The Path of Vulnerability

There’s a wonderful presentation by Brene Brown posted on YouTube called The Power of Vulnerability (click here to view the video). What she discovered after six years of research surprised her… and me. Initially, her discovery that humans share a sense of fear and shame which relates to a sense of unworthiness was familiar to me. She continues with saying that people who share a strong sense of love and belonging believe that they are worthy of it; that at the core of shame and fear is a struggle for worthiness; but that core is also a birthplace for joy, creativity, a sense of belonging, and love…again, a common theme of many teachings.

What did get me thinking on a deeper level was this: That people who love whole-heartedly and are happy and joyful fully embrace vulnerability. I hadn’t really connected a sense of my ability to experience happiness with vulnerability in that manner.

So I wondered: When and why do I allow myself to embrace vulnerability verses avoiding the discomfort of the unknown and exposure by turning away, running, and reaching for something more familiar and safe? If you watch the video, you’ll hear her say that the way we cope with avoidance is to numb. Oh yeah, I’m familiar with that one. Naturally, both approaches are true. There are times when I feel so compelled to share openly and honestly that not doing so poses a greater risk. It’s as if I would be giving away a part of myself – disconnecting from my authenticity and soul – if I avoided my emotions. Other times, I may reach for a sense of comfort before I even allow myself to process or fully experience the vulnerability I’m feeling. As with life, there is a lot of gray area with unlimited variations.

For me, the real questions are: When and why do I choose to open verses avoid? How much is this creating and affecting my life and relationships with all things (not just people)? Am I misunderstanding feelings of discomfort and weakness for something that threatens my ability to create happiness and joy as opposed to supporting it?

follow the heart
Follow the Heart by Alice Popkorn

What if I take a different approach? I remind myself that vulnerability represents my potential for loving relationships, joy, happiness, and a sense of belonging. I change my frame of reference by shifting to supporting vulnerability. Instead of seeing discomfort as a threat to our well-being, we can use it as a sign post to happiness. Maybe we even nurture our awareness of it because we see that it’s a guide to joy and love! We remove the scary monster mask to reveal soft loving light.

The first line in Pema Chödrön’s book Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living is: WE ALREADY HAVE EVERYTHING WE NEED. I mention this because an aspect to worthiness is remembering that we are enough. There isn’t some magical thing, place, or person that will suddenly grant value to our being. It is already here. As Pema Chödrön says, we lay heavy-duty trips on ourselves that are like clouds temporarily blocking the sun. Our warmth and brilliance are still there, and this is who we really are. We can look at ourselves differently than is our usual habit.

Instead of shame and unworthiness driving our fear of vulnerability, we can remember that we are enough. We have everything we need to experience loving kindness because we all are worthy of it. We belong to humanity, to all that is, the divine, beloved, or whatever you choose to call it. Our shared sense of weakness can be a path to connection and belonging. Instead of looking at one another as a threat, or attempting to force our views of one another into a comfortable package, we can see vulnerability as a path to loving kindness. We can use the power of vulnerability to empower ourselves and one another.

© Sallie Odenthal 2012

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