The invulnerability in vulnerability
As I was writing the post “The Power in Vulnerability,” I started to question why we perceive certain things as making ourselves vulnerable. I recall writing this, Sometimes I question myself as to why I find it difficult to be vulnerable, to show a little emotion, to tell people I’m not doing okay and I’ve concluded it’s because of this terrible thing named pride. And by pride I mean our ego. We’re so afraid of rejection and of getting hurt (which is really just our ego anyway), that we deny ourselves opportunities to make connections with others, or perhaps we’ve made a connection but now we’re preventing the connection from strengthening out of fear of getting “too close”. Why do we have to perceive being vulnerable as a risk? If someone doesn’t respond to what we’ve said, we perceive it as rejection. But what if being vulnerable was the norm; if we merely wore our externalized emotions with no attachment to the outcome?
So I ask again, why do we feel obligated to associate vulnerability with risk, pain, and suffering? Why do we need to guard our heart? I have always struggled with this quote from Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard you heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Again, what is there to guard? Why do we perceive our life story, our history, our experiences, our feelings as something so private that sharing them might end up hurting us? How can those things actually hurt us? And the answer, they can’t. It’s not our story or our experiences or our feelings that hurt us. Nor is it the sharing that hurts us. It’s our expectations of the response that hurts us. Often when we open up to someone, we consider it to be a significant event – we are choosing to share some of the most intimately painful events of our lives with this potential stranger. But why do we have to consider that a risk? Since when was being honest about things that are facts a risk? This thing happened in your past. This thing hurt you. Okay. Can you change it? Can you rewrite history? No. It is what it is. The key here is that it is in the past. It happened. It is not still happening. Reluctance to discuss what happened though, allows that pain to keep happening. It makes the past present.
These thoughts were inspired by the following quote from The Power of Now, “Only through the letting go of resistance, through becoming “vulnerable,” can you discover your true and essential invulnerability.” Resistance means a reluctance to accept what is. All situations are what they are. Does that mean you can’t change them? No. Does that mean you need to be passive in your life? Not at all. You can still be proactive and instigate change, but it’s about accepting the situation for what it is and letting go of your expectations of what you thought it might be or what you wanted it to be.
I have often been told that I make myself too vulnerable. But I’ve frequently questioned how? I live with my heart on my sleeve, yes. And I also frequently communicate how I feel. But how does that make me susceptible to getting hurt? If I get hurt, doesn’t that have more to do with my expectations of the response than it does with my actual actions? Take my post, “A love letter of sorts,” I made myself extremely “vulnerable” in that post. I openly communicated how much this individual means to me. Now I didn’t really get a response from this individual, which is more than okay, but others would perceive that as rejection. Here I am presenting my feelings and they weren’t necessarily validated. But why did they need to be? Isn’t it validation enough that I merely felt what I was feeling? Why do I need external validation? And the truth is, I don’t. You don’t, either. The only reason I might perceive this as rejection is if I took the lack of response personally. If I was attached to a certain response. If I wanted a certain response. All of that though, is the ego. That’s the ego needing validation. Without the validation, the ego is hurt. Bruised. The ego takes it personally. The ego suffers. When in reality, the ego thrives off of pain and suffering because that’s what strengthens it. But the ego is not you. The ego is unconscious. You, though, are conscious.
I had a conversation the other day with someone whom I have hurt in the past when I cut off ties in attempt to move on and heal. I was asking questions about how she was doing, about her family, if she was okay, and she reciprocated by asking me the same. I recall openly discussing the struggles I was presently facing with staying in America, returning to soccer, and of missing an individual. When I asked her the same questions though, I was answered with a somewhat superficial response. To which I responded, do you feel as though you can’t talk to me about this because I have burnt the bridge of open communication? And her answer was yes. Because I had hurt this individual, she no longer entrusted me with her feelings. We were no longer close and so I was seemingly not deserving of open responses. To which I entirely understand and accept. This individual has evident fear of getting hurt again, fear of opening up and having me leave again, and the thought of that pain is unbearable. And to overcome that fear would be a risk. A risk she was not willing to take. A risk that was self-perpetuating. But I started to question, what is it about one’s life, one’s feelings, one’s experiences that holds so much power? The answer? The power we unconsciously give them. They don’t actually hold any power. I have struggled to understand how being open about my past and my experiences could potentially hurt me, how honesty is considered vulnerable and how being vulnerable means that you could get hurt. The only thing that could potentially hurt me is, as I’ve said, my expectations. One of the primary teachings in Buddhism is that, “Expectations are the root of all suffering.” Perhaps because I am entirely open with everyone in my life, I do not fear one individual leaving, because I have confidence in knowing I will just open up to the next person who enters my life. But I acknowledge many people don’t operate like this. Many people have trust issues. Who doesn’t have trust issues though? Who hasn’t been hurt by someone they cared about? We all have. That’s a fact. Are you going to continue living your life in fear that you might be hurt again? That fear is merely your ego. It feeds off of it. Your ego can’t survive without fear. Your ego also can’t survive without pain. Once you realise that your past really doesn’t hold any power over you and that the only power it holds is because of your self-created ego, you will be free of that pain. Once you accept the past for what it was and reflect in a conscious, aware manner, the past will not cause you to suffer in the present.
I made myself “vulnerable” to two other people recently. These were two individuals who have been exceptional role models in my life. Mentors. People I highly respected. But for reasons I cannot quite understand, and have accepted that I won’t understand, communication ceased. I reached out to them. I wrote one of them a letter communicating my struggle to understand what happened, my acceptance of not being able to understand, and communicated how much this individual has shaped the way in which I live my life. I communicated that I missed her and I missed our interactions and that I would love to reconnect. I also communicated that my feelings towards her were independent of her response to this letter. A response that I never received. A response I also received from the other individual I reached out to. Now, many would perceive this as a clear rejection. I made myself “vulnerable” by communicating how I felt, how much this individual means to me, and by asking to catch up, and none of this was acknowledged nor validated. I could take this personally and internalise and question whether it’s a reflection of my worth. But it’s not. Their response is completely independent of me as a person. I am not hurt nor am I disappointed – I spoke openly about how I was feeling and was not attached or expecting any kind of response. I didn’t need validation. I don’t need validation. I received it within myself because I was feeling it. If I died tomorrow, I would be at peace knowing I communicated all that was on my heart. I communicated without fear. Without expectation. And in a way that made me feel invulnerable. My feelings are what they are. My past is what it is. I accept them wholeheartedly. The only power they hold is the power I give them. And that power comes from unconsciousness. From my ego. But I don’t want to suffer. I don’t want to be distrusting of others. I don’t want to confine my life to the narrow boundaries of “comfort”. I want to pledge fully into the world of “vulnerability.” Into a world where I can and will speak openly about my past and my present. A world where I am entirely my authentic self without fear of self-perceived rejection. A world where vulnerability is merely true invulnerability.
So I challenge you to speak openly. To discuss your past. To communicate your feelings. To do so in a way that makes you feel invulnerable. To realise that these are all just things, facts almost, and the only power they have is the power you give them. Communicate in a way that is independent of external responses, void of attachment from external validation. Validate yourself. And let go of the resistance to what is. I hope you find the invulnerability that exists just below the surface of vulnerability, below the surface of the ego, and within the realms of consciousness.