“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” ~ Brene Brown
We are fragile, with bones that break and hearts that ache.
There is this very sensitive aspect of human life, one that is often shunned and shamed, often with connotations of weakness and despair. Though toss the coin and see that through this delicate balance you find resilience and strength from the darkest corners of vulnerability.
What does it mean to be vulnerable? Vulnerability is that uneasy feeling of exposure, breaking down walls and barriers, letting in and letting go. Vulnerability is the emotion that sits at the core of fear, shame, disappointment, uncertainty, and grief. Often, it is this fickleness that holds us back. We armor up, we tell ourselves vulnerability is “bad.”
We don’t want to get hurt so we completely give up before we give in.
I’m that girl. The one who has dealt with insecurities from day one. The negative self-talk used to consume me. My barrier was tall and dense. There was a wall I built to keep all emotions locked in and all vulnerability locked out. I pushed people away to avoid the risk of rejection and judgement. I chose independence over relationships. Stability over chance. Until one day…
Actually, it wasn’t a day. It was a moment in time when everything stopped and the truth shined a light. I was walking through the park when I noticed an older man and his skinny, scroungy dog sitting at the bench near the rivers edge. Most people walk past, I smile and say hello. The look out was beautiful so I stopped to enjoy the view. I asked the stranger how his day was. Usually this is a superficial question, followed with a superficial answer.
However, when I ask, I mean it. I want to know how is your day, how are you right now, in this moment. What is going on—emotionally, physically, spiritually?
Where are you at?
Frank was his name and he could read my sincerity. His face was wrinkled and his eyes hung low, there was pain in his voice and sadness in his shaky hands. I asked how he was and the tears burst out. He cried. His sobs swallowed me whole. His wife of 50 years had just died and with it Frank became empty. We sat and talked about the decades that passed, the struggles and the triumphs of years of life and love. At the time the experience seemed random, but looking back and connecting the dots, I realize how beautiful this moment was.
A stranger poured out his despair and instead of walking away I sat down to listen. How lucky I was to ‘bump’ into him. After an hour or so of talking you could see an immense weight fall off his shoulders. He didn’t stop grieving, however, he did find peace in the ways things were. The conversation ended in laughter and energetically you could see a release.
We are all going through this life and everything that happens is completely relative. However, so much of our experience is relatable. There is this illusion that we are the only ones dealing with whatever struggle comes our way, though through personal experience I have concluded this couldn’t be further from the truth.
It’s been an internal battle, a fight against opening up and closing out. Balancing my insecurities with opportunity. I have always been the one to keep people at arm’s length. Maintaining distance was my only defense. I’m a lover, an empath to the core. I attach myself to emotions and feelings so jumping in completely is a very uncomfortable idea.
With my here-and-gone-again lifestyle, I find pain in goodbyes. However, what I have realized in my most recent ephemeral connections is the beauty in leaving and returning. The silver lining in giving yourself wholly and completely—even if it means vulnerability—is the pay off of only the happiest of hugs and the kindest of words.
Whether it be in relationships or in my writing, vulnerability has been the birth place of every positive outcome. Opening up to another has brought so much love, belonging, joy and empathy to my life. Countless people have told me their deepest and darkest secrets. I used to ask why, why did people tell me what they wouldn’t even tell their mom? There is comfort in the connection. So much of our life is surface level. How many conversations can you have about the weather? Have we lost touch with the beauty in each breakdown? The reality in our fears?
Let us talk. Let us love. Let us be open.
The snow is beautiful, but what about your dreams? What holds you back? What put you here? Where do we go when it’s over? What does it mean to love? What do you want from life? How are you going to get it? Start a real conversation, one that goes deeper than the “he-said-she-said.” Find the connection in the uncertainty, the beauty in vulnerability. By doing so you will allow yourself to step in to another life, another perspective, and with it creativity will flow. Innovation, new ideas, new life will be born and growth will find it’s way.
Open up. Let your heart shine with no worries of what’s to come. Be in this moment, feel these feelings, be with the fear, listen to what it tells you. Give yourself away, completely. As Dr. Suess once said “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
Lay it all out on the table, if they don’t run away, then they were meant to stay.
When Frank got up to walk away his glide was graceful and present. I asked what would be his one take away lesson—his response was this:
“Life is short. Give every thing you have to the ones you love. Give them your time, give them your patience, and give them your whole heart. At times it will scare the living shit out of you, at times it will hurt, but the risk means nothing against the reward.”
I never saw him again, but his words still ring true. To share weakness means to find strength. It is through our courage we find connection.
Let your whole self be seen, and in doing so you will set yourself free.
Author: Alyssa Johnson
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Tania Cataldo at Flickr