Authors Brene Brown and Joan Halifax Roshi joined co-founder of the Omega Institute Elizabeth Lesser on stage during the opening evening session of the Omega Institute’s “Women and Power Retreat” on September 20, 2013 to discuss the strength, vulnerability and authenticity at the heart of women’s leadership today.
In discussing authenticity, Brown shared her personal mantra: ‘Don’t shrink, don’t puff up and stand your sacred ground.’
“When I first started the research I though there are authentic people and inauthentic people, but what I learned was there is no such thing … there are just people who practice authenticity, and it’s this daily practice. I wanted to have a mantra as part of my practice,” she said.
She came up with hers after taking a trip to attend a board meeting for the Nobel Women’s Initiative. Upon returning, she was confronted by a women when picking her children up from school – a women who in the past had made her feel guilty or “like she had been slimed.”
“She said who took care of the kids while you were gone, and so shrinking would have been for me to say, ‘oh, I was gone and mom had to come in,’ and puffing up would be ‘I was changing the world with the noble women’s initiative, what were you doing last week? How was the bake sale,’” she told the audience laughing. “But that would be hurtful and not authentic and not me.” Instead she discovered her mantra.
Finding a Balance
Part of the evening’s discussion covered finding balance in our lives by taking the time we need for what Halifax Roshi calls the “in breath,” and also changing our view of gender roles.
Lesser explained many of us feel concerned for the world, worry about our children and want to give of ourselves in a way that makes a difference. But in order to give, we must take time to receive. “What good are we if we are the angry peacemaker?” she asked.
Halifax Roshi compared giving and receiving to the act of breathing. “It’s what the body teaches us – at this moment it’s an exhale and the next moment it’s an inhale. It’s just as important to have the inhale. It’s really knowing your capacities and claiming them,” she said.
Brown’s research has shown her we can’t give to people what we don’t have, and that although for many women the “in breath” time can be a shame trigger, it is necessary.
“I can’t give love and kindness to my kids or to the world or the Earth if I can’t give love and kindness to myself,” she said.
For many women, their identity is caught up in the archetype of the “do gooder,” said Halifax Roshi. “Our social approval comes from us being caregivers and that we are looked on as being self-centered and narcissistic [otherwise].”
Additionally, part of finding balance is for women to begin encouraging men to become caretakers as well, Lesser noted. “It must be a shared responsibility because humans and the Earth need care,” she said.
Brown told the audience as of Oct. 1, her husband was pulling back at work and would be home three days a week – what she called a “shared care, shared work model” – and in her research she is finding men are actually more open to this then women may think.
“What I see is men so teetering close to the edge of sheer grief about what they are missing in their lives that it is almost painful to acknowledge it. It is much easier to express it as power and rage,” Brown explained. “I think women are exhausted…we are holding our breath, not taking our deep breaths in because we want to be perceived as ‘do it all, do it perfectly, and never let them see you sweat,’ and men are holding their breath because ‘yes, we are missing out, and yes we are disengaged from stuff that we really love, but we don’t know how else to do it, and we don’t have support, not just from the systems we work in but from the female partners in their lives.’”
In fact, Brown said the No. 1 source of shame for men – according to what they have told her in her research – is women and usually the women who love them.
“I think we have a lot of healing work to do together, and I think vulnerability is that path back to each other – and the breathing.”