Antonio Machado said, “Traveler, there is no path, the path must be forged as you walk.” I’ve been making my own word strewn path lately. It is flowered with stories. The sky has rained my tears and shined with the brilliance of freshly aired understanding. I have been writing. I have been reading.
I started walking long ago, but a detour came when I pre-ordered Amanda Palmer’s book The Art of Asking. The book came out of a talk that Amanda gave at a TED conference. If you haven’t seen it, here it is on YouTube.
In the book, Amanda talks a lot about seeing people.
Seeing them. Not looking. Seeing.
As she puts it:
“One is exhibitionism, the other is connection. Not everybody wants to be looked at. Everybody wants to be seen.”
Anthony, a central figure in Amanda’s life, is quoted in the book with a thought that knocked me off the page and made me check the surroundings on my path:
“You can’t ever give people what they want. But you can give them something else. You can give them empathy. You can give them understanding. And that’s a lot, and enough to give.”
Amanda talks about the struggle to feel real. A real artist. A real person. Just real.
An entire generation has been passing on their love of The Velveteen Rabbit and Palmer is no exception. She quotes what is arguably the most famous passage from Margery Williams’ book:
“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’
‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
Another powerful book I read recently also quotes Margery Williams, Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. Brené did the introduction to Amanda’s book and has her own powerful set of TED talks. The one about vulnerability has been viewed almost 20 million times between TED and YouTube.
Daring Greatly made me cry. A lot.
It made me want to buy a copy for everyone I know, everyone I meet. Life has taught me a lot of lessons as I have travelled the path. Brené researched people’s lives and the same lessons came up again and again. Brown pulled apart the armor of our fear and numbness, all the masks we wear. She weighed all the layers of our emotional baggage and tells us why it’s not worth the weight.
My path is forged by my own feet, but Daring Greatly is like a sign showing me which direction to go so that I can walk into vulnerability with gratitude and feel the joy instead of the fear.
Two passages from the book:
“The perception that vulnerability is weakness is the most widely accepted myth about vulnerability and the most dangerous. When we spend our lives pushing away and protecting ourselves from feeling vulnerable or from being perceived as too emotional, we feel contempt when others are less capable or willing to mask feelings, suck it up, and soldier on. We’ve come to the point where, rather than respecting and appreciating the courage and daring behind vulnerability, we let our fear and discomfort become judgment and criticism.”
“To let ourselves sink into the joyful moments of our lives even though we know that they are fleeting, even though the world tells us not to be too happy lest we invite disaster—that’s an intense form of vulnerability.”
I have been hiding my whole life, hopelessly scared of being looked at, wanting desperately to be seen. I’ve been wearing the second skin of my fear. For a long time, I’ve jokingly admitted that the people that know me best are my children. They get all my happy masks, all my flawed aggression, and every manner of things between. They’ve spent too much time by my side for me to even attempt fakery on them. I’m finally starting to feel the true weight of all the armour and puppetry.
This blog has allowed me to explore my ideas and identity, to connect with people – to be seen, to see. Wherever you find yourself on your path, look up, look around. Are there any road signs? Are there any detours? Is there anyone waiting to see you? I’m certain there are. Find them. Keep moving forward and ask for what you need. You’ll get it. Once you do, give the gift of empathy and understanding to others.