“There is this word. Nothing like it exists in the English language. It’s Portuguese. Saudade. Do you know that one?…[T]here’s no perfect definition. It’s more of an expression of feeling…of terrible sadness. It’s the feeling you get when you realize something you once lost is lost forever, and you can never get it back again.” ~ Alexandra Bracken
Vulnerability comes before courage and confidence. Reaching our destinies requires that we embrace and feel the very emotions we want to hide.
The first time I heard someone describe the meaning of the Portuguese word, saudade (pronounced sowDAjee), I felt the atoms of my soul align with resonance. Once the feeling I had had many times over the course of my life was named…identified clearly…I could get my mind and arms around it.
Saudade more clearly described certain feelings of melancholic longing or yearning that I had experienced. Perhaps, I thought, I could understand its source within me, giving me hope to reverse engineer it and maybe find a way to heal it.
Saudade is sadness for what we have lost, but also sadness or longing for what we never had, or what may never be.
A state of powerful longing for shorelines we never set out for (and consequently, did not reach).
The Shape of Longing
I realized the source waters of my saudade stemmed from my living in a protective state of trying to stave off failure. Or trying to muster up courage and confidence to make bold moves, express myself with complete transparency, and live with no space between my public persona and my private self.
I had not been fully conscious of where I was hiding out, waiting for some mystical blooming of my audacity muscles and preparedness to set out on my journey—setting sail for the ports of call that mattered most to me.
And honestly, because I had been so adept at making my true self disappear right in front of your eyes, I wasn’t entirely clear what the specific ports of call actually were for me. Initially, I could not remember the shape of my longing…see its outline…know its heartbeat.
I worried that that if I spoke/showed my truth, someone would use it against me. Weaponize my vulnerability.
I sought out ways to preemptively hush the haters—the loudest voice of which emanated from within my own throat.
So, how did I remember my heart’s desires and begin the gradual process of finding home inside my own skin?
Letting Emotions Run
A powerful moment inside a charming casita in Santa Fe, where I was participating in Gail Larsen’s Transformational Speaking Immersion, was one of several, pivotal events that set me in motion toward remembering whom I truly was.
I stood in front of the group trying to find my footing and my voice. I could feel emotion welling up from places that had long been bolted shut against daylight and inquiry. I went into “shut that shit down” mode and struggled to turn off the valve.
Gail looked at me and said, “Let it run.”
I knew exactly what she meant and tried to ignore her. I started mentally turning dials, knobs, and hatch levers inside the space ship of my emotions, desperate to close off cargo bays of feelings.
Gail spoke again. “When the emotions come up, let them run.”
I stopped fighting. And the moment I dropped my guard, my biggest fear was realized. A torrent of feelings shook loose and erupted out of me. I was equal parts embarrassed, horrified, and relieved.
It took my cry-laden story and stumbling in front of everyone to wield the chisel against the first layers of concrete. I saw the chunks ricochet from my body to the floor, and I let them lay where they fell.
On my flight home, I realized that I had never forgotten what I longed for. It was all still there under years of corked emotions, denial, numbing, and internalizing of other’s opinions. My work was to release the notion that I needed courage and confidence before I could do courageous things and speak with confidence.
In my window seat at 30,000 feet, I knew why the word saudade had had such a hold on me. I had intuited that if I continued to hide, not only would I never reach for the experiences I longed for, I’d eventually forget entirely the nautical charts (rolled up and stashed out of sight) that mapped my dreams.
Keeping the voyage of my destiny top of mind required that I embrace and reveal every aspect of me. That I remember to feel all my emotions all the way through, and let them run. Especially—most especially—when I believe the lie I need more courage and confidence before I set sail.