In the new movie ‘The Intern’ a young man spills his relationship issues to Robert DeNiro, looking for advice. His girlfriend is angry and won’t talk to him. How long can she stay mad?
“I assume you’ve talked to her, apologized, told her how much she means to you” says Robert DeNiro’s character.
“Well, no…but I’ve texted her a billion times,” says the young man. Robert DeNiro looks at him.
“Then I sent her an email and it was a really long one, well thought out. I made the subject line ‘I’m sooooorry’ with a ton of ‘o’s’, and a sad emoticon with tears running down its face". Robert DeNiro looks at him.
“I should probably actually just talk to her,” he says reluctantly.
Modern communication has created global anxiety about actual direct contact and vulnerability. We want to be in touch, but not in close touch.
Years ago I used to joke about boys I was seeing: “I don’t want to talk to him, I just want him to call”. Now we don’t want anyone to call. Text message relationships are de rigueur. And you can be quite intimate in texts—sexy, funny, sad, depressed—the full spectrum. Being good at texting is a necessary modern skill.
As a human, I yearn to be seen, to connect, to love and to be of service. Being messy and needy? That isn’t on my dream list. But I am human, so I am messy and needy anyway. And in allowing myself to be seen at my worst, I create space for others to be their best. I can say, in text, "I am hurting". But in my darker hours I want to be so wholly heard, and I want to be held. The sterile space that keeps me safe isolates me; I need full contact. I need to know it’s okay to be raw, I need to know that you get me.
Ubuntu. I am because you are, you are because I am. ~African custom
I first read of this philosophy in Mark Nepo’s book 'Book of Awakening’, which has a different reading for every day of the year. Ubuntu is the reading for my birthday, and I was a little disappointed when I initially read it. I did not understand it. "I am because you are?" We’re all singular, I thought. We’re all in this journey alone. Well, I am anyway.
I was living that. I was manifesting singularity all over the place. I could be vulnerable, but only to a point. I couldn’t fall all the way down in front of anyone, because they’d see me fully and then be free to reject me for who I really was, rather than us conducting the mutual dance of being hip or resonant at arm’s length.
I compartmentalized my vulnerability, sharing parenting challenges with one friend, relationship challenges with another, work challenges with yet another. I told myself that in each compartment my people felt fully held, that I was strong enough to hold others while not stepping into a full reveal. This worked for me for a long time. I fed on the power of being intensely something in my relationships--feeling truly valued and necessary--while not being completely everything for anyone--never being naked.
However, there have been a few times in my life, including one recently, where I’ve fallen down in an absolute and uncompartmentalized way. When it happens, it really hurts, and it sheds light on my biggest weaknesses. I have pridefully fought against this, against being seen, being weak. I didn’t want to fall all the way down.
But when I did fall, the ground—the grounded community I’ve built—stepped up and held me in its arms. They witnessed me, and their strength helped me begin to heal.
Sometimes when I lie down on my mat in yoga I feel I am lying on the mat. Sometimes I feel the ground holding me; I feel a deep connection with the earth and can almost sense its curve through the studio floor. Those are the better days, the days when I am more myself. I feel more myself because I am not holding myself above the earth, I am being held up by it.
Ubuntu. I am because you are. You are, because I am.
Ubuntu, how we need each other to be complete.