Tag Archives: Brene Brown


quote by Brene Brown

quote by Brene Brown

Quote by Brene Brown

Quote by Brene Brown


Day 26 of the 30 days, 30 words challenge



shent  (shent),  adj.  [ME. Schent  <  pp. of schenden, to put to shame, harm; akin to G. chanden], [archaic & Dial],  1.  disgraced.  2.  lost, ruined, or defeated, as a case.  3.  injured; damaged  4.  reproached.  



Social work researcher and storyteller Brené Brown spent six years studying shame. She had gathered people together to ask them about their greatest accomplishments, their experiences with love and belonging. However, she found when she asked about these things, participants instead told her their greatest failures, their experience of lost love, their most painful experiences of not belonging. When she looked closer, she found shame.


We’ve all experienced it. That burning sensation that begins in the gut and spirals up through the chest until it reaches our cheeks, setting them ablaze. Our faces grow red and hot and we feel a deep sense of not okayness. We want to hide. We wish we could disappear. Whether our shame emerged from something said or done by someone else or from our own self talk or deeds, we are familiar with the feeling of shame searing through us.


Brené Brown says that shame can be lethal. Whereas guilt can be a powerful motivator for change as we realize: I did something bad, shame has the capacity to destroy us because the message is: I am bad.  The tricky thing about shame is that we often feel like we are the only ones who experience it; this breeds isolation and, in turn, more shame. Brown says, “If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment.”


Our moment of difficulty or confusion spins out so that we search for all the areas in our lives when we are wrong. Perhaps a coworker alluded to us not doing enough on a work project and this was this initial hit of shame, but we didn’t catch it. So soon we are spinning stories left and right about our inadequacies: we shouldn’t have taken this road: look at this traffic, idiot ; we haven’t been attentive enough to our relationships: you said you were going to call your best friend back and you still haven’t done it; you are SO selfish ; we skipped the gym: you are undisciplined, fat, ugly; we didn’t wake up as early as we said we would: and wasted the morning, we are bad friends, bad employees, bad children, bad parents, bad bad bad. It is so easy to get caught up in this web of unworthiness. Shame spins us in circles.


Each shame we experience is embued with the memory of our early shames. These early childhood shames had us worrying we were not okay except without the awareness that these moments of self doubt or feeling not okay are things everyone experiences.


When I watched Brené Brown’s first TED talk, I was blown away by her articulation of what it means to be vulnerable and why it can be so scary sometimes. She spoke of how hard it is to live life with your whole heart. In her second TED talk, I was grateful that she spoke so honestly about her own vulnerability following the huge success of her first TED talk. She said that she had been intentionally flying below the radar, keeping her work small. Her desire to stay small mimicked the findings from her research: she feared what would happen if more people knew about her work.


Shenpa is the Tibetan word for attachment. Attachment feels like a mild word for what shenpa feels like. It’s when we cannot let go of something and it takes control of us. We keep returning and playing the same scenario in our mind and in each replaying we feel more and more out of control. We are so attached to the vision of what we want to happen that when something happens outside of this, we easily fall into stories. Shenpa is like shame. Instead of realizing that the world is uncertain and that we have very little control over our lives, we spin out, pretending that if only we hold ourselves accountable, if only we had done things different, if only we took the perfect path, we wouldn’t have to suffer. But this is a lie and it is a lie that disempowers.


We can’t go back and undo our past experiences with shame nor can we prevent it from arising from time to time. But we can choose to recognize it when it shows up. We can say,  I see you, shame, and I know that you are not telling the whole story.


I find it interesting that yesterday the word was regret and today the word is shent. Both of these can cause us to feel strong emotions. In both of these, we have choices. We can regret our experiences and learn from them to make better decisions in the future. Or we can use our regrets to steep in shame, deciding that our regrets alone define who we were, who we are, and who we will be.


There is a trick though, to overcome shame. Brené Brown says that if that petri dish growing shame is doused in empathy, shame cannot survive. We need to be mirrors to one another. This is why the practice of tonglen can be so helpful. In tonglen practice, when we are most immersed in our own feelings of grief or anger or loneliness, we can free ourselves of believing we are alone by breathing in our own feelings and the feelings of all the other beings around the planet who are experiencing the same emotions. Then we can breathe out relief to us all. Tonglen is a helpful reminder that, even when we feel alone in our “unique” experience, there are countless individuals experiencing similar feelings. That solidarity can save us from losing ourselves in shame.

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The Fantasy

The Fantasy



The Reality



re·cep·ti·bil·i·ty  n.  the quality or state of being receptible.


re·cep·ti·ble  adj.  [LL. recptibilis  <  L. receptus, pp. of recipere] able to receive or be received.


re·ceive  v.t.  1.  To take into one’s possession (something given, offered, sent, etc.); get; accept; acquire  2.  To encounter; experience: as, she received much acclaim.  3.  To undergo; submit to; suffer; have inflicted on one: as, h ereceived punishment.  4.  To bear; take the effect or force of: as, all four wheels receive the weight equally.  5.  To take from another by hearing or listening: as, his confession was received by the priest.  6.  To apprehend mentally; get knowledge of or information about; learn: as, they received the news.  7.  To accept mentally as authentic, valid, etc.  8.  a) to let enter; admit; hence, b) to have room for; hold; contain: as a cistern receives rain water. 9.  To give admittance to or greet (visitors, guests, etc).  v.i.  1.  To get, accept, take, or acquire something; be a recipient. 2. To receiveguests or visitors; be a host.  3.  In radio & television, to convert incoming electromagnetic waves into sound or light, thus reproducing the sounds or images being transmitted.  4.  In religious usage, to receive the Eucharist.  5.  in tennis, etc., to return or prepare to return, a served ball; be the striker.



On My Mess or Life Refuses Containment



I have a confession. Every now and then when I’m at the drugstore or the supermarket, I pick up the magazine Real Simple. Pretty much everything about that magazine appeals to me. Its clean simple font, its crisp lines, its excess white space. The title indicates what the magazine promises: how to make your life not just simple but real simple. The cover guarantees ingenious organization techniques you’ve never heard of before, how to do more with less, how to add color and light and beauty to your home. Really, it is the same exact magazine each month with slightly altered material.


I buy it and I read it, but the magazine never satiates me. On occasion, reading it when I am in a mental or physical space of disorder actually has the complete adverse reaction of what I want: I feel like even more of a mess when I finish reading than when I start. I look at the smiling ecstatic faces of the “after” homeowners (who own their home, unlike renting me) beaming after the clutter experts have come in to declutter their homes and with every fiber of my being I feel this thought: my mess is unredeemable. Read: my life is utter chaos.


Most often, however, I close the last page and feel absolutely nothing. Or perhaps nothing twinged with slight disappointment but not an unexpected disappointment. I have come to this magazine for answers on how to fix my life and the answers are not in this magazine. The only one who has the answers: me. And not all at once, not right now. Over time, the answers are delivered and sometimes the time frame feels achingly slow.


Author and social work researcher Brené Brown said in her TED talk on vulnerability that she comes from the social work community, a school of people who say, “Life’s messy: deal with it.” Whereas, her way of being for most of her life was more: “Life’s messy: clean it up, organize it, and put it into a bento box.” “But,” she says, “it doesn’t work.” Any attempt we make to impose structure on our lives fails before we begin because life is not predictable, life is not organizable, life is not neat. Life spills over and out of the containers we have so carefully made for it. Life refuses to contain itself in the parameters we have set.


Last week, in a moment of desperation, I called out to facebook friends for advice when I was in the midst of trying to clear space and get rid of stuff in my house. I was sitting on the floor of my living room surrounded by stacks of paper and files and books and all kinds of other ephemera and, overwhelmed by the barricade of stuff surrounding me, I found myself wanting to pour a glass of wine and watch Netflix for hours instead. The responses were ones of solidarity and suggestion. People offered their own struggles or ideas of what works for them. And I was very grateful for everyone’s input. But one particular piece of advice, offered by several people, was unexpected to me and jolted me back to my intentions. Several friends suggested I scan old notes and photos so I could keep them in digital form and let the physical copies go.


While I’m sure this works for many folks, this mere thought raised my degree of anxiety and panic. My goal is to become less attached to these things instead of changing my form of attachment. Even in digital form, these objects and items would continue to fill my psychic space. I don’t want them to change material form. I want to let them go.


I want them to go because I feel like there is only so much I can contain internally at one time, although I am constantly working on growing more space. There are more experiences to be had, more words waiting to enter, but if I hold too tightly to the ones that have led me here, there is no room for the new to rush in.


When I lived in San Francisco, I worked for a nonprofit agency serving low-income and homeless citizens. There was a woman who came to our dining room who was working with someone from our agency to clear her home. Deidre had fallen off a bunk bed when she was a young girl, which resulted in a traumatic brain injury and one of the repercussions of that injury was her impulse to hoard. She couldn’t bathe because her bathtub was full: of clothes, old recipes, newspaper clippings, canned goods, books, old correspondence. Magazines and newspapers were stacked up so that she had very narrow pathways through which to navigate her small apartment. This coworker Ben befriended her and gained her trust and slowly she began to allow him to take things out of her apartment. At some point though, the process stalled. She stopped returning his calls. Letting go was too threatening.


My Maw Maw was Cajun and lived through the depression. She and my Paw Paw ran a general store. He died first and when she died, our family found enough stuff inside their home to start up another store. There were stacks of tube socks in cabinets, dozens of canisters of shoe polish and boot leather stuffed in drawers. There were knick-knacks and glasses and cleaning products and pajamas. She had Alzheimer’s for the last ten years of her life, but it was clear that this process started much before. She needed these things, just in case.


While these are extreme examples in comparison to my own desire for order and inability to clear away, I think they reveal something about our humanness. Our compulsion to hold onto objects reveals our desire to concretize life. If only we have these things, we think, we will be protected, okay, safe from death. If we take all the right steps, maybe that will ensure our security. If we can control what we have, we can control who we are. If we can control who we are, we can control whether or not we get our heart broken, we can control whether or not our body is injured, we can control our own death.


In an episode of The Golden Girls, Sophia becomes addicted to shopping at bulk store Shopper’s Warehouse. She buys 10,000 toothbrushes. “Half blue, half pink,” she says to her daughter Dorothy. “So you and your brother won’t have to fight over your inheritance.” At one point, she says to Dorothy, “Say you have ten cases of sardines—” Dorothy interrupts saying, “This better be hypothetical.” Following the revelation of the situation’s reality, Dorothy becomes infuriated and asks her mother why she would do that. Sophia says, “It makes me feel immortal. You think: God wouldn’t make me waste good sardines. He’ll wait until I’m done with them to let me die.”


We have seen time and time again that what we possess has no bearing on what choices or challenges life will bring us. Appliances break down, cameras are stolen, computers crash, photographs burn, old letters are flooded underwater. Even our bodies, the vessels that carry us through life, betray us. Muscles tear from bone, vessels burst, bones break.


I think less important than the things of life themselves is our ability to receive them and let go of them with a degree of understanding that these things do not ultimately matter. One of the great lessons of my life in relation to this was when my childhood home flooded during Hurricane Katrina. Was it awful, seeing so many of my family’s memories underwater? Do I wish had my childhood journals to look back and see who I was at thirteen and what I thought was important during my study abroad days when I was twenty? Of course it was. Of course I do. But the fact that my parents were able to rebuild their lives and that we have lived without these things that made up our lives for so long  reveals to me that what is most important about life is retained inside of us. If we have connections with the people in our lives, we can rebuild the collection of our memories together. And these moments of connectivity allow for even more memories to be made.


What if we were to let go of our old definitions of order? What if we were to care less about attainment and containment? Would this make room for us to better receive the words of the loved one sitting across from us? Might we learn better how to be in touch with the sensations in our own skin?


In her Letter in the Mail for The Rumpus, Lidia Yuknavitch wrote about hands and death and dying. She wrote, “Well here’s the deal. We die all the time. I think maybe we are supposed to. I think when you let yourself fall all the way into art that moves you, for example, you experience a little death, and yes I know the other meaning of the phrase ‘little death’ so it just makes even more sense. Maybe if we stopped being scared to talk about dead things and hands we could get somewhere beyond the nonsense and violence of cultural poisons–capitalism and the cult of good citizenship and car ownership and house ownership and fame and money and image culture and rape culture and kill the planet culture and conquer culture and erase the indigenous and ‘insert your poison here.'”


I love that she says nonsense. I love that she says violence. Because these ways of being are both: violent and nonsensical. They take away from our own authority, and they drain us of what it really means to be fully and deeply alive, in all its messy and beautiful glory.


Is it possible in acknowledging our own mortality and our own vulnerability that we could truly see one another?


That we could allow ourselves to receive one another?


That we could allow ourselves—as we truly and fully are, without control or expectation—to be received?






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1sug·ar     noun     \ˈSHo͝ogər\

1: a : a sweet crystallizable material that consists wholly or essentially of sucrose, is colorless or white when pure tending to brown when less refined, is obtained commercially from sugarcane or sugar beet and less extensively from sorghum, maples, and palms, and is important as a source of dietary carbohydrate and as a sweetener and preservative of other foods b : any of various water-soluble compounds that vary widely in sweetness, include the monosaccharides and oligosaccharides, and typically are optically active

2 : a unit (as a spoonful, cube, or lump) of sugar

3: a sugar bowl


2sugar     verb     sug·ared     sug·ar·ing

transitive verb

1: to make palatable or attractive : sweeten <a story sugared with romance>

2: to sprinkle or mix with sugar

intransitive verb

1: to form or be converted into sugar

2: to become granular

3: to make maple syrup or maple sugar



I found Sugar at a time in my life when I was mourning severed connections, reflecting deeply on myself and my life and my choices and experiencing raw loneliness. My life was by no means in shambles, but I still was struggling with boundless uncertainties and deep self-doubt.

An advice columnist for The Rumpus, Sugar’s columns are exactly the opposite of what repels me from other columns. They are not didactic. They do not pretend to solve someone’s complicated problem or deep question in one neatly wrapped up answer. They are not formal or impersonal. They do not have an imbalanced or hierarchical relationship between advice seeker and advice giver. There is no air of superiority.

Instead, Sugar is a cartographer of the heart; she reaches into the map of her personal history, pulling out threads of her journeys and struggles and celebrations and weaving them through readers’ questions. Here, she says, look at this. And this. And this. In authentically crafting stories that navigate their way to an answer of sorts, she offers words that resonate with all readers, no matter whether they have been in the same situation as the advice seeker or not.

It isn’t that Sugar is telling us things that we don’t already know. Sugar taps into the deep register, the inaudible murmur resting below the words being said and she echoes back this thrumming in the truths she tells and the way she tells them: with honesty, with compassion, with love. Often those writing in don’t only need to address the current situation in need of attention and healing but the deep wounds that lie beneath it. And these wounds—of not feeling worthy or of being ashamed or of being scared to love or to be vulnerable or take risks because of our past hurts—these are ones we can all relate to.

Tonight, Sugar is having a coming out party in San Francisco, to tell the world who she really is. But as she said in one of her columns, we already know who she is: “…I quickly realized that telling stories about my life was often the only way I knew how to communicate the complexity of my advice. Your story spilled into mine and then I spilled it back into you, with hopes that we’d all find ourselves somewhere in the big story that belongs to all of us in a place we made up called Sugarland, where you know me already, even though you don’t know me at all.”



Researcher and storyteller Brene Brown has a brilliant TED talk about vulnerability. One of the things she discusses is that there is only one major difference between whole-hearted people, those who live with their whole heart, and those who don’t, and that is that whole-hearted people view vulnerability as a necessary part of life. And they see that vulnerability involves risk (to say “I love you” first, to do something they’ve never done before, to ask for help) and they choose to be vulnerable anyway. Sugar’s columns are built with vulnerability and they encourage this sort of way of being and living in her readers.

I brought Sugar’s columns into my freshman composition classroom this past fall to show them examples of how to use personal narrative to make a strong and clear point. We read one of her columns aloud and discussed how she went about telling her story and for what effect. Then, students had to answer one of her letter writers using their own personal experience. They talked about loss and grief and insecurities. Their words spilled over with hope and fear and love and disappointment. And when they were finished writing, one of my students asked: Can we see her answer? What did Sugar say?

I never know how students will respond to lesson plans and had hopes for this one. But it was about something more than craft or pedagogical goals: I wanted to expose them to the rhetoric of love. One of the things I love most about Sugar is that she writes her column because the letters she receives need to be read and these stories need to be told. We all need tending to. And in reading and in responding, she has created and held a space for us, where we all can feel less alone, where we all belong, where we have the opportunity to be whole-hearted people, together.


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