Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The battle of the whole-hearted: Some thoughts on vulnerability

Stick figures have the worst luck. Photo by eddiemcfish.

Vulnerability is having sex with the lights on after your body has been through two pregnancies. Sounds funny, but that takes a lot of trust ...

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[It's] putting yourself out there through writing. You open yourself to praise and criticism.

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Being vulnerable is when you're most likely to feel the most, and get the most out of something. The scary part when you let yourself go is worth the outcome. Whether good or bad, you learn, and live more fully.

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[Vulnerability is] dining alone in a restaurant. Some people love it, others find it the scariest thing in the world. I love it -- as long as I have a book.

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Vulnerability makes you powerful ... Honestly, it was the first word that popped into my head. It took me a while to figure out why. Our vulnerabilities lead us to empathize, trust. That is the basis of the tribe/society. This applies on all scales and times. Tribes/society/working together is what has made homo sapiens what we are -- tech (farming, space craft), the arts, etc.

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Signing a lease with a Craigslist companion? Moving in with people who are virtually strangers?

Trust. Risk. Emotion. Alone-ness. Power. All responses to a simple question I posed: What are your thoughts on vulnerability?

As a adjective, "vulnerable" comes off as dire -- "capable of being physically or emotionally wounded; open to attack or damage" (according to Merriam-Webster). Where's the incentive for exposure in that? Why ever be unguarded if the only results awaiting you involve wounds and damage?

I was reminded of vulnerability's double-edged sword recently when I handed my heart over to summer joy wrapped only in a thin layer of half-popped bubble wrap, with nary a question of what might happen to it. And it's probably best I didn't ask anything, because the answer would have included disappointment and a slight ego bruise, and I also would have avoided all the wondrous things I reawakened to alongside those less savory elements just to avoid the hint of pain.

Vulnerability is not weakness. Vulnerability requires courage -- vast stores of it, in fact. Thus, when my little beleaguered heart came back to me gripping its tattered bubble wrap and looking shamefaced, I sighed, hugged it, and re-watched this beautiful TED video from social work professor Brene Brown:



Brown illuminates what we often obscure in our very human need to survive without and beyond pain. Even her point about the origin of the word courage -- that its original meaning was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart -- drives home for me that vulnerability is as much (if not more) about kindness, gentleness, authenticity, and honesty as it is about fear, doubt, shame, and self-recrimination.

As Brown says in the video:
... Vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it's also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love. [...]
You can't numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning, and then we feel vulnerable, so then we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. And it becomes this dangerous cycle.
What cruel evolutionary tactic is at work in us that we trade nut muffins for purpose and meaning? Why would we ever declare ourselves unworthy of a full, rich, provocative human experience? Sure, have your pint of Guinness or your pint of Ben & Jerry's, have your angry drive or an ugly cry when you need to. Those are honest responses to real emotions.

But then open wide again and get back out there. You owe it to Life/God/Unidentified Cosmic Force to share your whole heart with passion and truth. Because we are worthy. We are enough. We are meant for this, and perhaps only this. 

Prayer #222: Am I Not Worthy?

You never intended me to sit behind a closed, fading curtain in a musty room, peeking out onto the overwhelming world only when unexpected noises interrupted my daytime television programs.

So when I shout "WHY?" from my careworn armchair and shake a half-hearted fist at you, keep replying "BECAUSE!", and shove my creaky bones into the human tides of the wakening street so I can see, in the bright hubbub and bustle, what You mean.

Amen.

2 comments:

  1. Brene Brown is my favoritest ever. Her speech at the conference I went to this summer changed my life. I now take her comments on vulnerability and joy to heart every. single. day. I'm so glad to see you spreading this message too. You are enough and you're wonderful. <3

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  2. Thank you for the words of affirmation, Esther! What conference did you attend? Color me jealous you got to see her live.

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