Years ago a close friend said to me, “Asia, you never let yourself be vulnerable.” I found this to be a ludicrous statement at the time.
What? I feel vulnerable ALL the time!
Plus, why would I want to be? You see, ‘vulnerable’ meant ‘weak’ in my world and if anything I was working my ass off to be less of that.
Fast forward a few years and more time on my yoga mat, getting real with myself. I’m finally starting to see what my friend meant. I’m learning what it really means to be vulnerable and why it might just be the best thing to happen to me.
First of all, it turns out that feeling vulnerable and being vulnerable are different things. I’ve felt frighteningly at risk in the world for as long as I can remember. But I didn’t understand what it really meant to be at risk until I had many of my trusted boundaries crossed by a violent ex-
boyfriend. During that time I felt utterly devoid of armour. I’d sit across from people in a café and actually be thinking, “The only things keeping this person from punching me in the face right now are social convention and lack of motive.” Try walking around with that kind of mentality and see how long it takes before you develop a strategy for being less unguarded. It doesn’t take long.
That was a very low period of my life but I gained a key insight from it. I started to understand that I’d played a part in allowing that situation.
This wasn’t blaming the victim; this was me recognizing that I had an element of control over events and could influence whether something that negative ever happened again.
I started getting out of destructive circles of people, taking BJJ, letting go of my love affair with extremism and being a victim, and setting higher standards for myself, which all went a long way toward me realizing that I’d been standing in a lava flow because I walked into it in many ways. I’d been caught in a bad version of vulnerable because I didn’t know how to find my way to safe places.
So I figured out how to navigate around danger zones and drastically reduce actual risk, but I was still left with the fear. Despite being more discerning, the tricky bit was I still felt like I could be in danger at any time. So my personality – my samskara – developed around this sense and instead of just becoming wiser when it came to self-protection, a high level of guardedness became my norm. I’d put myself out of reach, and when I felt I needed to justify doing so, I’d step into being vulnerable completely unskillfully, get hurt, and then say,
“See? Vulnerability is stupid and I’m not stupid. I’ll just be up here in my tower, thanks.”
I thought I’d figured it out. I was going through life relatively devoid of drama. I hadn’t signed up for messy processes like motherhood or marriage where people hurt each other all the damn time. I was free. I was responsible for myself and I could care about others without anyone actually needing me (or me needing them). I’d mastered the art of self-sufficiency.
Then I started asking myself what I’m really doing here – in my life, on this planet.
Am I here to scoot through relatively scott-free? Is the point of my time here to just float above life, analyzing and critiquing how others are doing with that whole “full engagement” thing while I observe from my café seat? Well, yeah, in a way it had been the point for that phase of my life. Losing my drama was a huge improvement on being lost in my drama. For a while I needed to prove to myself that boundaries could work and I could get back on my feet and be okay. Sitting in coffee shops buried in a book was a pretty damn good antidote to having some drug-selling ex-boyfriend running around threatening to kill my family members.
But I began to realize that, ironically, staying in that comfy chair was making me more vulnerable because it’s living to avoid things rather than learning how to skillfully navigate them. By avoiding, I’d nurture my weakness instead of developing the strength of character that being vulnerable in the world can create when done with awareness and loving-kindness. What I’ve come to understand is that the shadow of vulnerability is frightening, but the light side is where real connection happens, where love happens, where life happens.
Nothing happens unless we step out and take risks.
Fortune favours the bold, and being bold means being vulnerable in the best possible way, in the way that gets us to the stars and helps us realize our dreams. I don’t want to toss myself off any cliffs without a parachute, but I don’t want to cling to the ground when there’s sky to fly, either.
So what I’m considering now is how I can be vulnerable without being weak. How do I wander back to the warmth and life of the volcano without being burned? Well, first I won’t hurl myself into the mouth of it. Patience is key. Also, I don’t need to be in perfect balance right now, I just need to be a little more balanced today than I have been. The best way to strengthen a muscle is to work it a bit more each day and the best way to weaken or tear it is to do too much too quickly. Also, I have to trust myself. For me over the past few months it’s been about staying in the moment, feeling vulnerable with others, in my life, in myself, and just observing it.
It’s amazing what can be learned by simply being still and observing.
Don’t think I’m going all sunshine and rainbows on you here. I’ve wanted to get out of this new, uncomfortable “posture” of vulnerability many, many times since seeing its value and choosing to stay. It’s some of the scariest shit I’ve ever experienced and a part of me hates it because being well-guarded feels really powerful, whereas this feels way too gushy and lovey-dovey for my liking. But it’s okay. I’ll find my own way—my tao— with this as well. I must. It’s too important not to be afraid of my life, of myself, of living.
In 2006 Anastasia (Asia) Nelson left the Communications industry to launch her own business, Pranalife Yoga. She specializes in teacher training and advanced yoga instruction. Asia has also racked up a respectable collection of been-there-done-that’s, particularly through hosting the internationally-aired travel show My Global Adventure which took her to 26 countries and places as diverse as a Moroccan tannery and Nelson Mandela’s cell over nine months.
Asia’s lifestyle draws from trial-and-success that’s fed a restless soul, tempered with yogic wisdom that’s managed to bring balance to the life of someone described as “a fearless skeptic.” She believes in yogic integration on and off the mat, cultivating one’s Big Curious Mind, and a firm belief in Death to keep the diamond in her mind.