“Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about un-becoming everything that isn’t really you, so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.” Paulo Coelho

A year ago when I landed at South Korea, I had no idea that this place would introduce a new “ME” to me by offering entirely new perceptions. Here, fortunately, I met some Japanese friends who familiarised me with the concept of “Wabi-Sabi”. In traditional Japanese aesthetics, wabi-sabi (侘寂) is a world interpretation centred on the acceptance of impermanence and imperfection. Sometimes when the exhausting chase of perfection fosters restlessness, this is where wabi-sabi offers a recess. It offers space; for forgiveness, acceptance and stillness, for seeing the beauty of things imperfect, including ourselves and other human beings. Ultimately, wabi-sabi frees us from the hostage of perfection. It sows the seeds of love, commitment and resilience to keep exploring splendour in the most unexpected places.

One day, my pursuit for the glory of imperfection and authenticity took me to library. On one of the shelves, I saw a thin non-fiction book: The Gifts of Imperfection by Dr. Brene’ Brown. I decided to read it as my first book of the year 2019 to start off the year strong. Hard to believe that this book had been out for nine years, but it appeared to be more significant than ever.

New York Times best seller, Dr Brené Brown is a research professor. She has written many books on courage, vulnerability, shame, worthiness, and empathy. In this book she shares ten guideposts on the power of Wholehearted living __a way of dealing with the world from the place of worthiness.

This book is about the lifelong journey from ‘What will people say?’ to ‘I’m sufficient.’ It triggers several "ah-Ha!" moments for the reader. Right at the start of the voyage of this book, the reader feels captivated by the opening words: “Owing our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” Brown states that there are mainly two sorts of people in the world: Those who are unhappy and unsatisfied in their lives, and those who are living “Wholeheartedly.” How much we know and comprehend ourselves is no doubt essential, but there is something that is even more important to living a Wholehearted life: loving ourselves. In short, Wholehearted living is not a onetime choice, it’s a lifetime journey.

Courage, Compassion, and Connection: The Gifts of Imperfection

This book becomes even more absorbing when Brown introduces the gifts of imperfection. She says, by practicing the gifts of imperfection: courage, compassion, and connection, we can nurture Wholeheartedness in our lives. Let’s take a closer look at each of the gifts of imperfection:

  • Why courage? Wholeheartedness demands courage just ‘ordinary courage’. Ordinary courage is about accepting our vulnerability. It has a ripple effect. Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver.
  • Why compassion? Understanding the relationship between boundaries, accountability, acceptance, and compassion makes us a compassionate person. Unfortunately, we live in a blame culture__we want to know whose fault it is and how they’re going to pay. When we fail to set boundaries and set people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. In fact, it’s tough to exercise kindness when we’re struggling with our authenticity or when our own worthiness is off balance. Likewise, when we’re looking for compassion, we need someone who is deep-rooted and able to embrace us not only for our strengths but also for our struggles. It’s about connecting with the right person at the right time about the right issue.

Compassion practice is daring. It involves learning to relax and permit ourselves to travel softly toward what frights us. Sadly, our first response to agony is to self-protect. We defend ourselves by looking for somebody or something to blame. The truth is, compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the injured; it’s a relationship between the equals. Only when we identify our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we spot our shared humanity. The better we are at accepting ourselves and others, the more empathetic we become.

  • Why connection? Connection is like energy that exists between people when they feel heard, seen and esteemed; when they can give and take without judgment; and when they derive power from the relationship. Connection begets connection. As matter of fact, we are wired for connection, it’s in our biology. From the time we enter into this world, we need connection to flourish emotionally, intellectually, physically and spiritually.

Brown’s conclusions are thoughtful and pull no punches. She asserts that we can embrace imperfection by exploring the power of love, belonging, and being enough. When we can let go of what other people think and own our story, we get access to our worthiness__the feeling that we are sufficient just as we are and that we are worthy of warmth and belonging. Brown pens, “When we spend lifetime trying to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don’t fit with who we think we’re supposed to be, we stand outside of our story and hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving.”

Brown instructs us to comprehend the dissimilarity between fitting in and belonging. We know exactly how to get ourselves accepted and approved. We’re very good actors and we know exactly how to chameleon our way through the day. In truth, fitting in and belonging are not the same things. Fitting in gets in the way to belonging. “Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.”

How adroitly the writer has described the word “worthiness”. She says, the biggest challenge for most of us is believing that we are worthy now, right this minute.

“Worthiness doesn’t have prerequisites. So many of us have knowingly created/unknowingly allowed/been handed down a long list of worthiness prerequisites:

I’ll be worthy when I lose twenty pounds.

I’ll be worthy if I can get pregnant.

I’ll be worthy if I get/stay sober.

I’ll be worthy if everyone thinks I’m a good parent.

I’ll be worthy when I can make a living selling my art.

I’ll be worthy if I can hold my marriage together.

I’ll be worthy when I make partner.

I’ll be worthy when my parents finally approve.

I’ll be worthy if he calls back and asks me out.

I’ll be worthy when I can do it all and look like I’m not even trying.”

 

Where the book really comes into its own is in analysing the ten common patterns in Wholehearted people’s lives. She calls them guideposts, and each gets a short chapter. Each guidepost comprises one thing to nurture and one thing to let go of. I like that the author offers the reader both something to stop doing and something to replace it with.

In her first guidepost she puts emphasis on the value of “authenticity”. She says that authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen and letting go of what people think about us.

In the second guidepost the writer has conveyed a message that perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is opposite to healthy achievement and growth. It is the false belief that if we live perfect, and act perfect, we can lessen or escape the pain of blame, judgement, and shame. Furthermore, perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we carry round thinking it will guard us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s actually stopping us from taking flight. In addition, understanding the dissimilarity between heathy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the armour and picking up our lives. Healthy striving is self-focused__ how can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused __what will people think? Moreover, perfection is often the path to life-paralysis. Life-paralysis refers to all of the opportunities we miss because we’re too scared to put anything out in the world that could be imperfect. It’s also all of the dreams that we don’t follow because of our deep fear of failing, making mistakes, and disappointing others. Thus, to overcome perfectionism, we need to be able to recognize our weaknesses and cultivate shame resilience; and exercise self-compassion. Perfectionism never takes place in a vacuum; it touches each person round us. We pass it down to our kids, we pollute our workplace with impossible expectations, and it’s also choking for our friends and families.

The third guidepost is about “Being Resilient” and letting go of the feeling of powerlessness. Resilience is an essential element of Wholeheartedness, whereas, hopelessness, anxiety, blame, hurt, distress, vulnerability, and disconnection disrupt resilience and give way to hopelessness.

The subsequent guidepost puts stress on the cultivation of gratitude and joy. By keeping gratitude journals, doing daily gratitude meditations and creating gratitude art, we can let go of scarcity and fear of the dark.

The emphasis of the next guidepost is on “Intuition and Trusting Faith.” She augments, Intuition is not a single way of knowing__it’s our ability to hold space for uncertainty and our willingness to trust the many ways we’ve developed knowledge and insight, including instinct, experience, faith, and reason.

In the following guidepost she has compared “creativity” with “comparison”. She opines that comparison is all about conformity and competition. It’s difficult to make time for the important things such as creativity, gratitude, joy, and authenticity when we’re spending enormous amounts of energy conforming and competing. If we want to make meaning, we need to make art. Cook, write, draw, doodle, paint, scrapbook, take pictures, collage, knit, sculpt, dance, decorate, act, sing__it doesn’t matter. As long as we’re creating, we’re cultivating meaning.

In the ensuing guidepost Brown maintains, if we want to live a Wholehearted life, we have to become intentional about cultivating sleep and play, and about letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth. Things that we take for granted, like rest and play, are as vital to our health as nutrition and exercise.

In the next guidepost she has defined “calm” as ‘creating perspective and mindfulness while managing emotional reactivity’. Calm people bring perspective to complicated situations and feel their feelings without reacting to heightened emotions like fear and anger. Whereas, panicked response produces more panic and more fear.

In the second last guidepost she has talked about cultivation of meaningful work and letting go of self-doubt, and in the final guidepost she says that there is need to promote laughter, song, and dance and let go of always in control. She believes that good belly laugh, singing at the top of your lungs, and dancing like no one is looking are unquestionably good for the soul.

The book concludes with very remarkable words. She says that this book is a small grassroots movement that starts with each of us saying, ‘My story matters because I matter’. “It’s a movement where we can take to the streets our messy, imperfect, wild, stretch-marked, wonderful, heart-breaking, grace-filled, and joyful lives.”