|Sarah Bareilles, 'Brave'|
Apparently Chogyam Trungpa, the founder of Shambhala and one of the first Tibetan Buddhist teachers in the West, coined the phrase: being fully human.
As a great lover of Pema Chodron, a student of Chogyam Trungpa, this phrase has come up repeatedly as I study the dharma by listening to her talks and reading her books. In contemplation I’ve come to have a greater idea of what this phrase is pointing at.
Being fully human isn’t to say that right now we are inhuman. Rather, it’s saying that most of the time we are resistant to our experience. Most of the time we are not present. We would prefer to be more comfortable or for life to be easier. We would rather that nothing ‘bad’ ever happened to us and everything ‘good’ came our way.
This seems totally sensible of course. Who wants to have bad things happen and who wouldn’t want to have good things happen?
But life doesn’t work that way. It isn’t fair and duality is a concept not grounded in reality.
The phrase ‘being fully human’ is an invitation for us to be fully alive. To be fully alive is to embrace what actually is, not what we perceive to be, hope to be or wish could be.
This means many things to me as a practitioner but isn’t specific to Buddhism. As human beings we will experience illness, old age, and death. These things are inevitable.
To be fully alive is to accept the facts of life, so to speak, which means accepting that life isn’t always comfortable nor easy. But it also means accepting that discomfort and difficulties are not a punishment. These things don’t mean we’ve done something ‘wrong’. They don’t mean anything. They just are.
To be fully human is a process of learning how to embrace this essential fact.
I want to ground this with an example, and this is why I’ve chosen to illustrate these particular lyrics.
We all want to be accepted and loved. It’s human nature. We’re pack animals. Psychological studies have proven that belonging is a need, not a want.
In my own pursuit to belong I have often contorted myself to fit the expectations of others. I’ve cared and speculated way too much about what other people think.
This has resulted in me holding back. I’ll not say something out of fear that someone might disagree with it because if they disagree then they might not like me. The prospect of not being liked was so terrifying that I’ve lost my voice in any number of situations. In losing my voice, my ability to speak and share freely, I have lost the chance to be fully present. I’ve not shown up for myself because I was so worried about what other people might think.
Learning to let go of this is a process and one I’ll be working with my whole life. But I’ve begun to see how often I base my actions on what I perceive the expectations of others to be. It’s not even based on proof!
My choice to remain voiceless has been rooted in an idea of how I think people will react. Sometimes this is based on experience. We get conditioned by our experiences and most people don’t like conflict so we do go out of our way to avoid it.
Sometimes this is wise but sometimes it can be damaging. It can mean we are less honest about who we are in the world. It can mean we don’t stand up for ourselves.
The process of letting go of this idea has been interesting. I’m learning many things like:
- It’s possible to have an opinion and not be threatened by the opinions of others.
- Other people are allowed to be offended or upset or simply disagree with something I say and that’s not my responsibility.
- Showing up for yourself by speaking out takes a lot of bravery.
- Speaking out wisely takes a lot of practice.
I’m not saying we should speak thoughtlessly or out of turn. I’m not advocating rudeness or brutal honesty. All of this must be practiced with kindness and clear seeing of what serves in any given situation and what doesn’t. But I am saying that we should experiment.
Rather than shut down or suppress our thoughts and opinions we could voice them skilfully. This allows us to hear the thoughts and opinions of others more clearly and keeps us open and flexible. It reminds us that everyone wants to be seen.
Being fully human is about being who you are. Not who you think you should be or who you think other people want you to be.