The irony of hiding the dark side of our humanness is that our secret is not really a secret all. The moment you accept what troubles you’ve given, you will lessen the weight of your guilt. Where do we find the courage to make a big change? How do we use the forces of a difficult time to help us grow? There are many ways, but the first way is to know that we are not alone in these endeavors. One of the greatest enigmas of human behavior 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 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 they would judge us harshly, or take advantage of our weakness. And so we hide out, and we miss out.
We read novels and go to movies and follow the lives of celebrities in order to imbibe a kind of full-out living we believe is out of our reach, or too risky, or just an illusion. We become voyeurs of the kind of experiences that our own souls are longing to have. Here’s the oddest thing about living live as a spectator sport: while the tales in books and movies and People magazine may be created with smoke and mirrors, our own lives don’t have to be.
We have the real opportunity to live fully, with passion and meaning and profound satisfaction. It is our birthright to uncover the soul-to-remove the layers of fear or shame or apathy or cynicism that conceal it. A good place to start, and a place we come back to cover and over again, is the Open Secret.
Each one of us is trying to hide a secret-not a big, bad secret, but a more subtle and pervasive one. It’s what I imagine Einstein tried to hide from his neighbours in Princeton, and they from him. And it’s the same kind of secret that you and I keep from each other every day you meet an old acquaintance, and she asks, “How are you?” You say, “Fine!” She asks, “How are the kids?” You say, “Oh, they’re great.” “The job?” “Just fine. I’ve been there five years now.”Then, you ask that person, “How are you?” She says, “Fine!” You ask, “Your new house?” “I love it.” “The new town?” We’re all settling in.” It’s a perfectly innocent exchange of ordinary banter; each one of us has a similar kind every day. But it is probably not an accurate representation of our actual lives. We don’t want to say that one of the kids is failing in school, or that our work often feels meaningless, or that the move to the new town may have been a colossal mistake. It’s almost as if we are embarrassed by our most human traits.
We tell ourselves that we don’t have time to go into the gory details with everyone we meet; we don’t know each other well enough; we don’t want to appear sad, or confused, or weak, or self-absorbed. Better to keep under wraps our neurotic and nutty sides no to mention our darker urges and shameful desires. Why wallow publicly in the underbelly of our day-to-day stuff? Why wave the dirty laundry about, when all she asked was, “How are you?”
When we hide the secret underbelly from each other, then both people go away wondering, “How come she has it all together? How come her marriage/job/town/family works so well? What’s wrong with me?” when we don’t share he secret ache in our hearts-the normal bewilderment of being human-it turns into something else. Our pain, and fear, and longing, in the absence of company, become alienation, and envy, and competition.
The irony of hiding the dark side of our humanness is that our secret is not really a secret at all. How can it be when we’re all safeguarding the very same story? It’s almost a joke-a laughable admission that each one of us has a shadow self-a bumbling, bad-tempered twin. Big surprise! Just like you, I can be a jerk sometimes. I do should be doing something constructive. Just like you, I wonder if life has meaning; I worry and fret over things I can’t control; and I often feel overcome with a longing for something that I cannot even name. For all of my strengths and gifts, I am also a vulnerable and insecure person, in need of connection and reassurance.
This is the secret I try to keep from you, and you from me, and in doing so, we do each other grave disservice. Moment we accept what troubles we’ve been given, the door will open. Sounds easy, sounds attractive, but it is difficult, and most of us pound on the door to freedom and happiness with ever manipulative ploy save the one that actually works. If you’re interested in the door to the heavens opening, start with the door to your own secret self. 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.
Be Happy – Accept Your Troubles