A couple of months ago, my friend, Michael, made his first visit to Chicago. In addition to other planned events, we spent some time at the Chicago Art Institute. I dig the museum but hadn’t been in a while. Michael is a sophisticated man and knows his art. I basically had a personal docent walking with me through the museum. Eventually, we came upon the sculpture, Eve After the Fall, depicted above. While Michael shared his knowledge of the piece’s history, I was struck by Rodin’s ability to capture Eve’s shame. May be more so, the pain of shame. I have given a lot of thought to the concept of shame because it has come up often in the MenLiving spaces I have frequented over the years. Though it is not an emotion I experience, I am curious about how it emerges and sticks with a person. This piece of art provided me with a stark physical representation of how some of my friends might feel. Rooted in how one views themselves in relation to others and how one thinks others might perceive them, shame, as I look at this sculpture, is not only about pain, but about withdrawing from others, hiding.
Regarding shame and hiding, not long ago, I read the following in an article by Satya Robyn, a writer, psychotherapist, and environmental activist:
“What begins as guilt will mutate into shame, which is much more sinister and decidedly heavier on the soul. It doesn’t just weigh on the heart; it slithers into the gap of every joint, making everything swollen and tender. We learn to walk differently in order to carry the shame, but then we become prone to manipulate things like nearness and connection just to relieve our own swelling.
Yes—shame slithers. Shame is icky. Shame threatens to isolate us from our fellow humans, telling us that we are utterly unworthy of love, and maybe even that the center of our very being is toxic. Shame has great power. No wonder we spend so much of our energy trying not to feel it.”
What was most powerful for me in this excerpt is the perspective of how shame can isolate and manipulate those possessed with it from engaging with others. Again, hiding. Tragic. I believe the greatest joy in life is found through connecting with other human beings and connection is the antidote to most anything that ails us including shame. Author Ann Voskamp supports this point stating, ‘Shame dies when stories are told in safe places.’ I think most anything ugly can die when we talk about it especially in safe spaces. Every day, MenLiving is striving to create these spaces. I don’t want to minimize the courage that might be required to overcome the hiding, but it’s no surprise that the doing the opposite, emerging, engaging, can fix the ick.