Radical Integration of Self: Strong Back, Soft Front, Wild Heart
“The strong back is having grounded confidence and healthy boundaries. The soft front is staying vulnerable and curious. The mark of a wild heart is living out these paradoxes in our lives. It’s showing up in our vulnerability and our courage, and, above all else, being both fierce and kind.” ~Brene Brown
Integrating the self is no walk in the park. The self is a deliciously complex thing, multilayered and easily tricked into donning false armor.
Vulnerability is complicated. Sometimes we think we’re being vulnerable when we’re really just trapped inside the prison of our own comfort zone, wallowing in the false security and safety it bolsters, which ultimately blocks creativity, adventure, and authentic vulnerability.
Don’t get me wrong, comfort zones are important. They are good for creating boundaries and being a sacred space where we can lick our wounds, regroup, and come back stronger and empowered. It’s only when our comfort zone becomes armored that we run into problems. It’s when the front becomes armored that we lose the underlying essence of things; that we lose our creativity and adventurous spirit; that we lose the wild heart that keeps everything recyclable and fresh.
As it turns out, the only real armor we need is a strong back…
“Stop wearing your wishbone where your backbone ought to be.” ~Elizabeth Gilbert
The problem with having a wishbone for a backbone is that there is never any self-improvement. The self exists in a limited, disempowered, codependent state. There’s only wishful thinking, magical thinking, and “thoughts and prayers” without any real thought. The self is trapped in the willfully ignorant prison of its own safe and secure comfort zone.
The key is to break the codependent cycle through courageous independence, which leads to provident interdependence.
Forget comfort; stretch your zone. Forget safety, risky endeavors are more fun. Forget security; there are adventures to be had that only dangerous freedom can allow. As Jan Sicero said, “There is no riskier risk than refusing to risk at all.”
Just remember to regroup with comfort, security and safety further down the line. Then repeat. Health is almost always cyclical.
Having a strong back is having proactive grounded confidence despite the safety and security of the comfort zone. It’s foremost in the character of true leaders.
Backbone first, wishbone second. Having a backbone is leading by robust and healthy example despite the weak and unhealthy crowd. Then it is going one step further and teaching that crowd how to be strong and healthy by showing them how to stop wearing their wishbone where their backbone should be.
“It’s very hard to have ideas. It’s very hard to put yourself out there. It’s very hard to be vulnerable, but those people who do that are the dreamers, the thinkers, and the creators. They are the magic people of the world.” ~Amy Poehler
The soft front is the creative front. It’s where the magic of the self meets the magic of the cosmos to create the magic elixir of divine union.
When we have an invulnerable front (hard front), we close ourselves off to the underlying essence of things. But when we have a vulnerable front (soft front), we open ourselves up to the Great Mystery of cosmos and our place in it.
This is where real magic is made. I don’t mean cartoon in the brain magic, or magical thinking. I mean authentic magic, integrated magic. The magic of imaginative interdependence and the sacred art that comes from it.
Combined with a strong back, a soft front is a true force to be reckoned with. A force of creative and interconnected nature: a cosmic hero who creates an immortality project born from confidence (strong back) and connection (soft front).
“Chaos, leave me never. Keep me wild and keep me free so that my brokenness will be the only beauty the world will see.” ~R. M. Drake
Fearlessness and fierceness have never been born from having a wishbone for a backbone or from having an invulnerable front. The only way to achieve a state of fearlessness and fierceness (and still be kind) is to integrate a strong back with a soft front. And the only way to maintain this sacred integration is to remain in touch with the bleeding wildness of our own heart.
The true paradox of the human condition is that we imagine the universe is the thing that is paradoxical, when it is really us. We are the paradox. A deliciously complicated paradox. Remaining in touch with our wild heart is a way to both honor this paradox as well as transform it into something that transcends itself.
Life is too short not to taste the delicious nectar of our own wildness, not to feel our deepest darkest wildness howling inside us. As Henry David Thoreau said, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”
Wildness is freedom. There’s no better definition. When we’re in touch with our wildness, we are in touch with the freest aspect of ourselves. It tends to be counter-culture. It tends to be nonconformist and rebellious. And rightly so. For wildness must defend itself against being controlled, domesticated, and tamed. It must defend its own freedom, or all is lost.
Luckily, as human beings, we have the option of being both wild and tame, both crazy and sensible, both fierce and kind. We contain multitudes. The wild within us only seeks to keep these multitudes as optional, to live out the paradox of being an integrated human.
As Walt Whitman famously articulated:
“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then, I contradict myself;
I am large, I contain multitudes.”
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