Challenging our vulnerability
One piece of advice that has stuck with me throughout my time as a creative meditation teacher is “Always treat people as if they are vulnerable.” It came from my Mum after I had taught at my first writing and yoga retreat in which I had no idea of the impact that writing could have on triggering emotions, especially after doing something relaxing like yoga.
I guess it’s like the quote; “Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about” but it was that word ‘vulnerable’ that made an impact on me. From thereon I always created that space for people to feel safe, to be that teacher who practiced empathy, compassion and, authenticity so that others would do the same. As a result, I ended up having some of the most insightful, raw and honest conversations with people I barely knew (especially at my retreats) who opened up to me. I felt honoured that they would share their vulnerability with me. Something so precious. Yet, I had never honoured my own vulnerability.
First step - challenge yourself to face vulnerability Being a single Mum for seven years has meant vulnerability is not an emotion that I would dare come out. It was always something rejected, closed off, pushed away, ignored and numbed. Confront it? Never. I had to always be strong (or appear to be) in front of my children and to the outside world. I can cope with anything, I am a warrior. These were my affirmations…until the pandemic.
I was on my own (in my home in Antwerp) and my children were with their father for the week, when we were told to go into an immediate lockdown. I am an introvert, so I love being on my own, but this felt different. This emergency brought out a feeling I had always suppressed, vulnerability. At that moment, I realised that out of all the emotions I had sat down with and observed, vulnerability was one I had shunned. That realisation surprised me because I had to explore uncomfortable questions; Why was I avoiding this emotion? Was I ready to discover what was hidden among all the layers of my life? What was I afraid of?
Second step - reflect and use the writing prompt 'I am vulnerable.' I had always seen myself as invulnerable. Now I had to face the fact I wasn’t and start to unravel a feeling that I really knew nothing about. To really feel this emotion rather than actively numb it. So, over the next few days, I sat in silence with this feeling, which until now had been alien to me. I reflected, I meditated and journaled beginning with the words; “I am vulnerable.” This was more difficult than saying; I love myself! It was like writing “help” in big letters on my forehead. I never ask for help. If I did, that would admit to being vulnerable. There, already, I saw that I was not as open as I thought I was, I had closed parts of myself off because of this persona of being strong. That’s the thing, admitting to being vulnerable is like admitting to not being strong. Weak. Even looking at that word is like looking at a foreign language. That word ‘vulnerability’ was the equivalent of an intruder. No wonder I had put up my defences. It was interesting to observe this and start having awareness of my relationship with this feeling. Was it all bad?
If you look at the countless definitions of vulnerability, it doesn’t look good. There are so many negative words attached to it such as unprotected, defenceless, weak, insecure, helpless. But then I started looking at the root word of vulnerability, which comes from the Latin word vulnerā, which means "to wound." As I looked at this definition on my screen, I noticed the comments section underneath, and saw that one person had remarked about this definition; “Although it means to wound, if we realised that we are already wounded, then we also have an opportunity to heal because we are vulnerable.” When I read this, I realised I had never looked at my vulnerability as something to heal from. Rather like, covering over the wound to be ready for the next battle.
Third step - open up, talk it out, let vulnerability lead to action Talking to other people on how I feel is a new experience for me and one that, although felt strange at first, has been liberating, especially in realising that I am not the only one feeling vulnerable during this pandemic. It has made me connect more with friends, although it has also shown me those who don't want to hear about my vulnerability because it would mean they would need to face theirs and, the uncomfortable questions that I had already faced in myself.
Acknowledging my own vulnerability has been like an awakening. I have opened myself to me. I thought I had always done that, but I realised that if you don’t include your vulnerable side, you can’t fully open up and increase awareness about yourself and the world around you. It’s made me see vulnerability as a rather beautiful and raw thing, made me more honest with myself, more in tune with all my emotions, more able to face change, the unknown and, in some ways be less fearful. I am connecting more with people, seen myself become more confident and, expressed myself more creatively, emotionally and physically. It's also made me create closer connections with people. It feels like a new lease on life or perhaps a different handle on life.
I feel I can even be vulnerable around my children, and I have noticed they have warmed to that, it’s helped my 11-year-old open up more to me, especially when she feels vulnerable, knowing that it doesn’t mean she is weak. I, however, am still exploring my own vulnerability and this will be an ongoing thing. I mean, Brene Brown, famed for her TED Talk on The Power of Vulnerability has been exploring vulnerability for 20 years! I feel I have opened a pandora’s box but in a good way. It’s also spilling out into my podcast interviews and most recently on a new series called Uncensored Conversations in which I have brought together a panel of women to talk about ‘Redefining Vulnerability.' I believe there is a twisted view on the word, and that it can be our power. Although, of course, you do need courage to explore it, which is what I am also teaching others how to do in my workshops – encouraging women to be daring on that intruder we call vulnerability. Because we often think that vulnerability is like a gale force wind trying to push us back but in actual fact, when you fight through it, you have the ability to become much stronger. I do believe that if you can face your vulnerability and really explore it, you can face anything.