Being vulnerable is this weird challenge: in my experience, vulnerability is stigmatized yet deeply sought after. We want lovers and friends who can open up to us without conditions or boundaries, yet we ask that they do so on a timeline. We watch the clock and wonder with baited breath whether it’s “too soon” or “too late” to open up; the ticking of that clock only exaggerating the curiosity and the angst that follows.
Vulnerability has to be gauged, measured and measured again before the final cut. It must be scrutinized over like a blueprint, and scoured like a dirty toilet. And for those of us who choose to identify, possess, and allow our personal vulnerabilities to come forth as a regular part of our being, it can be met with tremendous pain by those who see it.
I never really thought of myself as vulnerable until a couple of years ago. A friend of mine helped me find a path toward embracing my personal vulnerability, instead of fighting it, and I am grateful to them for that. All they said was that I had what they’d call “powerful vulnerability”; which they further explained as being so expressly vulnerable that it allows others to air dirty laundry of their own. To open up. To be afraid and to cry into the hands of a stranger
And truth be told, I’ve cried to strangers. I’ve wept into my trembling hands before I’ve looked into the eyes of other beings, wondering what I would find in the lines etched into their faces or in the glint of their eyes when I uncovered my face. But before I felt comfortable enough to do that I only allowed myself to cry outside when it was pouring rain; a natural shield against people seeing me, while still seeing me.
Through the course of my life I often felt that fear was unacceptable and it wasn’t OK to respond to it, or at least to admit that I was responding to it. That last part is key.
Over time I’ve experimented with how to express it: through poetry and writing, song and dance, through anger and lashing out at others who didn’t deserve it, and through the touch of someone else that I know doesn’t want to truly know me for more than the lines of my body. I’ve wept into blankets and laughed uproariously. But the balance and heartfelt expression of my own fear and vulnerability weren’t quite awakened. I had baggage, yet I would circumspect about showing it to the general populous.
Vulnerability or weakness implied “inability” to me for a big duration of my life. Now I see how desperately the world needed for me to be weak in order for the rest of the world to be strong. Because it was in my strength of expressing my own fear and pain that allowed the world to shed the many layers that have kept us hidden from ourselves. These are the very layers we’ve relied on when we get into relationships. These are the layers that we wear when we meet opposition. Sometimes these layers are precursory, sometimes they’re put on when the perception of a threat increases or we become triggered or overwhelmed.
And through our layers we can no longer feel the ocean air except for on the small parts of our face that we keep uncovered. We don’t know the many complexities or the feeling of grit and dried mud on the coats of our animals. The sting of a bee doesn’t cause us as much pain now as it did when the bare feet of our three-year-old selves first encountered that alarming stab of pain and venom.
It’s as if I now see what others see when they look in the mirror: not themselves, but a shadow of their person lingering behind their perfect reflections. An incandescent being that’s whispers of self-loathing, fear-mongering and angry backlash as a form of dealing with vulnerability.
This is the realm where no conversations are had. Where loud and harmful words are spoken in whispers and yet are far more damaging than yelling will ever be. Where we hide from ourselves and each other. Where our personal misconceptions are dropped like litter on the floor, and we just hope someone else will come pick it up because we just can’t seem to do it on our own. This is the place we come in order to die. In order to suffer. In order to find and lose our hearts and souls at the same time. The place that the shadow is banished, but only if you stand so high in the light that you can see how far and wide it casts itself upon your forest.
These are the shadows of blame. Of shaming yourself and others. Of not taking responsibility. Of manipulation and control.
Yet each tree in this forest represents the core of our being: hope, tranquility, connection, enthusiasm, positivity, breath, love, and yes… even fear and vulnerability.
As I’m writing this I’m feeling a great pain in my stomach and in my heart. I’m sitting in wonder of what is to come, and what is supposed to be my next challenge–as if I really needed anything else, yet my restless body and mind seek something fresh and novel.
I’ve experienced so much trespass in my life. So much fear and hatred, yet here I stand within it. Here I am, completely encompassed by mixed feelings of niggling dread and the biggest breath of hope and for my capacity for personal potential. And all around me I see others writhing about, although not necessarily suffering but the unconscious few causing harm and suffering to others around them as they clear a whirlwind path through the trees and make their way to me.
And there’s no sidestepping this. Instead I’m prepared to stand within the eye of the storm, weary and maybe a bit confused but with the knowledge and the understanding that I am here for a purpose. Even the whirling winds that are lifting me up off of the ground will become exhausted and put me back down eventually. So as I am pulled from my own sanctuary and forced into the gray mass of hysteria, I find myself quietly contemplative, knowing full well that this storm is just that: a storm.
I’ll be ready to find my way through again, just as soon as I’m set back down.