Living Arms Wide Open: what does that mean and how do you achieve it? Monday Motivation #6
Arms Wide Open – the Idea
I’ve been toying with this idea of living “Arms Wide Open” for a while. Ever since reading “Gifts of Imperfection,” by Brene Brown in the back half of 2012, I’ve really tried to imagine myself living as someone unafraid of the opinions and perceptions of others.
Today, and for most of my adult life, I have been internally timid (something that hundreds of my military subordinates and co-workers would find laughable). But the truth is, I think of myself as a crouching child hugging my knees and trying to be the smallest possible target for anyone who might be a threat to … well … me. By crouching I protect my vital organs, my personal weaknesses, my points of greatest shame and those things that I think others won’t find attractive or worth respecting.
I find myself consistently emotionally bracing for an onslaught, afraid of being rejected, rebuked, laughed at, exposed, proven to be less than what I am supposed to be, and so on. So instead, I armor up and protect my inner child by strapping on accomplishments and competence and expertise and other fancy words that legitimize perfectionism.
I struggle to find a path through to vulnerability – one that allows me to be myself while simultaneously being unafraid or at least less petrified. Just the thought of revealing my inner secrets and points of my deepest shame makes my heart pound and my eyes burn with tears threatening to spill out onto my cheeks.
So every day I work toward finding the courage to:
- live in that vulnerable space
- rise from crouching and
- stand up
- and once upright,
- to fling my arms open and live …
Arms Wide Open – the Image
Imagine for a second then, standing in a hill, with your arms wide open.
Your body open to the elements, torso extended, nothing protected…fully … OPEN.
In this metaphor, life will charge at you as fast as ever, the winds of stress, insecurity, and hate buffeting you as you stand there, the sunbeams of joy and love warming your skin, the rain of sadness sometimes pouring down on you, and still you stand. None of this counts those that would intend you harm and might punch you in the gut or slice at your extended arms. Yet you remain open, welcoming the love of others and the joy that life can bring.
For me, the thought is petrifying in the truest sense.
I feel a pit in the base of my stomach and a fear that quite literally nearly causes me to lurch in dry heaves.
I’ve often tried to explain to others why I am so guarded, why I have built such a fortress around my inner self and always, the analogy is the same:
A relationship is like walking out onto a beautiful frozen lake with someone. Together you bundle up and head off on an adventure of mutual joy. And as you move toward the center of the lake, you disrobe … revealing more of yourself to each other and trusting each other more; because of the love, you don’t feel cold, in fact, you feel nothing but comfort and the warmth of acceptance. The sun shines, the conversation is wonderful; I feel loved and I love you too. I don’t turn to look for you, because I know you are there; we just walk along and enjoy one another’s company.
My deepest and most resonant fear is that as we reach the center of the lake, I turn to face you and speak of where we will go next only to find that I am standing alone – completely naked and suddenly freezing. I look around – but there is no trail of clothes, no blanket, no coat … there is nothing but my alone-ness and the bitter bite of the wind and cold. Shielding my eyes from the sun, I scan the horizon and see your silhouette running away carrying a bundle … my clothes! I am alone and exposed and there is no way to hide my nakedness from others for the foreseeable future. I shall be weak and vulnerable and in-need for hours to come.
Just writing that story here again, my eyes burn with the fear of it.
So how do I live a life where, despite this mental image, I step onto the ice and walk with someone? With anyone at all?
The internal conversation that happens currently sounds like this:
“If I step onto the ice with a person, I have to grip my coat and scarf with fierce tenacity, otherwise the person I’m with might steal them from me. Yes, that means we cannot hold hands (my hands are occupied ensuring you don’t swipe my clothes), but it also means that I am assured you will not hurt me. And because I know you cannot hurt me, I can trust you.”
The irony (idiocy?) of that statement smacks even as I write it… (face palm) clearly I don’t trust you if I won’t let go and be with you comfortably.
The Ironic Fateful Twist
The truth is, I still get my feelings hurt. People still disappoint me.
In the 20+ years of my adulthood and, after a near deliberate plan to build a fortress strong enough to guard my crouching child, I have not yet found success. I have a full castle with grounds and shops and two towers and secret passageways and an underground bunker and … none of that has helped to protect me.
I find sometimes the contrary is true. People get a sense of their inability to genuinely connect with me and they run away specifically because I have a fortress. (Hence my solution begets the problem yet again).
It’s a comfortable castle.
And the fortress is formidable.
But it was built for only one.
So I mentally process all those things that I want in life.
And I consider that, thus far, I’ve not gotten those things.
So each day I wake up and I deliberately work to move “cross-grain” to my life’s habituation.
This morning, I listened to something inspirational by Brene Brown. I took notes and thought on what I’d heard; I contemplated how to apply it toward getting out of that crouch.
I reminded myself to:
- let the drawbridge down,
- leave my armor lying beside my bed,
- work toward dismantling the fortress that keeps people out.
I took a deep breath and looked in the mirror, reminding my reflection:
- that we are worthy,
- that we are enough,
- that those who love us recognize those things about us
- that I love me and there is no reason for everyone not to.
And I decided that on this day, the only day that matters at this moment, I will live “wholeheartedly” …
My inner child and I will live with our arms wide open