This one word, vulnerability, comes at me again and again, from every possible angle as undeniably one of the most important words I’ve ever contemplated…it walks side by side, hand in hand with Love, and Intimacy. Of course as they say, ‘where your focus goes the energy flows’ so considering I believe vulnerability is a key to human connection and exploring human connection is what this life feels to be all about…it’s probably not that surprising that it is regularly the star of the show of my life.
At one point I noticed that my social media feeds had become flooded by incredible men & women using their voice to support consciousness, wellness, mental health and suicide awareness. One campaign #itsokaytotalk highlighted suicide as one of the major killers of men around the world. I’m not going to pretend to be on top of statistics but when I started to look at the research it was pretty scary.
in 2015 deaths due to suicide in Australia were reported at 3,027 and 75% of those were men. That’s 8 people every single day and that seems like a very huge number to me.
Other research suggested that 41% of men who contemplated suicide felt they couldn’t talk about their feelings and I know from the men who have touched my life, that this is a very real issue they’ve grown up with..and now in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s are trying to reconcile.
A university lecturer during a counselling course I attended once said that we may need to avoid asking people how they feel, particularly men, so as not to send them into a panic. He wasn’t in any way suggesting the expression of feelings was bad – just a recognition that after so many generations of emotional suppression – it can be confronting and potentially traumatising to be asked to feel again, and the fear of how we will be judged for expressing feelings can be very real. As an embodiment teacher I almost fell of my chair at the idea of not asking people to feel, while I understood where he was coming from it gave me a real taste into just how unwell our culture is.
The reality is that the cultural norm has been to rule crying or the expression of feelings or confusion as a sign of weakness, of being a ‘sissy’ – sayings like ‘dry your eyes princess’ or ‘toughen up’ are pretty common in my home town. Or fear of bringing others down, being a downer, or killing others buzz kicks in too. Tears have somehow been attached to emotional instability and along with this label a whole lot of stigma and judgement has come with it. The word vulnerability was placed in the naughty corner and has only recently started to be given permission to come back to play in all of it’s wonderful glory and power.
Now lets be super clear – this is a very real issue for women too so I’m going to step away from the idea that we need to split this into a male or female issue. We ALL carry the burden of the unhealthy masculine within each and every one of us.
The unhealthy masculine I’m talking about here is the fear and suppression of feelings and emotions (or you could say the suppression of the feminine). Because the shadow in all of this is that just because you don’t want to feel a darkness arising within you, doesn’t mean that it goes away. It doesn’t (no matter how much you might want it to), it just becomes a part of your shadow, following you everywhere waiting for moments where it can sneak it’s expression into your life to give you a momentary release from the pressure that has built up.
A standard in our culture has formed that we shouldn’t express parts of ourselves we deemed to be ‘dark’ – emotions like fear, sadness, grief, anger and rage. I know I’ve hidden away elements I thought I would be judged for, fearing their expression would make me ultimately unsafe or unloveable. In order to hide away these parts of myself I built up a barrier around myself.
And in building that barrier, to apparently protect myself I inadvertently squashed any possibility of vulnerability. I toughened and closed myself, at least in part, to life. Vulnerability being our capacity of receiving, of being open to life and it’s complete expression, of allowing our Self to see and be seen in our wholeness. So not surprising that I didn’t particularly lively or vital in my life but I didn’t really know how to do anything else – I’d not learnt another way yet.
The scary thing is when you look for the commonly accepted meaning of the word vulnerability you’ll find all sorts of descriptions like capable of wounding or injuring – or things suggesting vulnerability is a disease or weakness. The word comes from the latin root vulnerare – capable of wounding. Did you know that vulva (female genitals) also came from the same root….and yep I really did just make a connection between vulva and vulnerable. To show a point – capable of wounding – is that really what the vulva means to us? This meaning has been so distorted, a female’s vulva isn’t capable of wounding – it is however capable of penetration. An opening for receiving and giving of creation. It is not a disease or weakness but an incredible gift and expression of life. In the same way so is vulnerability.
Anyone else start to feel where our words have steered us down a slippery slope of misinterpreting vulnerability, and women’s sexuality, as a disease rather than its true essence, creation? The capacity of receptivity, of allowing, allowing our Self to be witnessed, penetrated by presence, to be seen and heard. Isn’t this at the very root of our capacity for human connection? To allow ourselves to be fully seen, to allow the presence or gaze of someone to penetrate through our veil of ego completely – and to allow ourselves to receive their presence and love completely.
Vulnerability is the prerequisite to intimacy – or, as I really love to hear it put in-to-me-see.
When I don’t feel the love and presence of those around me, I feel disconnected, and experience the ultimate illusion of separation. Thinking I am separate from others, when actually I’m feeling separated from myself because I’ve hidden away all of these pieces of myself I thought were not OK. But at the very core it was really a separation from Source, Grace, Love that I was experiencing because by shutting down my vulnerability I’d blocked life from expressing itself in all of her divine creation.
So in my opinion it seems the very thing that we do in order to meet the collective view of what makes us strong – also keeps us from receiving fully the gifts of this human experience – connection, love and presence. To fill the void left by this lack of human connection, we turn to vices, addictions – those things that give us the momentary burst of dopamine, oxytocin, seratonin or any number of other hormones within the body that leave us feeling good and alive…sport, food, sex, social media, alcohol, drugs…even yoga & meditation. The problem is that these vices also only offer a temporary solution – we receive the burst of dopamine and oxytocin and then when that burst fades we’re again faced with the underlying feeling of disconnection.
So today I’m grateful to have met many men & women who are speaking up to support each other, saying they will no longer keep their voices quiet, no longer keep what they’re feeling locked up inside. That it’s no longer OK for us to collectively hold onto the misnomer that to be human you must hide your emotions and that to talk about the way you’re feeling somehow makes you a lesser human…or too complicated..or brings people down. IT DOES NOT. IT IS OK TO TALK. And more than that IT IS OK TO HAVE FEELINGS, AND TO NEED TO EXPRESS THEM, AND TO NEED TO BE HEARD EXPRESSING THEM.
Not only is it OK..it’s healthy, normal and natural.
The relevance of this word vulnerability, in this moment, seems palpable. To recognise the courage it takes to stand together, to use our voice. This is strength, power, beauty and for me personally, incredibly attractive to witness people opening up to the intuition of their hearts and allowing these pieces of themselves to come out and play.
Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart….Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as “ordinary courage.” ~ Brene Brown
The more we move away from viewing vulnerability as a weakness, and instead a natural consequence of expressing the Heart, of being real, of being capable of being seen, of being penetrated by the gaze, the presence and love of life, the more we move into a space where expressing our feelings and emotions can occur naturally, organically and authentically.
Maybe then we’ll stop fighting so hard to defend and hide pieces of ourselves, we’ll stop judging and fighting ourselves and each other and start loving instead.
To be vulnerable doesn’t mean to not feel the fear of being judged, it simply means allowing our absolute vitality, beauty and strength to be expressed inspite of the discomfort. And remembering that who we are at our very core, is unwoundable, unwavering, unchangeable.
“Vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.” ~ Brene Brown
So in the end I have no answers, only experiences which have shown me again and again and again again the moments of the sweetest connection to life, to Source, to Love – arise only in moments when I allow all of the ideas I have about myself to be penetrated. Allowing true vulnerability, revealing all of who I am so that I in all of my wholeness is able to connect with others in all of their wholeness. As together we begin to understand we are so inextricably connected.