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Monday
Jul292013

Minding the Gap: Cultivating Change and Closing the Disengagement Divide

Great things come in small packages and big concepts are the gift of this week's short chapter of Brené Brown's Daring Greatly

Minding the Gap… 

Click here for all posts at The Wayfinder Post!“Paying attention to the space between where we’re actually standing and where we want to be.” 

“We don’t have to be perfect, just engaged and committed to aligning values with action.”

“The space between our practiced values (what we’re actually doing, thinking, and feeling) and our aspirational values (what we want to do, think, and feel) is the value gap, or what I call ‘the disengagement divide.’” Brené Brown

 

When I began to ponder the simple yet powerful concepts in this chapter, I asked myself the following questions:

Where do I need to mind the gap? What are the places/ways/times I enter into the disengagement divide? 

While I resonated with Dr. Brown’s excellent examples of the gap between aspirational values and practiced values in family (cultural) situations, what came to mind as I explored this concept was the gap between Me and Myself. 

Until we understand our own “gaps,” we are at risk of widening (or falling into) the gap between ourselves and the people we care about. Disengagement divides us on both the inside and outside. If we cannot connect and engage with ourselves, then we are more likely to use numbing or disengagement when dealing with others. We disengage when we feel like the people who are leading us—parents, teachers, politicians, clergy, bosses, coaches—aren’t living up to their side of the social contract (i.e. their espoused values don’t match their practiced values). We disengage from ourselves when we are uncomfortable, afraid, or don't know any better.

 

A personal example: Several years ago while my son was in a therapeutic boarding school in Mexico, my husband, daughter, and I went there for a family visit. One evening the four of us were out for dinner at a recommended neighborhood restaurant. (It was actually a family’s backyard with a few picnic tables and a grill set up to serve yummy carne asada.) 

While we were waiting for our meal, there were several wild kittens scurrying around. My son immediately said, “Mom! Mom, look at the kittens!” and dove out of his seat to pet them. Instead of responding to my heart’s tug to join him, I heard my voice say, “No! Don't touch them. They’re dirty.” Enter the disengagement gap.

What occurred here was a huge fissure between what I really wanted to do (pet the kittens) and what I was saying we could do (No!).  The disengagement damage was written on my son’s face, but also buried beneath a pile of historical rubble inside me.

I wasn’t aware of the impact of layers and layers of cultural and familial messages. In that brief moment, I looked across the table and saw my husband shake his head to confirm my 'No' response. I also fleetingly heard my own mother telling me not to pet stray kittens because they were dirty.

Through our unawareness, the gap grew between all of us—my family and me, myself and me—because we couldn’t name what was going on. In hindsight, my son didn’t feel like he could trust me. I couldn’t trust my husband (because he concurred with the ‘no petting’ stance). I felt alone and off kilter and my daughter experienced her own feelings of disengagement. Not exactly the family dynamic we wanted to nurture!

The "kitten story" happened about ten years ago and I share it today, because looking back I realize it is a pivotal example of how I used to live inside the disengagement divide. Recently I was with a colleague I've known for about seven years. She expressed disbelief that I'm afraid of anything. "You always seem so fearless," she replied.  Fearless? I chuckled and then remembered this story where I didn't even have the nerve to pet harmless little kittens. Yes, I've come a long way... and it all began when I was finally able to name the gap and begin to cultivate change!

 

To Mind the Gap, we must Find the Gap.

“We can’t give people what we don’t have.”  ~ Brené Brown

 

While my core aspirational value is to live an authentic, carefree, and kind life, in the above example I was practicing inauthenticity, rigidity, and harshness. 

Minding the gap is a daring strategy. It means paying attention and exploring where we’re actually standing and noticing the relationship to where we want to be. It means taking the risk to move out of our comfort zone and step into a potential ring of fire. 

In her excellent book, Steering by Starlight, Martha Beck talks about a “Three-Ring Life.” The first ring is where many of us live. She calls it the “shallows”—the place where we’re mentally trapped in a concept of who we think we should be. (Like me thinking I shouldn’t pet stray kittens or you believing you have to stay in a situation that feels yucky.) Gap alert!

At our center lives “the core of peace” where we are congruent in aspiration and practice. This is the space of pure and utter contentment. No gap!

What lies between these two spaces is “the ring of fire.” This space represents the emotional process we must go through in order to move from the shallows and reach the core of peace. Bridge the gap! 

The ring of fire is where we dare greatly. It requires us to embrace our own vulnerability and confront our feelings of shame, guilt, or unworthiness. It’s where we begin to let go of what we believe others expect of us. It’s the place where we value our values and take the leap to mind the gap (or pet the kittens)... even if we get a little dirty.

 

In the final chapters of Daring Greatly, Brené Brown discusses more fully what we need to do to both cultivate engagement and to transform the way we parent, educate, and lead. Stay tuned!! In the meantime...

Where do you need to mind the gap?

What are the places/ways/times you are most at risk of entering into the disengagement divide?

For an additional experience this week, I've included a short guided meditation to help you explore the gap between "the shallows" and "the core of peace." It's about 11 minutes and includes three brief writing prompts for further exploration. Enjoy!!

Writing Prompts:

When I'm in the shallows... When I'm stuck...

When I step into the ring of fire, I feel...  I need to...

The core of peace is...

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