I've written recently about how Dr. Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, and the leading expert on vulnerability, held a TEDTalk in Houston in 2010 that changed the way I live, love, practice and teach yoga.
What Dr. Brown has found, through her decade-plus years of research on the topic, is that people she calls "wholehearted"-- those who have embraced vulnerability as a key emotion in their existence -- share a few common characteristics.
Here are 5 secrets of the wholehearted:
1. They know that love and belonging are what give purpose to our lives.
The absence of love and belonging is what leads to suffering. After I graduated from college I made a drastic move from a small farm town in southeast Wisconsin to the beautiful Hill Country of Texas, and as you can imagine, it took a while before I felt comfortable.
During that time, though, the most difficult part for me wasn't the countless job interviews and resume re-writes and first-day-of-new-jobs. The most difficult part for me was that at the end of the day, I didn't have my friends there to talk to; to vent and celebrate, and share stories about my crazy new boss and coworkers.
I was lucky to have my immediate family close, but all of people who I was used to having actively participate in my life were thousands of miles away. It wasn't until months later, when I found a group of friends who I felt connected with, that I finally began to feel like I belonged.
2. The wholehearted believe that they are worthy of love and belonging.
You are worthy of love and belonging! Isn't that exciting?! I bet you can think at least one person in your life who would agree, and probably a whole lot more than that.
How do you know if you have someone like that in your life? In the middle of all of your struggles, he or she has always been there for you to reinforce your belief that you are still worthy of love, belonging and joy. It breaks my heart to know that there are countless human souls in existence who don't feel like they are worthy of love and belonging.
Friends, it is so easy to believe that the people who we come in to contact with on a daily basis know that we care about them, and they are worthy of our love.
Tell your family, your friend on the mat next to you in yoga class, even your boss, that their hard work and creativity does not go unnoticed.
Have you ever been angry or offended that someone recognized you and gave you a genuine compliment?
3. They know that being wholehearted is a choice.
Having the courage to embrace vulnerability is a daily practice. I used to be very shy when I was younger. I was nervous to speak in a group of my own peers, and never, ever raised my hand in class for fear of saying the wrong thing. That kind of thinking can result in some pretty severe social anxiety in a lot of people, as it did for me.
I was lucky, however, to get some great advice from the very first employer I ever had. She shared with me her struggles with social anxiety because cared enough to notice that I struggled with it as well.
She told me that she challenged herself to talk to one new person every day. It started with something as simple as, "Hello, how are you doing today?" and became "I really like your sweater today," or "How do you like your yoga mat? I'm in the market for a new one."
Being vulnerable is a choice. It is a daily practice and it takes work, but you know what? I know that you can do it.
4. Their main concern is living a life defined by courage, compassion, and connection.
Life can get overwhelming sometimes. We rush from work, to yoga class, eating, sleeping, and somewhere in there, finding time to connect with our loved ones. Our society is defined by cramming all of the options in to the smallest amount of time and space available.
The choices we make, then, must be choices that count. Do I choose to stay present and connected in this work meeting, or do I hide out in the corner and text my boyfriend? Do I choose to have the courage to speak up in yoga class when the teacher says something that I don't understand, or do I just go along and let the confusion cloud my practice (or worse, injure myself)? Do I get angry at the barista with the scowl on her face, or do I choose to have the compassion and understanding to give her a smile in return because she's probably already had a long day?
Living wholehearted is a choice, and you can choose to be angry, afraid, and uninterested, or courageous, compassionate, and connected.
5. Finally, the wholehearted possess the willingness to be vulnerable.
In order to be wholehearted, in order to wake up every morning with the knowledge that we are worthy of love and belonging, we must first be vulnerable. We must take that first step of opening ourselves up to the possibility of heartache, disappointment and failure in order to truly experience courage, compassion, and connection.