Brené Brown: The Gifts of Imperfection (2010)

Human-behavior researcher and author of I Thought It Was Just Me (2007), Brown has made a career out of studying difficult emotions such as fear and shame. In this latest book, she emphasizes that above all other ingredients of living an emotionally healthy life is the importance of loving ourselves. In the grips of what she took to be a breakdown, or midlife crisis, Brown came to understand she was experiencing a “spiritual awakening” and worked to explore its significance and the interaction of knowing and understanding yourself and loving yourself. She intersperses her own personal journey with research and clinical observations of others of the work of living a “wholehearted” life, or “engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness.” The point is to embrace life and oneself with all the imperfections, releasing the stress of overdoing and overworking. Brown offers exercises for readers to plumb their own emotions and begin to develop the kind of resilience needed to stand up to unrealistic expectations of others and ourselves.


I’m so glad I came upon Brené Brown’s Homepage and from there to her book The Gifts of Imperfection. This is her second book, the first was called I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t): Telling the Truth about Perfectionism, Inadequacy and Power.

Brené Brown is a researcher, specialized in topics like shame and perfectionism and analyzing how they are linked and keep us from living wholeheartedly. She is an incredibly honest and open person who is able to show her vulnerability.

Wouldn’t it be better if we could be kinder but firmer? How would our lives be different if there were less anger and more accountability?  (p. 17)

The source of this book was a major breakdown that forced her to look at herself and her life. What she found out and shares with her readers is truly invigorating.

Before the breakdown, I was sweeter – judgmental, resentful and angry on the inside – but sweeter on the outside. Today, I think I’m genuinely more compassionate, less judgmental, and resentful, and way more serious about boundaries. (p.16)

The book has two parts. The first is a more theoretical one in which she introduces us to the concept of living a wholehearted life. The key factors are: Courage, Compassion and Connection. Further she emphasizes the importance of Love, Belonging and Being Enough. But what is much more important is that she identifies that there is always something that gets in the way when we try to change. We need guideposts to overcome the hurdle and she provides them. Every guidepost is linked to something that gets in the way and is described in detail.

The Wholehearted journey is not the path of least resistance. It’s a path of consciousness and choice. And to be honest, it’s a little counter-culture. The willingness to tell our stories, feel the pain of others, and stay genuinely connected in this disconnected world is not something we can do halfheartedly. (p.21)

The second part offers a more practical approach and consists of ten very different guideposts: Authenticity, Self-Compassion, Resilience, Gratitude and Joy, Intuition and Trusting Faith, Creativity, Play and Rest, Calm and Stillness, Meaningful Work, Laughter. In the guideposts she provides her own insights, case stories from other people, research data and quotes from a variety of books. She also indicates titles for further reading. Especially those reading suggestions are very valuable and I compiled quite a list of interesting titles.

One of the best and most honest chapters is the guidepost on addiction or numbing as she calls it (Guidepost Resilience). Brené herself was an alcoholic and was also addicted to a great number of other things like over-eating and also the overuse of Facebook and the like.

Another chapter that I appreciated a lot was the one called ” Cultivating Creativity. Letting go of Comparison.”

Comparison is all about conformity and competition. At first it seems like conforming and competing are mutually exclusive, but they are not. (p.94)

The comparison mandate becomes this crushing paradox of “fit in and stand out!” It is not cultivate self-acceptance, belonging and authenticity; it’s be just like everyone else, but better (p.95)

If you like you can visit Brené Brown’s Homepage where you will find her blog as well as a lot of other resources.

Martin Provost’s Séraphine (2008) The Movie and the Woman Behind it

I come from a family of painters. Everything related to painting has always fascinated me. I remember the smell of oil paint from my childhood. Someone was always fiddling around with paint and turpentine, heavy cigarette smoke in the air… Creativity, inspiration and spirituality are some of the most important things to me. All this and much more is captured in this heartbreaking movie.

Séraphine is one of the most tragic movies I have ever seen. It is based on a true story, on the life of the painter Séraphine de Senlis, cleaning woman, artist, visionary, madwoman. But first, and most touchingly, a vulnerable human being. The actress Yolande Moreau does an absolutely outstanding job in this role. Ulrich Tukur starring as the famous German art collector Wilhelm Uhde is equally good.

In 1914 Uhde rents an apartment in Senlis, some 40 kilometers from Paris, to recover from his stressful life. The cleaning woman his landlaydy hires for him startles him at first. She is very rough and hardly speaks a word, seems completely uneducated. Séraphine is pitied by all and hardly taken seriously. People think that she is slightly mad and very odd. During the days she cleans houses and washes people’s laundry, at night she paints and sings. She produces her own paint, mixtures from blood, wax, juices and other substances. When Uhde sees one of her paintings in the appartment of his landlady, he is astonished. To him, who collects the work of the so-called Primitives,  this is the work of a genius and he can hardly believe it has been painted by someone with no schooling. He asks her to paint more for him and to improve herself. The paintings she produces from now on are getting better and better but when the war breaks out, Uhde abandons Séraphine and flees back to Germany.

He doesn’t go back to Senlis for almost twenty years but when he comes back he finds Séraphine again. She is by now totally impoverished but still paints the most magnificent pictures. He helps her sell them and in a short time she makes a lot of money that she spends without restraint until the second world war announces itself through a huge economic crisis. Uhde looses a lot of money and can no longer support Séraphine. But worst of all, the big exhibition in Paris, to which she has been looking forward to for years, will not take place.

Séraphine doesn’t recover from this shock and goes mad. The scene in which she walks through the village, barefoot and in a silken marriage dress is haunting. She is finally  taken to an asylum where she will stay until her death.

Séraphine’s story is sad but also very mysterious. Where did a simple woman without any background or education take her inspiration from? How did she learn to paint? Séraphine said that the virgin Mary inspired her, she sounded like a visionary, not unlike Hildegard von Bingen who painted too.

She also seesm to have communicated with nature. Many of the visually most powerful scenes of the movie show Séraphine walking over fields, hugging trees. This is her way to connect an refuel.

Séraphine is a thoughtful, almost meditative movie, heartbreaking, moving and utterly fascinating. It is slow-paced and takes its time to unfold.

There are so many mysteries in the world. Art, creativity, inspiration and spirituality are some of the most powerful ones. Thanks to movies like Séraphine, we are reminded of this.

For those who want to see more of Séraphine de Senlis’ paintings, I attached this interesting documentary.