah.
I taught about 400 students over three semesters there. And signs pointed to half of them wanting to punch me in the face. (A non-hating student offhandedly reported this sentiment from a friend of his.)
It gets worse. Let’s yank that vessel lid all the way off.
Check me out on this dreaded forum: ratemyprofessors.com.
(The effect of this practice right now is causing my heart to pound like hell.)
(And please, comments trying to make me feel better about this shit are not necessary, and will not be tolerated. That is so not the point.)
Done, yet? Damn, huh? Why would I believe I could ever teach anything after all this evidence to the contrary?
Fact: a sealed-up vessel of shit – as opposed to an open one – has a more debilitating effect on who you think you are, and what you think you are capable of. Brene Brown is a researcher most famous for her work on shame. She says, “Shame cannot survive being spoken.”
(Yeah, but will I?)
Waitaminnit here. Do we have to dredge up these shameful things? Re-live them? In front of the whole fucking cyber world? No. I’m just involving all of you in my little experiment on myself. I’m sensationalistic like that.
I’ll tell you what you have to do. You have to find out what shame really is. How it can snuff your fire, and undermine your self-value. Then, you have to open up the vessel. Then maybe you can get an unjustly snuffed fire back. And maybe you can stop questioning your value.
The yogic model is comprehensive, all-inclusive of every psychological concept you could come up against. I find the concept there, and then I know where I am.
When we try to make sense of shit like this, we see tributaries everywhere and the main branches aren’t really visible. So, I always go to the yogic model to name concepts, find them on the branches, and ultimately find their connections. Why? Because the yogic model is comprehensive, all-inclusive of every psychological concept you could come up against. I find the concept there, and then I know where I am. Try it, you’ll like it.
Shame is a vasana that comes from a samskara. Your fire is agni. What’s at your source and has unfathomable value is your atman, or Self.
Here’s more on that:
Samskara: The impressions left in your unconscious mind – sealed up in a vessel – so that you are left with an underlying feeling that holds you back. No fire to send you forward. No fire to do what you’re capable of.
Vasana: Unconscious pattern of behavior determined by what’s sealed up in that vessel – behavior not controlled by who you are right now, but by the fearful person you were when the bad shit went down.
Atman: The Self, who you really are, present at all times, authentic and true, unaffected by any shit that goes down.
Agni: The fire that fuels you to take action on the things you love, to realize what you are capable of.
All right. So you get that. Now let’s say you opened up the vessel. What now?
All we really have to do is stop putting so much energy into pretending the things in the vessel aren’t there. They are there. And that’s okay. It does not make us less valuable. Our atman is still rockin’ it solid. Brene Brown says there’s one thing people with “high shame resilience” can do that others can’t. “They can totally acknowledge and move through shame, without jeopardizing their authenticity.” How? With compassion. She says shame “cannot survive being spoken and being met with empathy.”
Stop being a keeper of shit vessels, and start being a keeper of compassion.
The truth of who you are is not fully reflected by any one external input, or even 200. It’s not defined by any one or 200 things that you did, or that were done to you. Your atman knows this. Find it. Do the things that get you into Self space – yoga, nature walks, meditation, dancing – more often. When you start to operate from who you really are, you naturally become more compassionate. More accepting. Of yourself as you are now, and of the keeper of the shit vessel (who is probably really freaking out right now and really needs your empathy). And bonus: you’ll be nicer to other people, too!
Stop being a keeper of shit vessels, and start being a keeper of compassion, man! This is who you are. Your energy can stop going into “keeping a lid on it.” And those fires that were snuffed under those lids just might re-spark. Burn, baby. Roar.
And -gulp- I’ll let you know what happens on this end. I’ll tell ya, I’ve seen past math students walk in to my yoga classes, sometimes with a “Do I know you?” thing goin’ on. And I have pretended otherwise. Vessel is now open. Next time I say, “I may have done a real shitty job teaching you math in college. This here, though? I got this.”