Letting Your Ass Hang Out

Hey there!  Where’ve you been?  Oh wait, it’s me who disappeared.  When I started this blog, I figured I’d post roughly once every week or two.  Which turned into three, then four then five.  Well, you get the picture.  Not that it hasn’t crossed my mind.  In fact, I think about posting nearly every day, and have lots of ideas for topics I think might be new and interesting.  So I’ve been asking myself what the heck is going on?  Sit down and write already!

I’d venture a guess that at least half the blogs that are registered and excitedly launched fall victim to blogular abandonment because the writer realizes s/he is just too “busy” to maintain a blog.  So I chalked it up to that, and told myself I’d do a better job at time-management.  After all, there is a lot going on right now.  I have three little kids who’ve had strep throat, need fed at least fifteen times a day and have soccer practices, recitals and birthdays; two parents in an assisted living facility nearby who I like to visit as much as I can; a new mindfulness course I’m designing that I’m so excited about teaching I could burst; and a husband I get to talk to without interruption approximately every three days.

So imagine my surprise when I floated the reason “too busy” past the ol’ prefrontal cortex, and experienced a mental Family Feud-sized “X” and buzzer sound.  I was stumped.   After some back and forth, I had to admit that, although I’m not playing Candy Crush Saga all day, I do magically find the time for other non-essential things, like reading David Sedaris’s new book from cover to cover in one sitting.

A few days later, as I walked past my computer knowing I had about an hour to kill and a long overdue post to write, I noticed a fleeting pang in my chest and a sudden urge to clean the toilets and change the sheets on all the beds.  It was so fast that it could have easily gone unnoticed had I not been really paying attention.

In mindfulness practice, we spend a lot of time learning to be curious about our experiences, allowing uncomfortable feelings to be there without immediately bolting for the fridge (or the toilet brush).   We practice slowing down our reactions so we can see each step in the reactivity process more clearly. In my case, I could see that the fleeting pang in my chest was fear, of the serious dread-like variety, and the urge to clean was my brain’s way of protecting me from feeling that fear by distraction.  Voila!  I’m afraid of writing!  Problem solved.  I’ll quit writing!   Except that I love writing, so that solution is problematic.

After much thought, this is what I’ve come up with, and I’m pretty sure it’s true:  When I sit down to write a post, part of me wants it to be perfect – well thought out, interesting, rooted-in-serious-dharma-yet-funny-and-relatable, not embarrassing to me in any way, and with no grammatical or spelling errors.  And another part of me wants it to be authentic.  That’s all.  When these two parts of me agree on a topic to write about, the post magically gets written.  When they don’t agree, I have very clean toilets and very clean sheets.

As I investigate what might not be in alignment with “authentic,” I keep coming back to “not embarrassing to me in any way.”  The funny thing is, I can’t really put my finger on what exactly I’d like to write about that might prove embarrassing.  I can just feel a part of me strongly cautioning against any attempts, as if to say enough already, this whole blog nonsense has gone on long enough.  I’m sure the very next post will be the one that really does you in.  Quit while you’re ahead!

At this point I’d like to introduce you to my mom, Judy, the owner of that voice.  My mom is currently in the advanced stages of an early-onset type of dementia called Primary Progressive Aphasia. PPA affects the language center of the brain, so she can’t talk anymore or comprehend very much.  But when she was in her prime, she was the life of the party.  She had a great sense of humor, loved to laugh, was always helping those in need, and was totally committed to her family.  I like to think I inherited some of those qualities (and am still working on others).

On the other hand, I obviously inherited another of her qualities as well, one that is illustrated by an incident that happened when I was in high school.  We were in a public place and overheard a conversation between two women who were probably in their twenties and dressed in goth-type garb (it was the 80’s, people).  The one was telling the other – in dramatic fashion – about how she was being kicked out of her apartment for some reason I can’t remember.  But I do remember thinking, wow, that must be scary to not have a place to live.  And my mom, under her breath with rolling eyes, said “Nothing like letting your ass hang out in public.”

I looked as discreetly as I could because I assumed that her ass was, in fact, hanging out.  And that I wanted to see!  When no ass could be seen protruding from holey fish net stockings or torn black skirt held together with giant safety pins, I realized this must be a metaphor for something very important.  When the coast was clear, I asked my mom to explain herself.  In a nutshell, she said that your ass is hanging out when you reveal something about yourself that might cause others to judge you or believe you don’t have it all together.  That stuff is to be kept under wraps.

It’s funny, because I was a somewhat rebellious teen, and I’m sure my parents would say that I rarely took their advice.  But there’s a part of the brain that is deeply invested in securing its place in the tribe (in this case it was family of origin, but other times it’s our work environment or circle of friends).  It continually scans the tribal environment for queues as to what behaviors are acceptable and what might get us kicked out.  It’s subconscious.  So even though part of me was probably thinking I wonder where I can get some of those fish nets, another part of me was carefully storing away my mom’s admonition against letting it all hang out, or “TMI” as we might say today, and red flagging compliance with that rule as vital to my survival.

I’ve been aware of this tendency to some extent over the years, but have also been pretty good at keeping what I suspected were shameful truths about myself neatly tucked away.  But as time goes on and the stress of keeping those truths under wraps becomes too burdensome, the call to authenticity starts to speak louder than the fear of being “found out.”  Also helpful is the realization gleaned from a lifetime of experience that the stuff I  spend so much time hiding is usually not as big a deal as I think it is, and that the judgment I might believe is coming from the outside world is often coming from within my own mind.

In real life, with friends and while teaching, I seem to have no problem letting my ass hang out.  I talk about all kinds of real and authentic stuff that people might even wish I’d keep to myself.  For me, it seems to be specifically about writing that stuff down.  On paper or – gasp – the Internet.  To be viewable until the end of time.  So, I’m going to chew on that some more and let you know how it goes.  Maybe in, say, my next post, which will hopefully happen before Christmas.  If it doesn’t, you know my toilets will be very clean.

In the meantime, I invite you to join me is letting your ass hang out a little more.  The world needs more truth-tellers.  Really, the breeze is kind of refreshing!  Notice if there’s a part of you that shies away from authentic connection or engagement with others for fear of being judged.  And then see what happens when you do or say that authentic thing anyway – maybe even in public.  Sometimes miracles happen.

For now, I’ll leave you with the slightly edited words of the Queen of Truth-Telling and Shame-Busting,  Brene Brown.

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 asses hang out true selves be seen.

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