I was leafing through a magazine in a café when I saw the ad. A well-known model scowled out of the page, her raised right fist featuring a tattoo of a lion’s head on the first knuckle of her forefinger. #DontCrackUnderPressure read the hash tag headline.
‘No, please,’ I said to her. ‘Please crack a little. Please crack enough to let the light in, to allow yourself to see that it’s just a façade, this toughness you’re trying to assume. And maybe, just maybe, toughness is not really where it’s at. Not always, not even often. Sometimes we need it, yes, but not as our default position.’
‘True resilience,’ I tell her, ‘isn’t about being tough and repelling what comes towards you with aggression. No, think of something that’s resilient like a rubber ball. It gives into pressure, dimples beneath it, and then springs back. If it were hard, if it were tough, it would crack. And when we assume toughness, when we assume a facade of whatever kind, then it needs to crack in order to allow our vulnerability.’
I kept going with my inner counsel, getting personal with the image of a girl who I’m sure was paid a mighty sum to grace the page with such a grimace.
‘And most of us are so good at masks, Cara, not just models who are forced to assume all kinds of guises to fit the brief, the story, that an advertiser wants to tell. We try to fit in to selves that we think the world wants. We obscure who we are. We hide how we feel, especially when the truth of our feelings requires that we enter a dark place full of potential suffering. We don’t believe we can journey through that territory and emerge transformed. We dread getting lost there in that darkness.’
‘Yet we need to meet those challenges. We can’t stuff them down or fight them off. We can’t just meet them with toughness; we need tenderness and a lot of courage too. We need to acknowledge the darkness and the difficulty, the feelings of despair and stress, doubt and grief when things get tough in our lives. If we don’t then we do risk a really immense crack up. Cracking up because we are trying to hold too much inside, or ward away too great a burden with our mask of toughness.’
‘So, Cara, just put down your fist and try telling someone when the pressure builds. That takes courage. Tell a trusted someone, a friend who listens, write it in your journal, share a conversation with a wise professional who won’t just offer advice but will help you get a bigger picture. Share it, let it open, that crack; let the light in.’
As I was conducting this inner dialogue with an image in a magazine ad, an Augie March song was playing in the café. It was ‘One crowded hour’ but I couldn’t help thinking of another Augie March track ‘After the crack up’. This song mourns the lie, common among so much of society and especially perhaps among Aussie blokes, that if you suffer, you don’t ever let others know.
Oh, yes, we need to talk about it. We need to observe what goes on in our souls, we need to let some things crack open. As Leonard Cohen reminds us, the cracks are what the let the light in.
‘Of course, Cara, most of us long to reach a level of resilience and equanimity where our stresses and obstacles don’t ruffle us so much, where we no longer risk cracking up, but that’s not about scowling and making fists. Usually it’s about finding practices that suit our souls, that help us develop our witnessing consciousness, that can allow us to meet what come towards us without losing our cool or at least a bit less often. Practices that will help us when we need to enter the domain of darkness, to find our way into the abyss and beyond, to find our way back into the light. Meditation, contemplation, gentle walking or slow swimming help us to get fit, not physically fit but to acquire a little soul fitness—there are all kinds of possibilities.’ (I remind myself as I tell her this.)
‘There’s a story you might like which ends with a bit of a crack up. It’s about Sheronin, who didn’t believe his true self was good enough because he was so desperate to impress the woman he loved. Shegane ranked above him in the world yet Sheronin had seen her face in a pond at Beltane in the moonlight onthat night when it is said you can see the image of your soulmate. To become worthy of her, Sheronin assumes a mask created by a wily woman in the woods. It’s a truly heroic mask, but it’s one he can’t ever remove.
But when he goes to meet Shegane with his new heroic face, she doesn’t respond and sends him away like her sundry other suitors, each with their own heroic face. She doesn’t recognise Sheronin because you know, Shegane had seen his unmasked face in the pond at Beltane. She had knew that face was the one of her soulmate.
Sheronin couldn’t believe it. She loved him as he was! He had to find his own true self again.
The woman in the woods had warned him that the mask was permanent yet he beat down her door, desperate to to be changed back. She insisted that she could do nothing. She sent him off and he wandered in his desperation, until finally one evening he retured to the pool where he first saw Shegane’s image. It’s another moonlit night and as he looked upon this heroic face which was nothing like his true self, Sheronin’s despair and longing became too much and he began to cry. As the tears run down his face, the mask began to crack, the immovable mask, the false façade, it fell away. Sheronin brushed the shards aside and he could see his own funny, his ‘not good enough’ face once more.
As happens in stories, Shegane is right there across the pond and she sees him, delighted to have found the one she knew was meant for her. The two are united.’
Before I finish my coffee and put away the magazine, I remind the model. ‘It’s the tears, or the story shared, it’s the vulnerability which will let us crack enough that we can reveal our true selves and see what’s really going on. So, please, Cara, remember—let the light in. And truly, with a bit of support, it’s OK to crack under pressure.’