I'm Ready.

a blog by Christina Bradley


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Unmasked

I recently wrote this essay for my English class and I noticed, while I writing it, that it would also work well as a blog. I hope you enjoy my take on vulnerability! 

Here it is!

I was such a quiet child. It wasn’t as if I didn’t have anything to say, I just didn’t talk. My mom would often ask me, “Christina, did you say anything at lunch today?” and I would always respond with a simple “no”. This was my response without fail, and it was true. I would sit at lunch, every day in middle school, with my “friends”, and not utter a single word. They would all be gossiping, chatting, and squealing (as middle-schoolers often do) and I would just sit in silence, watching. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to talk. I just didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know if they would like me. My mom was deeply concerned. After responding to her question with a simple “no”, I would get a snack and go on and on about anything and everything to her: singing, soccer, school. It was obvious that I was not always quiet; I was just like that with my “friends”. This paradox was what worried her and she would scour the Internet searching for an answer, any cure for my quietness. The answer she never found: I was wearing a mask. A hard, durable, secure mask.

It was incredibly uncomfortable. I didn’t completely understand what was attached to my face until I came across a popular video on the Internet one day. It was a viral Ted talk by research professor and vulnerability expert, Dr. Brene Brown. After hearing her words of, “We are afraid of rejection [and] we wear a mask of defense to protect ourselves,”[1] I had an awaking experience. I had one of those moments when you know what someone else is saying exactly applies to you. I was hooked. I wanted to learn more. I was surprised and delighted at how elegant this metaphor described the human tendency, my tendency, to hide. Taking off the mask, being vulnerable, is a topic I have been avidly studying ever since hearing this talk. I finally understood why I wasn’t able to talk to my “friends. Brene Brown explained in her video that when we wear a mask “we cut ourselves off from the source of truly connecting with others”[2]. By wearing my mask, I was cutting myself off from my peers. This was my answer. My work was about to begin. That mask I was wearing started to loosen. I started to feel its presence: the weight it had on my face, my body, and my life.

I began my search for how to quicken the process. Through my endless hours of research, my many conversations about thistopic, and my obsession with self-help books, I concluded that the longing to connect with others is at the root of human desire. Many books on topics such as vulnerability and self-compassion, I have read, emphasize this fact; they also state, sadly, that our tendency to wear masks, to fear rejection, is one of our greatest obstacles, the monster blocking our ability to connect. After reading innumerable stories about people who have transformed their lives and after listening to countless interviews with spiritual teachers, they all seem to have the same thing to say. A revealing, unveiling event occurs when you finally realize that you are tired of wearing the mask. For me, I was tired of the stuffiness of the “plastic” in front of my face. I was tired of the small, oddly-shaped eye holes that blocked my vision of life. I was tired of the face that was not my own. When I finally realized that I had the choice to take it off, the shift that occurred was profound. The mask was thrown off and my true self, as messy, as sweaty, as uncertain as it may have looked, was finally revealed to the world.

True, it is not as easy as it may sound. Years and years of layers are not easily peeled away. Your mask may have become hardened and have molded to the features of the face. Realizing this seems to be the first step. It was my first step. The second step is the courageous one: the one that I am still trying to deal with. It is to use your strength to pull and peel those layers back, piece by piece. The sooner this happens, the better. Why wait? Many spiritual teachers say that the longer you wait to unveil your true identity the harder it becomes to do so. The longer the mold sits on the face, the more resistant it becomes to change. It starts to become easy to believe that the layers are just a part of your face, a part of who you are. Molded tightly, unable to be distinguished from the real flesh beneath it.

For the person who is just noticing their own mask, there are many ways to start this process. As a previous mask-wearer, and as someone who decided they no longer wanted to adorn one, I can say it is not an easy process, but it is completely worth it. It takes introspection and self-love. It takes courage and resilience. And funnily enough, it also takes smiles and silliness. Smiles to use as a tool to get past those moments of vulnerability and silliness to get others to smile along with you. We are not in this alone. We are all human. When one person starts to open up, and takes off their mask, they are able to help others out, to give them the best tips for peeling. A bond starts to form, naked face to naked face, journeying together.

How do you start? How do you find where the face begins and the mask ends? Observe yourself, observe your interactions. When do you feel most yourself? What are you talking about when you do? Notice whom you can feel free around, and continue interacting with those people. Start noticing your tendencies: your tendencies to get angry, to shut down, and in my case, to be quiet. When these tendencies arise, be aware of them, and try to take the mask off; try to be yourself. It takes effort, an extra step, an extra thought to notice the mask, but the more and more you try, the more and more you will notice its presence.

Sharing, I’ve learned, can also be one of the quickest and most efficient mask-peeling techniques. Many of the groups I have become involved with in college seem to have done their own, informal research on vulnerability. An activity called Hometowns has become a very popular bonding activity. This activity is like no other. It goes deep. This activity consists of one member sitting in front of their group, looking them in the eyes, and taking as much time as they want to detail their life’s story, what makes them who they are. Some may start out a little shaky. They may still be looking around at the others through those distorted eyeholes in their mask, palms sweating. As they realize that they are being listened to, truly listened to, the transformation begins. Word by word, story by story, their true form starts to take shape. They share things that surprise and delight, shock and amaze. Their life’s story, as they never imagined it could, affects others. Every stupid mistake and every dark detail can resonate with others. During hometowns, I found that I could talk about anything and everything, my mask far in the corner, my quietness gone.

During this activity, once one person shares and lets down their guard, the next person goes deeper, reveals more. As time passes, and more and more people start showing their faces, connections emerge. After close, intimate events like this, you may return to your false self because it’s safe. There is nothing wrong with this. The key is not to beat yourself up for choosing to put the mask back on. We all do this. The key is to notice that you have it on, and try taking if off occasionally. For me, I still put my quiet mask on from time to time. I don’t mean to, but it just seems to happen in certain situations. My mom calls it my “quiet mode” and during these times I feel that discomfort, that pressure on my face that I used to feel at lunch in middle school. But the difference is, I now feel it, I notice it, and I practice taking it off when it does return. As you practice doing this, as you practice being vulnerable, you realize that you prefer the feeling of your real face.

It may be true that we never lose the mask all together. We may all go into our own “quiet modes”. But hopefully once you realize these moments, they don’t become how you live the majority of your life. Hopefully, the majority of your life is spent being yourself, feeling free, and feeling connected. Vulnerability is the key to deeply connecting with others. If you yearn to find more human connection, to be loved for who you are, to feel free, try it out, find where your face begins and your mask ends, loosen it a bit, take a breath, and start your journey of unmasking.

 

References:

[1]Lisa. “TED Talk Tuesday: Brené Brown – The Power of Vulnerability » Soul Blazing.” Soul Blazing TED Talk Tuesday Bren Brown The Power of Vulnerability Comments. Soul Blazing, 20 Aug. 2103. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.

[2]Lisa. “TED Talk Tuesday: Brené Brown – The Power of Vulnerability » Soul Blazing.” Soul Blazing TED Talk Tuesday Bren Brown The Power of Vulnerability Comments. Soul Blazing, 20 Aug. 2103. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.


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Warm Smiles, Friendly Waves

My friends are extremely important to me. They are there for me. They listen to me. Most of my friendships have evolved over long periods of time. It often takes me some time to open up to people and really let them see my true self. As time goes on, our conversations seem to get deeper and deeper until I feel like I can trust them with anything.

Over this spring break, however, I came to understand that friendships can occur without conversation. People can open up easily if they are willing to let others in.

Traveling to Sri Lanka, I worried about not knowing a single word of the language. I didn’t even know how to greet someone with a simple hello. I feared I would not make any lasting connections with the kids that I would soon meet. There was no reason to worry. It became apparent very quickly that friendship doesn’t have to be created through words.

Throughout the week with the children, a simple smile and wave were enough to send them running and screaming towards you. Being willing to play hours on hours of volleyball and clapping games were all they needed to give you love. They became my friends and I didn’t have to say a word. I could play with them for hours and I felt like I had opened up more then I do during most conversations.

I now come back to school with a new perspective on friendship. Maybe hours of conversation are not necessary for true connection. Maybe just adding a warm smile and wave are just as powerful as words. There is a very good chance that I will never see those kids again, but I know that our friendship and those laughs will stay with me. All I hope is that I can share their smiles with others.

my new friends :)


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Mindful Chocolate

choc

I have concluded that February has a certain power over us. If you live in the northeast as I do, there is the constant threat of unexpected snow and foggy days. And if you are in college as I am, there is the constant flow of midterms and papers and applications. Lately, I have felt sucked up by the month of February.

But as I reflect on the month’s events I realize that this is not how it has to be. I don’t have to return to my room after a fully packed day and watch an episode on netflix, eat some chocolate, and go to bed feeling regretful for the choices of TV and sweets that I just made. I don’t have to make rash decisions about how I spend my time and my energy. Getting sucked up by the month of February means making mindless choices; but it doesn’t have to be that way.

If I take a pause before eating that next piece of chocolate or if I take a breath before clicking “next episode” at 1am when I should be sleeping, maybe February won’t have the hold it does over me now. There is nothing wrong with those decisions but the state in which I make them. They are simply mindless.

So my intention is to pause, take a breath, and assess “Is this going to help me? Is this what I really want right now?” If the answer is yes, that mindful piece of chocolate will taste wonderful and I will be happy after eating it. However, if it is no, I will have just saved myself from that feeling of regret.

Try taking a breath before acting as we finish out this chilly month. Maybe you will find yourself feeling happier and cleaner, enjoying your piece of chocolate mindfully.

Enjoy your choices! Also check out my guest blog about small acts of love!


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A Christmas Light Connection

bad-bulb-christmas-lights

We are a string of Christmas lights. All connected by the same wire that gives us the energy to shine our light. There is one plug at the end of our string; one source of energy. That plug is connected to a wire that provides the same amount of energy to each and every bulb on the string. Even if there is another string of lights, maybe even a different color, connected to a different outlet in the room, it is still receiving its energy from the same place. What is providing energy to those lights is the same that is providing energy to our string.

We all feel it when one of the lights goes out. All of the lights around that light feel the change in energy of that bulb. Sometimes the string of lights will stop working until that light has been fixed.

We shine bright. We light up the room, the house, the Christmas tree. We sparkle, but not more than any other. We would be nothing without each other, we need the string of energy that connects us. We shine bright when together.

Have a very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Enjoy the presence of the energy that connects us.


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“Be bold, be brave, be beautiful”

“Be bold, be free, be beautiful. Believe, be love, be true to you.” ~ David Newman

How amazing would it be to live by these words? To be bold, free, and true to you. To truly believe you are beautiful. To be love. I think that it would be pretty fantastic.

Imagine singing these words over and over, as I was asked to do this afternoon, each time having the message sink in a little bit more. Maybe read the lyrics a couple of times. See what I mean? They are powerful.

As I sang these words over and over with a group of people after an inspiring yoga class to the live music of David Newman, these words had a powerful effect on me. My eyes started to water as the words sunk in. I thought, “how wonderful would my life be if I could truly embody this message?”. If I could let go of fear and be bold. If I could let go of attachment to things and be free. If I could let go of self-judgment and feel beautiful.

Reading these words should not make us feel bad about ourselves if we feel like we aren’t living these words completely. We are not doing anything wrong. However, maybe keeping these words in mind may help us to let go. To fall in love with life. To be at peace.

Thank you to a wonderful class from Erica Bleznak and David Newman at Verge Yoga!


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Happy Words from Charlie Brown

This song popped into my head today as I was walking and I thought I would share it with you all! Sometimes we don’t take notice of how the simple things in life can make us happy. I forget this sometimes and I love when a song like this reminds me to be present. After watching this video today I had a huge smile on my face and I already started to notice  the little things that make me happy like how beautiful fall is!

Enjoy your day and smile :)


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The Beauty of Nature

fall

East Rock Park – Photo by Xun Wang (http://www.xunwang.me/landscape/)

So, I had an amazing experience yesterday; one that completely changed my day. Yesterday was a beautiful fall day in New Haven. A perfect breeze with just enough sun that wearing shorts and a shirt was comfortable. Out of nowhere I decided to go on my first run at Yale this year and I am so thankful that I made that decision.

Living in a city, I often feel cooped up and claustrophobic. I try to take the time to appreciate the beautiful architecture around me (because believe me, there is no scarcity of that here) but on a beautiful fall day like yesterday, I long for nature. Nature affects us like nothing else can. It brings us back to our roots and makes us appreciate the simple things in life. It has the tendency of catching us at moments where we are just going though the motions of life. Seeing a bright red tree after walking out the the library. Being hit by beautiful rays of light that peek through the leaves as you rush home.

Yesterday, I was hit full force by the beauty of nature and at a time I was most longing for it. As I ran, I saw the beautiful colored trees around me releasing their leaves on the lawns of the houses I passed. Finally, I hit East Rock Park (which is a place I have heard of but have never taken the time to visit) and I was suddenly overwhelmed by the glimmering water and the amazing smells of fall. The force of this beauty caused me to stop and take a slow walk along the river. I just took it all in, being so grateful to have found this magical spot.

Nature has a way of changing us, I truly believe that. If you are ever feeling sad, or lonely, or just out of sorts (because we all have those days) maybe try getting yourself outside even if it’s just for a few minutes. The silence and beauty of being with nature often calms me down and helps me see the brighter side of life.

I would love to hear any thoughts you have about how nature affects you.

Enjoy Fall!

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