I was having coffee with a close friend of mine, a holistic practitioner, when in the midst of chatting, I unexpectedly felt a wave of sadness move through my body.
I had been raving about a joyful event from the previous weekend, and was taken aback by the somber undercurrents suddenly making themselves known.
Unsure of their source, I quickly brushed the feelings aside.
In a few minutes, the conversation had lulled into a momentary silence. I found myself sinking into the sadness.
Completely unrelated to my conversation, I began to think about my sister who is currently in a rehab program. I haven’t had contact with her since before she was admitted. Somehow, I had conveniently run out of time to think about her, or to even notice and sit with any feelings of sadness or disconnection that were welling up inside of me.
This wave of emotion surprised me. As a shamanic healing practitioner, I gently guide clients into feelings of vulnerability to discover suppressed emotions that are the cause of patterns and beliefs stored in the energetic body.
I think of myself as someone who is aware of her emotions, their sources, and their effects. I repeat affirmations and devour articles about positive psychology. I religiously read Brene Brown, and reflect through journaling.
Had I cleverly intellectualized my personal development so as to escape experiencing the raw emotions constituting my humanness? Had I been so quick to analyze my sadness and my fear that I evaded feeling them?
I had slipped into the tempting land of “spiritual bypass,” short circuiting the healing process by jumping immediately from an emotion into understanding it, and avoiding the uncomfortable step of feeling.
During that coffee date, I had a much-needed reality check about vulnerability.
Vulnerability isn’t simply being honest about how we feel, it is taking sufficient time to truly feel those feelings. It’s making a commitment to discover them and to sit with them long enough to heal.
Of course it seems easier to divert your attention by scrolling through Facebook’s newsfeed or updating a to-do list. But you have to wade through the feelings to get to the other side or you will remain stuck. Vulnerability means staying with it.
So what is vulnerability?
Vulnerability is having coffee with a friend while realizing, all of a sudden, that I miss my sister. It’s gifting myself a few moments of silence amidst our conversation to view the unexpected echoes of emotions pass through my body.
Vulnerability is setting aside time before I go to sleep to feel sadness—to write my sister’s name on a candle in my room.
Vulnerability is posting a flyer for my first ever yoga class, unsure of how many people will show up.
Vulnerability is spending an hour before class getting the room ready, even though I wanted to “wing it,” so that nobody could see how much this class meant to me.
Vulnerability is the 20 minutes before yoga class starts when nobody has arrived. I sit in the vacant room alone with my feelings of anxiety.
Vulnerability is leaning into these feelings. Allowing myself to feel disappointed without immediately repeating mantras about self-acceptance to numb the raw emotions yearning to be healed.
Vulnerability is saying goodnight to my father while he is fast asleep, whispering so as to not wake him up. Allowing myself to be filled with love and gratitude for my father, who does not speak the same language as me, nor does he understand the world that I live in. I watch his tired body breathe beneath the worn covers like the rhythm of the ocean waves moving up and down.
Vulnerability is realizing that all of the resentment toward my parents is an intricate mask covering the sadness of disconnection. I miss my parents, even though they are alive.
Vulnerability is receiving a compliment from a friend and saying “thank you,” allowing myself to feel seen and loved by somebody else, instead of replying back with nice words about her to energetically deflect the attention.
Vulnerability is eating breakfast downstairs with my housemates, instead of bringing my bowl of oatmeal upstairs to indulge in quiet solitude. It’s making eye contact with them, and being open to connection even though I’ve spent most of my lifetime convincing myself that I prefer loneliness.
Vulnerability is taking my first ever adult bath, and realizing that I am in the process of befriending pleasure and rest. It’s sitting in the warm water for just a minute longer than is comfortable. It’s looking at my naked body in the water as if I’m seeing and discovering it for the first time.
Vulnerability is leaning into experiencing something your soul craves, even though protective barriers tell you otherwise. It’s choosing to feel joy and to feel sadness. It’s choosing honest conversations over small talk, and connection over judgment.
It’s taking in the glory and the heartache of being human and vowing to experience the spectrum of moments in between. It’s choosing to feel.
Bypassing emotions to reach peace is a fine concept, but I’ve found that it doesn’t work.
Leaning into emotions is the work needed to create more truth and, ultimately, joy. True joy is the result of vulnerability, of being able to embrace the vast array of human experiences gifted to us in this lifetime.
It’s not the easy route, but it does mark the difference between a person who lives on the surface, and the one who is willing to dive deep into the waters of life.
Which one are you?
Author: Mona Miroslaw
Image: John Tyczkowski Photography
Editor: Deb Jarrett