One of the traits that sets us apart from our animal friends is our rational thinking capability. Something we share closely with them is our instinct for self-preservation. This survival mechanism serves us well. On one hand, we want and need to protect ourselves from harm. We do the best we can in the physical arena, some of us more fortunate than others in the safety of our surroundings. Emotionally, we play our cards close to the chest to protect our hearts and egos.
On the other hand, we have a drive to connect with others and be seen and heard by them. So, we form relationships and communities, and we create art. It’s dangerous territory. The exposure is risky. There are people out there who are not compassionate or empathic. All of us have suffered from a broken heart, sometimes at the hands of a good person who was perhaps acting from his or her own sense of self preservation. Sadly, there are the broken hearted who have been abused and mistreated by other broken hearted souls. At times it appears safest to retreat to a fenced-in emotional space, preferably against a wall where we won’t have to rely on anyone else to guard our back.
That’s one option. We can set up our relationships and communities, and create art from our little corner. The risks are easy to assess from there, and vulnerability can be avoided. Our authentic affections and dreams can remain hidden, even from our intimate companions. We can even pretend that our flaws and weaknesses belong to our relatives and neighbors. Our relationships in that space will be unsatisfying and empty. The things we create from there will be lacking as well. It’s hard to define that missing element, but it’s easy to spot its absence in a painting, or poem, or conversation at the table.
Another option is available. It requires us to show up with our whole self visible and available. Stepping out from behind the fence, leaving the corner, requires courage and colossal unselfishness. Ironically, this effort is rewarded in spades by a simplified life, deeper relationships, and greater creativity and productivity. I think this happens because the energy required to stay in that corner is all-consuming. Hiding our voice to please others, or to avoid rocking the boat, takes a lot out of us. In the end, it’s not sustainable.
What I have found in my explorations of that second option has been surprising and paradoxical. The less I try to protect myself, the safer I feel. A more honest conversation with a loved one results in a stronger bond. Creating something without worrying about how it might be received opens the floodgates of inspiration and delight in the process. Turns out, that first option is the more taxing and destructive choice, and its results are poor, to say the least. Fear based self-preservation tactics lead us away from what we really need to thrive: connection, authenticity and harmony.