The word vulnerable actually means woundable so it makes sense that none of us would want to be wounded. We try to protect ourselves from harm by armoring ourselves in many different ways. We learn very young to build a mask, a personality, and hide the feelings that we fear would be rejected. We create a shield made of impressions and appearances that we hope will hide our tenderness behind a title, a position or an accomplishment. We refrain from exposing ourselves to situations that may bring disappointment or trigger our insecurities. But here’s the rub. All those behaviors make us feel more separate, more isolated from other people, more afraid that “if you really knew me, you wouldn’t like me.”
The most human and wholistic way to feel safe in this complicated, often unpredictable world is through our sense of connection to each other (and to the earth). We need to engage not only the areas where we feel confident and in control, but also those where we are beginners, pioneers, vulnerable to stumble, willing to have compassion for ourselves as we stretch beyond our comfort zone. I recommend an entertaining and wise talk on the power of vulnerability given by Brené Brown on TED talks. She is very convincing because she makes clear from the start that vulnerability was not her preference. But through her research, and her personal experiences, she discovered that “vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”
In the new year we give ourselves an invitation to make some fresh starts, to re-evaluate our automatic thinking and habits. Vulnerability is the willingness to go from the known to the unknown. Otherwise we are just looking backwards to how it was and how we did it before and how it turned out in the past. To invite creativity and change means treading the unfamiliar, the opening of new pathways in our behavior and our synapses, to give yourself to life, to receive what life offers.
I have a friend who is in her eighties and has always been a very skilled “doer.” She has several academic degrees. She can teach many subjects, sculpt and paint, sew anything from a wedding dress to theater curtains, play beautiful music on her flute, and pretty much figure out how to make anything. She has spent all her life helping other people and hoping to contribute to others. But in recent weeks, she has become very weak and can’t leave her bed. She was concerned that she could no longer go out and provide services to others. Suddenly “others” of all sorts are arriving at her bedside. I don’t just mean family members. There are medical people, and hospice volunteers, and friends from the swimming pool, and people who knew her at church, and neighbors, children and adults. My friend is completely vulnerable and can no longer provide or control anything. But she is a shining light and everyone feels the presence of her love and compassion. Now at last she knows that she is offering just what she she had always wanted to give but was so busy doing activities that she didn’t know if her love was received.
I want to share a little video I made of her. It’s called “A Moment with Elizabeth Gutfeldt.”
I am grateful to all of you who read this blog and use it to look at your own life. I am thinking of you when I sit down to write, and would love to know how these little vignettes bring flavor to your reflections. I apologize for some technical difficulties that prevented my announcement from posting for a few months, but hope you will click on comments below and send me a line to know you are there.
Many blessings for the New Year. May the unknown surprise you with its kindness and generosity.