In March 2015, Cayman Naib, thirteen, a delightful and precocious middle-schooler and the son of two of my dearest friends, went missing. He walked out of his house on a foggy wintry night in suburban Philadelphia. After a gut-wrenching few days of searching for Cayman, we discovered he’d taken his own life just a mere hundred yards from his home.
It was a life-changing week, one in which I learned what it means to be available and open to life — just as it is. My husband and I arrived soon after Cayman went missing, stayed close by our friends as hundreds searched for their son, and stood by their side during press conferences and memorials. We listened as they recalled memories of their son’s short life. We laughed and cried with them every evening over food and wine.
During these precious days, I experienced a profound intimacy with life and death. What I learned in those tender moments with my friends — while holding their hands as they waited for news of their son, while holding space for them as they began to grieve his death — is that living on the verge is not simply about showing up in this moment, blissed-out, calm, clear, and all that stuff. Living on the verge is about meeting life head-on — right here and now — without hiding from the unfamiliar or the uncomfortable. It’s about being available in this moment without feeling the need to control, fix, or impose your agenda and answers. Living on the verge is about being fearlessly open and sincere.
Opening Your Heart
When your heart opens, you access your natural sense of confidence. It emerges when you embrace the moment fully — no matter what is happening. When you show up, available for life just as it is, you feel fully awake and alive.
Life is bursting with opportunities to be available and experience fully. Spontaneous sounds, smells, and scenes pop up everywhere. Some stop you in your tracks. Some even bring you to your knees. The sweet smell of lilacs, the cooing of a dove, or the tender text exchanges with your partner are all reminders that your life is meant to be experienced right now — not later when you have more money or more time — but right now. Shift beyond your busy mind often enough, and you build trust that you can embrace life fully — no matter what is happening. This is the confident nature of your open heart.
I stood by the side of my friends when they held a televised press conference about their missing son and made myself available for them. I stood by their side just waiting to offer a hug or a smile or to share a good cry. I found the courage to set aside my own fears and worries about Cayman and death in general to show up unconditionally for them. I was able to get out of my own way in order to fully embrace the unimaginable moment of anguish and intensity when Cayman’s body was found.
I directly experienced the reality of this tragedy in the most intimate and vulnerable way — from my open heart. I felt alive in a way I can’t describe. Those days are burned in my memory — in high definition. I’m so grateful I was able to show up and be available for those tender moments, moments that will be with me forever as some of the most vivid direct experiences of my life.
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Embrace Life Fully — No Matter What
Sometimes life arrives wrapped up in pretty bows, with music playing and a sunset in the background, and sometimes it doesn’t. There are moments of pure joy, not-so-ideal moments, and downright crappy moments. There’s the good, the bad, and the ugly all wrapped up in one lifetime.
When life gets challenging, many people shut down. It’s how we’re conditioned. We throw up the walls to protect ourselves from feeling uncomfortable. When things fall apart, whether big or small, we run for cover, close the curtains, and hunker down for a nice long nap until the sun comes out again.
When life gets tough, we want out. We’ll resist and ignore the unpleasant and do anything but embrace it. The truth is that uncomfortable and even painful moments are often so intertwined with brilliant shiny moments that shutting down to one experience causes you to shut down to them all.
\If you run away from the unpleasant experiences, you’ll likely miss some pleasant ones along the way. Denying darkness only blocks your potential to experience brightness.
If you want to directly experience being fully alive and intimately connected with the richness of your open heart, you’ll need to embrace everything — not just the sweet moments — but every moment. To experience the highest highs, you must be available for the lowest lows, to face stuff you’re inclined to push away, avoid, or ignore.
Are You Showing Up or Shutting Down?
You cannot fully experience life if you push away, run away, or shut down. When you do so, you become unavailable. Instead of directly experiencing the world in high definition, you peek at it from behind the curtains of your busy mind.
Are you willing to participate in life fully — no matter what? If you’re not answering with an emphatic yes, I highly recommend finding out why. Let’s take a look at how doubt, fear, worry, and self-judgment may be getting in your way.
Doubt is a sense of uncertainty or a lack of conviction, and it often shuts down our enthusiasm to embrace life fully. With information bombarding us 24/7, it’s easy to latch on to a bit of news and run with it. For example, you can easily grab on to that one short article that says the benefits of meditating are inconclusive and, boom, you’re done with meditation.
Doubt is sneaky. When caught in doubt, you experience life through a filter of skepticism, indecision, and hesitancy. Doubt can easily convince you to run away and avoid an issue.
If you’re not paying attention, you’ll begin to also doubt your own direct experiences. You may even lose trust in your instincts to know what you need to be healthy and happy. Doubt keeps you trapped in your busy mind, where your tendency is to shut down or even hide from life instead of showing up and embracing life.
Everyone knows fear. It can save your life or keep you up all night. It arises when you anticipate danger or pain. Fear is one of the most powerful emotions we have. It’s built into our DNA, an inherent instinct that acts as a warning system. Real fear has helped our species to survive; running back into the cave helped our ancestors avoid dangerous animals.
But there’s another type of fear called “perceived fear.” This fear is generated from your busy mind. There’s the fear of scarcity, of not having people or things in your life, or of losing what you already have. There’s the fear of missing out, the fear of the unknown, and the fear of death. These self-generated fears are constructed in your busy mind and are often described as False Evidence Appearing Real — FEAR.
Your body reacts the same way to a perceived fear as it does to a real one. During this physical response, your body releases stress hormones stimulating your “fight or flight” response. Instinctively this response prepares you to go into battle or flee. You become tense and rigid, not only physically but also mentally and emotionally. Let’s look as some examples.
Real fear occurs when:
The car in front of you slams on its brakes.
The dish towel catches on fire while you’re cooking.
Your toddler runs into the street.
A big spider lands on your arm.
Perceived fear occurs when:
You have thoughts of your neighbor’s terrifying dog behind the fence.
You feel you might fall over a cliff, even though you’re safely behind the guard rail.
You expect to get fired when your boss asks to meet with you.
Real fear keeps you alive. Perceived fear imprisons you in busy mind. Perceived fear cuts you off from your direct experience, making you unavailable for others. It mutes your confidence to experience deep intimacy and connection with life. It also blocks you from feeling fully alive.
Worry is a common strain of fear. It’s manufactured in your busy mind and closes you off from your common sense. Worry is anxiety or uneasiness about potential outcomes. It’s a sign that you’re stuck in your busy mind.
Worry manifests as stress, anxiety, nervousness, and even awkwardness; it makes you tense and distorts reality. Worry, the opposite of trust, also blocks you from receiving messages from your body.
Self-judgment is a critical view of who you are and what you’re doing. It arises from constant comparison to others — what they look like, how much they appear to have, and even how happy they seem to be.
In many ways, self-judgment is self-hatred. Sound harsh? Well, it is. Your negative self-talk pollutes every corner of your life. The quicker you recognize how harshly you judge yourself, the faster you can slay that dragon.
Self-judgment cuts you off from living in high definition, and it crushes your high-voltage energy. Everything you see, taste, touch, feel, and hear will be distorted and muted when it’s bathed in self-criticism. Eliminating this toxic habit is the true meaning of getting out of your own way.
Become Familiar with Your Tendencies
Never underestimate the power of the deeply ingrained habits of doubt, fear, worry, and self-judgment, as they will shut you down and hold you back. These tendencies are like walls separating you from directly experiencing life. They block you from shifting beyond your busy mind and glimpsing your natural state, and they hinder your ability to be genuine and sincere.
I’m not suggesting you try to break these patterns. I’m not saying you can ever stop doubt, fear, worry, and self-judgment from arising. These are some of our most deeply rooted and instinctual human responses. However, I am suggesting that you become familiar with how they arise for you. Get to know your tendencies, and you can weaken their grip on your life. In other words, get to know how you shut down, and you’ll discover how to show up.
GUT CHECK: HOW DO YOU SHUT DOWN?
Take a moment to write down five ways that doubt, fear, self-judgment, and worry show up in your life (for example, you’re impatient with your kids, you’re addicted to checking emails, you feel bad about your body, or your neck is always tense):
Doubt, fear, worry, and self-judgment are classic human traits that arise all the time. Look at them as hints or alerts as to why you’re unavailable for the challenging moments of your life.
When you get caught in your busy mind, let these deep-rooted patterns remind you to slow down, pause, and take a few breaths. By knowing how you shut down, you’ll discover how to get out of your own way and open up to life fully.
© 2016 by Cara Bradley. Printed with permission of
New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com
Based on the Book:
On the Verge: Wake Up, Show Up, and Shine
by Cara Bradley.
About the Author
Cara Bradley is a yoga teacher, mental strength coach, life-long entrepreneur, and former pro-skater having devoted more than three decades to movement disciplines and personal transformation. She is the founder of award-winning Verge Yoga Center and co-founder of a non-profit, Mindfulness Through Movement, providing programs to schools in Philadelphia. Cara also teaches mindfulness-based programs for corporations, universities, and sports teams. Visit her website at CaraBradley.net