Ever wonder what it means to live “wholeheartedly?”
I have, and finally, I think I understand. The challenge is in doing it!
Though like all of us, I have always wanted to be really happy, there has been something getting in the way, always stopping me from fully expressing my joy, and even from feeling it.
It occurred to me this morning, that perhaps what I have been missing is what Brene Brown speaks of so beautifully, the courage to dare greatly—to allow ourselves to be truly vulnerable. (Brené Brown Ph.D. LMSW is an American scholar, author, and public speaker.)
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
~ Brené Brown
She speaks of moments like when you look at your sleeping child and are so filled with love that you are almost afraid to really feel it, to be with that amazing all encompassing love. That same wonderful feeling can happen when we fall in love, when we are close to reaching a goal, or spending time doing what we love most.
Sometimes though, it is as if someone whispers in our ear, “Don’t be too happy, be careful, be prepared; something terrible could happen at any second—don’t let yourself be vulnerable.”
I can’t even begin to count the moments I have lost caught up in that fear. For me, that fear has also manifested in being afraid to express my love for others, my joy, and even my success, knowing that in a second it could all be taken away.
In fact, about nine years ago, it was. I answered the doorbell to find two police officers, who as kindly as they could, informed me that they had found my husband’s body and that he had taken his own life.
Talk about being vulnerable. I was shattered, physically, emotionally and mentally.
What had my self-protection given me? Absolutely nothing. It didn’t keep away the pain, the loss and the gut wrenching grief that I experienced. It didn’t stop me from losing friends, or essentially life in the way I knew it. Like it or not, my life was irrevocably changed and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it.
I fell into a very dark place unable to eat, sleep, or even drive a car. I was a mess. Every phone call, siren or knock on the door became something I was terribly afraid of. I was living as if a catastrophe was about to happen in any second, because if it happened, I wanted to be ready. I couldn’t afford to lose again. Or could I?
Did I want to live a life where happiness was held at arm’s length? Where joy and deep love were beyond my reach?
For a while, that was what I wanted, but as I began to heal, I knew that I wanted more. I wanted to live, love, and be deeply joyous. I wanted to smile with my whole heart and body. To live wholeheartedly, I needed to let down my wall of self-protection, dare greatly, and be vulnerable.
I know that much of life is beyond our control, but I also know that living a wholehearted life is worth the risk. That understanding helped me begin to grasp what it means to live wholeheartedly.
It sounded so obvious; living wholeheartedly means to live with a whole heart, to feel it all: the good the bad and even the ugly.
What wholehearted living has taught me is that it also means to go beyond our fear of loss, embarrassment and even shame. To live with a heart that is so open that we take the risk of it being broken.
Wholehearted living is the ability to freely express love even when it is not returned; to apply for that job though you may not get it, to write that book, climb that mountain or embrace whatever it is we long for. It doesn’t mean that we stop being afraid, just that we stop allowing our fear to control us and hold us back.
When I now look at my beautiful family, watch my grandchildren sleeping, or drift around on our sailboat I am overwhelmed with love, but I am not overcome with fear. I am simply, as Brene Brown so beautifully suggests, filled with gratitude and daring greatly.
Yes, relationships will end, we will be turned down for jobs, will know unrequited love and experience the death of loved ones. The paradox of wholehearted living is that the loss of not taking the risk is greater than the risk of taking it. Without embracing our vulnerability and taking that leap of faith, we will not be able to live with a whole heart. I am making the choice to open my heart, and dare greatly.
To my family and friends, I love you with all my heart.
If you find yourself living in fear, stop and feel gratitude for what you have, open your heart, dare greatly and choose to embrace all that life brings.
Choose to live wholeheartedly.
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Ed: B. Bemel