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I’ve become obsessed with a new idea. A new old idea. The idea of the ‘Open Secret’ that exists amongst us. What is the Open Secret? It’s an idea I’ve just read about in this extraordinary book ‘Broken Open – How difficult times can help us grow’ by Elizabeth Lesser. (Don’t ask I’m addicted to these kind of books. Some people like Romance Novels, I like the deeper soul, self books. What can I say.) She speaks about what Rumi a 13th century, poet seer, describes as the ‘Open Secret’. That we all walk around pretending we’ve got it all together. That we are all ironed out smartly with not a problem in the world. We all work very hard on our images, but really we all carry our personal brand of troubles, sorrow and pain. We wear our wrinkles on the inside, but the irony is that if we shared them we’d all realise that we’re not alone, and hence almost like a bad joke it’s an ‘Open Secret’.

Lesser says, ‘One of the greatest enigmas of human behaviour is the way we isolate ourselves from each other. In our misguided perception of separation, we assume that others are not sharing a similar experience of life. We imagine that we are unique in our eccentricities or failures or longings. And so we try to appear as happy and consistent as we think others are, and we feel shame when we stumble and fall. When difficulties come our way, we don’t readily seek out help and compassion because we think others might not understand, or would judge us harshly or take advantage of our weakness. And so we hide out, and we miss out.’

Does this ring a bell with any of you? It certainly does with me. It’s amazing how often our outsides and insides don’t match. Everyone is a world and we have no idea what’s going on until we take that first word that leads us to connect and share a part of ourselves which isn’t part of the carefully constructed ‘image’. And that’s where humanity takes place, a fusion of humanness and to me Godliness. That place of vulnerability, letting go and trusting life. Easy to do? Hell no. But so worth while.

Of course I learnt the ‘Open Secret’ the hard way. At the Princes’ swimming class there’s one child who laughs a lot and is quite sweet. The mother of this child was always neatly put together, very trim and fit and always opened a book when the child was swimming. I (yes, that self-righteous ‘I’ that I’m certainly not proud of) thought to myself, ‘Geez she’s reading whilst her kids swimming, how about paying attention to your kid.’ I knew a part of me was projecting because I probably would have loved nothing better than to spend the time reading, instead of darting my eyes around like a goldfish keeping up with three bobbing, princely heads.  But there I was I had packaged this woman swiftly. With a few stereotyped thoughts strung together, she was necklaced.

And then I spoke to her one week. And she knew exactly what was going on in the pool and she had her story. Her child was a prem baby who walked, talked and basically did everything very late. Having been through the grueling remedial route myself my heart melted. Of course that wasn’t all. Her husband had died a couple of years ago. Cherry on top. I was so ashamed of any thought I’d ever had. Who was I to think anything of anybody when you can’t see into their heart and into their lives. (Plus any judgement I ever have is always more a reflection on me than the other person, but that would be a judgement blog wouldn’t it.) I had renewed respect for this woman’s bravery, for keeping herself together, giving to this child as unconditionally as she did, whilst supporting herself financially, emotionally, everythingly.

Secrets, we all carry them around, behind a brave smile that ends at the lips. I’m not saying that we don’t also have genuine, laughing smiles. We do. But a lot of the time we’re containing. We don’t share. I don’t know what the answer is exactly. (I haven’t finished the book yet.) I don’t know if everyone wants to hear about my hectic morning shift of mommying when they ask me how I am. But I also know that I’d actually like to know others better. I’d like to know what they’re going through. That they’re human and that we’re all in this together.

How much energy do we spend pretending we’re better than okay? And this applies to our joyful sides as well. Won’t everyone think I’m nuts if I point to the sky and say, ‘Look at those clouds, it’s like God’s taken a paintbrush and whipped up the most beautiful abstract painting of blue and white ice cream.’

‘That’s not part of the conversation,’ people will think shaking their heads. ‘That’s not, “I’m fine thanks. How are you?’

We women have such similar experiences and challenges, and yet how much do we share? How many of us admit the challenges we have with bringing up our children. With disciplining, with feeding them healthy food (I swear my kids didn’t have one square meal yesterday – and they thought the party could continue today.) New mothers joke that labour and the intensity of taking care of a new born baby is the best kept secret. I myself sometimes call it a conspiracy. No one really tells you it’s as hard as it is.

So what to do?

Elizabeth Lesser says, ‘See what happens when you offer to another a glimpse of who you really are. Start slowly. Without getting dramatic, share the simple dignity of yourself in each moment – your triumphs and your failures, your satisfaction and your sorrow. Face your embarrassment at being human, and you’ll uncover a deep well of passion and compassion. It’s a great power, your Open Secret. When your heart is undefended, you make it safe for whomever you meet to put down his burden of hiding, and then you both can walk through the open door.’

I think that’s so beautiful. I hope you can all put down your burdens at least whilst reading this blog.

And yes, a big thank you to Michalya who gave me this book for my birthday last year. I opened it when I was ready and it truly is such a wonderful gift!!!

And just for a laugh I’m going to add a poem below that I wrote in a creative writing course many years ago. (I don’t usually like poetry, except when the message and words are clear, clear, clear.) It’s a bit out there, but it drives the point home.

Howzit?

Hello, how are you?

Howzit?

Good thanks.

Fine.

So you doing well?

Yes and you?

Fine fine.

That’s great.

Yeah.

Yeah.

See you tomorrow then.

Well no I can’t.

Why?

My mom died.

Oh no – when?

Today.

 

Okay now breathe – it’s not really so bad. I will lighten up next blog with a choc cake recipe which is wheat free and (I think) flop proof. 🙂