“Thick skin doesn’t work anymore. I want to be transparent, and translucent. For that to work, I won’t own other people’s shortcomings and criticisms. I won’t put what you say about me on my load.” This is a quite from actress Viola Davis in an interview Brene’ Brown did with her for Brown’s book, Braving the Wilderness.
I’ve listened to this quote over and over again. “I want to be transparent, and translucent.” To not have thick skin. Because, as Davis says, thick skin keeps everything from getting in, but it also keeps everything from getting out. Love, compassion, tenderness. It’s much harder, really, to be willing to let things pass through than to keep that skin nice and thick. Again, it’s that willingness to be vulnerable, to “brave the wilderness” that Brown talks so much about.
I want to be transparent and translucent. I want to see and be seen. After all, if people can’t see you, they’re never going to show themselves to you. I want to be real, and vulnerable. I want to be like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, when he says, “I’m a crybaby. I cry all the time.” But he also laughs all the time. In The Book of Joy, where the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama are discussing creating true joy in the face of adversity, the first-hand account by the author, Douglas Abrams, describes every interaction with these two very holy men as being filled with laughter. Unbridled, side-splitting laughter. Yet, they are moved to tears by the slightest little thing. I feel like this represents a total lack of fear. These men have seen it all, and they are unafraid to face any emotion that comes upon them. They are completely transparent, translucent. They have no need for thick skin. Whatever comes to them, they feel it, and accept it. And they are free to let unfettered love, compassion, kindness and a gentle, gentle tenderness for every human on earth flow through them.
I had a panic attack this morning. It was hard. Especially since I had two classes to teach today. Such great irony, having to recover from a panic attack so I can go teach people tools to be calm and soothe anxiety. Worse, I had it in public. At my kids’ school. Fortunately, I was able to go to an uninhabited corner to ride it out. And my husband was there to help me, but still. It makes you raw. It’s like sandpaper on your thick skin, if you let it be. Smoothing out the roughness, making it clearer, and you more translucent. It brings you back to your humanity, and reminds you of the humanity of everyone else. It takes an immense amount of bravery, I think, to say, “This is me. This is what is happening, how my humanity is being felt in this moment.” It’s not really possible to have a thick skin when you can’t breathe and don’t have control of your body. It’s a moment of complete transparency. You can’t be anything other than you are in that moment. So you can either shut down, to keep the bad stuff out, or you can open up, and as Mama Odie says “Let the light in, Children!” (Sorry, y’all. I’ve watched the Princess and the Frog waaaay too many times.)
I’ve made part of my mission to be as real as I can. I share everything I can in an effort to be as transparent as I can be. Partly because I want to share my story, but also because I want other people to share theirs. And I don’t share everything. There’s just some stuff I’m still too scared to but out there. In The Book of Joy, the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama talk at great length about our “shared humanity”. His Holiness the Dalai Lama likes to consider himself, “Just one of seven billion.” They consider forgetting our shared humanity as one of the greatest obstacles there is to cultivation lasting joy. These little posts of mine are my was of reaffirming my humanity.
I tell my clients, and my kids, all the time, “We are all new. We’re all learning to be human. We aren’t born knowing how to do this.” Well, I guess we probably don’t die knowing how to do it either, so there’s that. All we can do is try. But that’s all of us. Nobody know how to do it, except maybe the Dalia Lama. But he gets up at 3am every morning and meditates for five hours, so maybe we could all try that. But, even that guy says, “I’m human, just like you. Just one of seven billion.”
Let’s not hide our humanity. Let’s not forget that we’re all learners. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that everybody else has their stuff together, because I’m pretty sure they don’t. Even if we can’t meditate for five hours every day, we can open up our windows. Let the light in. And don’t forget to laugh. Apparently, that’s a very holy thing to do.