Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Making Friends With Vulnerability

I have read many powerful statements from teachers and artists about vulnerability and why allowing ourselves to be in touch with and to embrace our vulnerability is a necessary piece to living fully. When I read them, my intellect agrees, but until I try on whatever piece of wisdom is before me and look deeply at how it relates to my own experience, the words stay shallow, no matter how deep they may be. The beauty of running mindfulness groups that contemplate themes such as this is that it asks me to delve inside. And so this is where my excavation took me...

It took me first to a question a friend recently asked of me. He wanted to know if I was still blogging. The question tugged on a sore place. I haven’t been writing, though it has been high on my list. The urgency, the space, the spark that started and sustained my blog for some years has not been there and now I wanted to know why. I began the blog when I got divorced and was struggling to make sense of what happened, of my new life, of the pain I was going through. I was at my most vulnerable during these years. I felt alone, lonely, sad, scared, ashamed, unsure. I also felt the most alive, present, open to seeing and experiencing, and I continually took chances that were uncomfortable. Researcher and Author BrenĂ© Brown says, “we can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time.” This felt true of this particular period and I shared it in my writing. I saw moments in nature that stunned my eyes with their beauty. I caught the smallest of interactions between strangers on city streets and was delighted by our humanity. I felt the complexity of this life and waves of compassion surged in me. And then I fell in love. A new partner to go through this life arrived literally around the corner. The impossible became possible. With that gift, my writing, the space that went with it, and the urgency of my experiences was dimmed. My path in life had cleared a bit. I was no longer trying to find my way through the thick brush. Now, I was held by another; I was doing the work that felt like my calling, and I was busy with a new life. In retrospect, I realize that with this new partner and with being on an increasingly busy, self-directed work path, I no longer felt so vulnerable. There is great relief in that. As my wise friend exclaimed recently, “who wants to be vulnerable!” Of course we don’t, but it does bare fruit. And so now when I read these insightful lines of writers and teachers on the value of vulnerability, I get it. The question for me then becomes how do we feel a certain degree of comfort and security, as well as be productive leaders (in family, in work, in the community, as care-givers), and allow ourselves to also be vulnerable. How, when we are responsible for so much and always doing and going, can we be in touch with our vulnerability so that we can be open to the unknown, willing to try what is uncomfortable, and be courageous, as well as soft enough to receive? How do we remember that we are not in control when it seems so much is up to us? This is the challenge.

Most of my explorations of these kinds of questions lead me to the same place. When I slow down; when I take time for myself to contemplate; when I am alone in nature; when I am graced to be a witness to the dying; when painful pieces of relationships show their faces and I don’t run. These are the things that bring me in touch with my vulnerability and invite me to soften, to let go, to open to a wider perspective. They call forth my compassion without any effort. When I am in this place, I am alive. I am humble. Here, I can write again. I don’t need to be suffering to have this awakened in me. I simply need to slow down and see. With my eyes and heart open and a willingness to be unsure, tender, and imperfect, I can be in the game seeing with “beginner’s mind.” 

On this perfect fall day, I went back to the woods after my morning group and walked alone. It felt so good to be back and it feels so good to write and share this with you. I know that every time I teach or lead a group or share a blog post I am vulnerable. It is rarely easy. In my performing days, I felt the same way. It never got easier no matter how many times I did it. I don’t ever want to get to the place where I don’t experience vulnerability. If I do, I know I have stopped living with my full self in the world. “Bring it on,” I say. Except that those words don’t fit. I know I can’t call it forth like that or go after it with an energy that is its opposite. All I can do is keep stepping in the direction I want to go. The challenges are there. I know that moving closer to intimacy, gratitude, compassion, and love will take me out of my comfort zone. If what I want in my vocation is to keep bringing my authentic self to my groups, my clients, my writing and if what I want in my personal life is deeper connections and friendships then my work is cut out for me and I have no choice but to be vulnerable. Not all the time. Who wants that! But, yes, in bearable, chunks I can gently surrender. I think that is the most we can ask ourselves to do...kindly take the next uncomfortable move in the time we can. And, there is no timetable other than our own. There is no race to get there. If there is an urgency, it is of our own doing because we want more for ourselves. We can be grateful to this part of us. She is on our side, even if she creates anxiety by nudging us to the front of the line. “Be brave” we can hear her whisper. We can receive the words with open palms as if letting a falling leave land into the cupped space. Not grasping, just receiving this invitation to be our authentic selves and take a chance on her (or him) being enough.