Have you ever felt like crying, suddenly, out of nowhere, like your little heart is being crushed by the pressure of simply being alive and the energy it takes to move from one moment to the next? I have.
Have you ever felt incompetent and like everyone else is doing it properly and you just don’t seem to have the tools or ingredients or wherewithal to just get on with it? I have.
Have you ever been preparing food in an disorganised way and suddenly everything is messy and chaotic and you feel like a total failure for not even managing basic daily tasks effectively and your sleeve is soggy because you turned on the tap too hard and the kitchen counter is a mess because you tried to take shortcuts to avoid additional washing up but instead created more havoc? I have.
Have you ever felt ashamed of basic human bodily functions and been embarrassed or horrified at the idea of someone you fancy/ghosts/ghosts you fancy*, seeing you in the middle of natural yet somehow still ‘shameful' processes? I have.
We all have. Well, maybe other people don’t imagine ghosts watching them disapprovingly, or maybe they do! The point is, we don’t share these private shame-filled thoughts. We don’t talk about shame. We don’t expose our most uncomfortable moments and this disconnects us. We feel alone in our failings, our sorrows, our incompetences. So I am writing this to tell you I have! I do! Because there is comfort to be found in connection.
Human beings are hardwired for connection and mental health issues and emotional distress occur when we feel disconnected from ourselves and from each other. But we can reconnect.
Laughter breaks tension. If you haven’t seen comedian Hannah Gadsby’s powerfully moving work Nanette - see it. Laughter unifies us and there is such relief when we feel connected to others. But pain also unifies us. We all suffer hurt, loss, rejection, grief and shame. Yet we often don’t know how to share these most vulnerable aspects of our experiences and we start to disconnect**. We compartmentalise the bits we can share and the bits we must hide.
But it is these hidden bits that most need to be brought into the light. Sometimes the smallest moment of incompetence is the last straw on a stack of high piled shame and suddenly the whole thing breaks and tumbles tumbles tumbles and our inner world is overwhelmed by a sense of failure and misery. And it is in these moments that we most need to stop and take a few seconds to breathe deeply into the tumbled shreds of shame; breathe into the experiences that created each one and remember that we are made up of both shame filled moments and miraculous possibility. We do not have to be separate from ourselves and we do not have to be separate from each other.
Someone else has felt how we have felt, millions of people are feeling it right now. Generations before us felt the same feelings. We are connected and united by what we feel and by what we experience.
But how we choose to process our experiences is ours. We each have a choice: to open into the full extent of emotion in our inner world and the myriad of connections available in the outer world, or to shut down.
There are times we choose to shut down. We shrink and contract and grow tighter and smaller and more brittle. I have been to that tight small place many times. And there are times when I have felt gloriously expansive, like the world wants me to succeed, to love and be loved, to be joyful, to be experiencing laughter filled days of synchronicities and abundance. And if I look back on the times I felt contracted and the times I felt expansive, they are intrinsically linked to how connected I felt at the time, to myself and to others.
There were painful triggers that contracted me, but the sense of separateness, the feeling of aloneness came from getting stuck in state of contraction.
We all encounter challenges that threaten to shrink and minimise us, to make us brittle, breakable and bitter. But the challenges themselves are passing moments and our potential responses are also passing moments. There is always a new moment and a new opportunity to respond by reaching out, by connecting, by sharing with others.
Growing up I was terrified of death until I heard the concept that we are all bowls floating on an ocean. When we are born some water is scooped up into an individual bowl. We exist within our own separate bowl, all made up of the same stuff, and when we die our bowl disintegrates and we return to the whole again. When we feel sad or ashamed, perhaps we can remember that we are part of a greater whole. Housed in different bodies but feeling the same feelings. In our darkest moments someone else on the planet is experiencing the same darkness at that exact same time. We are never really alone.
There is a Buddhist story about a women consumed by the grief of her child. She sought help from the Buddha and was told if she could collect a few mustard seeds from each house in the village that had not experienced a death, he would be able to help her. She hurried to each household to begin collecting mustard seeds only to discover that there was not a single family who hadn’t experienced death. And as she visited each family and connected with the shared experience of grief, she came to realise that she was not alone in her grief and that there was respite and healing to be found through connection.
Such profound relief comes from sharing our sorrows and our joys. It’s one of the best feelings in the world when someone is brave enough to tell you an embarrassing secret and you find yourself howling with laughter and shrieking “Me too!!!! I do that too!!!!”. That spirit of shared humanness is always available, so let’s revel in it as often as possible.
Alexander Pope wrote “to err is human”. If we're gonna err we might as well share when we err, yeah?
*jokes. I don’t fancy ghosts. Unless... fancy ghosts with cravats maybe.
My neighbour who?