David A. Antler

Braving the Wilderness

The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone

By Brené Brown

Read: 2019-06-07
Rating: 5/10
ISBN: 978-0812995855

Normally I’m a big fan of Brené Brown’s psychology books, but this one seemed like a strained reformulation of old ideas without much new substance. She is brave for sharing her stories so publicly, but I found “Daring Greatly” to be a more foundational book.

my notes

“Do not think you can be brave with your life and your work and never disappoint anyone. It doesn’t work that way.”

Sometimes the most dangerous thing for kids is the silence that allows them to construct their own stories—stories that almost always cast them as alone and unworthy of love and belonging.

You will always belong anywhere you show up as yourself and talk about yourself and your work in a real way.”

Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.

Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.

I kept reading the words “inextricably connected” over and over. We’ve broken that link. And in the next chapter, I’m going to show you how and why we broke it. The rest of the book is about fixing it—finding our way back to one another.

Continuing on the path of grounded theory, I focused the research on these questions: 1. What is the process, practice, or approach that the women and men who have developed a sense of true belonging have in common? 2. What does it take to get to the place in our life where we belong nowhere and everywhere—where belonging is in our heart and not a reward for “perfecting, pleasing, proving, and pretending” or something that others can hold hostage or take away? 3. If we’re willing to brave the wilderness—to stand alone in our integrity—do we still need that sense of belonging that comes from community? 4. Does the current culture of increasing divisiveness affect our quest for true belonging? If so, how?

Four learnings from the wilderness:

  1. People Are Hard to Hate Close Up. Move In.
  2. Speak Truth to Bullshit. Be Civil.
  3. Hold Hands. With Strangers.
  4. Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart.

Theologians, writers, poets, and musicians have always used the wilderness as a metaphor, to represent everything from a vast and dangerous environment where we are forced to navigate difficult trials to a refuge of nature and beauty where we seek space for contemplation. What all wilderness metaphors have in common are the notions of solitude, vulnerability, and an emotional, spiritual, or physical quest. Belonging so fully to yourself that you’re willing to stand alone is a wilderness—an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared.

Boundaries—You respect my boundaries, and when you’re not clear about what’s okay and not okay, you ask. You’re willing to say no.
Reliability—You do what you say you’ll do. This means staying aware of your competencies and limitations so you don’t overpromise and are able to deliver on commitments and balance competing priorities.
Accountability—You own your mistakes, apologize, and make amends.
Vault—You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share. I need to know that my confidences are kept, and that you’re not sharing with me any information about other people that should be confidential.
Integrity—You choose courage over comfort. You choose what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy. And you choose to practice your values rather than simply professing them.
Nonjudgment—I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can talk about how we feel without judgment.
Generosity—You extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words, and actions of others.

True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.

Art has the power to render sorrow beautiful, make loneliness a shared experience, and transform despair into hope. Only art can take the holler of a returning soldier and turn it into a shared expression and a deep, collective experience. Music, like all art, gives pain and our most wrenching emotions voice, language, and form, so it can be recognized and shared. The magic of the high lonesome sound is the magic of all art: the ability to both capture our pain and deliver us from it at the same time.

Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and

It is not easy to hate people close up. And when we are in pain and fear, anger and hate are our go-to emotions. Almost everyone I’ve ever interviewed or known will tell you that it’s easier to be pissed off than it is to be hurt or scared.

Most of us were not taught how to recognize pain, name it, and be with it. Our families and culture believed that the vulnerability that it takes to acknowledge pain was weakness, so we were taught anger, rage, and denial instead. But what we know now is that when we deny our emotion, it owns us. When we own our emotion, we can rebuild and find our way through the pain.

Sometimes owning our pain and bearing witness to struggle means getting angry. When we deny ourselves the right to be angry, we deny our pain. There are a lot of coded shame messages in the rhetoric of “Why so hostile?” “Don’t get hysterical,” “I’m sensing so much anger!” and “Don’t take it so personally.” All of these responses are normally code for Your emotion or opinion is making me uncomfortable or Suck it up and stay quiet.

Maiese defines dehumanization as “the psychological process of demonizing the enemy, making them seem less than human and hence not worthy of humane treatment.” Dehumanizing often starts with creating an enemy image. As we take sides, lose trust, and get angrier and angrier, we not only solidify an idea of our enemy, but also start to lose our ability to listen, communicate, and practice even a modicum of empathy.

When disagreements revolve around what happened in the past, it’s easy to fall into countless volleys of “you said…I said” back and forth. Focusing on what did or didn’t happen in the past, or what past events led to the current situation, usually increases tension and decreases connection. A critical first step is to shift the focus to “Where are we now?” and the most important turning point comes when we focus on the future. What are we trying to accomplish for the future? What do we want our relationship to be going forward, and what do we need to do, even if we still disagree, to create that future?

I believe, and tell my students, one of the most courageous things to say in an uncomfortable conversation is “Tell me more.” Exactly when we want to turn away and change the topic, or just end the conversation, or counter, as you say, we also have the opportunity to ask what else we need to know to fully understand the other person’s perspective. Help me understand why this is so important to you, or help me understand why you don’t agree with a particular idea.

We don’t even bother being curious anymore because somewhere, someone on “our side” has a position. In a fitting-in culture—at home, at work, or in our larger community—curiosity is seen as weakness and asking questions equates to antagonism rather than being valued as learning.

The only way to combat foreboding joy is gratitude. Across the years, the men and women who could most fully lean in to joy were those who practiced gratitude. In those vulnerable moments of individual or collective joy, we need to practice gratitude.

As we were leaving I said, “I’m wiped, but I guess it’s off to the meet-and-greet.” She looked at me and said, “I’m going to my room to rest before tonight. Why don’t you do the same?” I told her that sounded great, but I felt bad saying no. I’ll never forget what she said back to me. “Tonight we will exhale and teach. Now it’s time to inhale. There is the in-breath and there is the out-breath, and it’s easy to believe that we must exhale all the time, without ever inhaling. But the inhale is absolutely essential if you want to continue to exhale.”

But the wilderness doesn’t issue membership cards. A wild heart is not something you can always see—and yet it is our greatest spiritual possession.

Stop walking through the world looking for confirmation that you don’t belong. You will always find it because you’ve made that your mission. Stop scouring people’s faces for evidence that you’re not enough. You will always find it because you’ve made that your goal. True belonging and self-worth are not goods; we don’t negotiate their value with the world. The truth about who we are lives in our hearts. Our call to courage is to protect our wild heart against constant evaluation, especially our own. No one belongs here more than you.