Vulnerability, Revisited

You see my subject line, Vulnerability, revisited, because it is really the name of this current game we are all living.  I was inspired by a conversation between Jack Kornfield and the host of Ten Percent Happier, where Jack said that dependence is vulnerability and that is part of what can be so uncomfortable about these current conditions.  It really struck me and has stuck with me.  His idea is that when we can embrace our dependence (and thus our vulnerability), we are all stronger.

This is in alignment with the yoga sutras, and the idea of belonging because we’re vulnerable.  You might remember a previous email when I said that Asmita is the false belief that we are separate, and the remedy for this is remembering that all of those parts of us that cause us pain mean that we do belong. Our illusion that we don’t belong because of this worry or anger or fear we feel, compels us to abandon or hide that part of ourselves so we don’t get kicked out of the tribe.  We instinctually know that we need the tribe to survive, but our way of maintaining our membership is more reminiscent of the way adolescents try to stay with the popular crowd – by pretendingto belong. We abandon self in trying to preserve a self!  The only self that’s left when we ditch our tender parts, is a fake self, afraid of being discovered and then exiled.  Remember that feeling from middle school?  High school?  Life?  Add some hormonal fluctuations and you’re right there!

As long as I keep waiting to get rid of this pesky vulnerability, by using endless strategies to pretend I am independent,  I AM just an individual, trying to do the impossible, trying to do it all alone.  When I give in and ask for help (to move that heavy piece of furniture, for example) I am the strength of two or three.  What if I tune in to remember some of the people who are supporting me now (recycling truck drivers, janitors, UPS drivers, etc.) and accept my dependence, and therefore, my vulnerability?  I am the strength of many.  I can ride on their courage because we are all in the human tribe.  Rather than just awe or gratitude to the others, I scoot aside to widen the circle and invite them in.  We are in this circle together.  Here’s the bonus – it’s more fun.

I’ve recently heard it said that we’re going through an initiation as a species.  Wow, we are actually all in this together and we’re all in middle school in some ways.  Jack Kornfield says that something new wants to be born, but what it is it?  I certainly don’t know, and if I did I could pretend to stop feeling so vulnerable with all of this uncertainty.  Our practices can offer us the opportunity to really feel into life.  Some hallmarks of mindfulness practice is the notion of paying attention, right now, with an open heart.

In my yoga therapy work, we explore difficulties from this open-hearted perspective.   I encourage clients to name their feelings as body sensations and even personify them.  For example, if a client complained of anxiousness, I would have her close her eyes and first notice where that feeling shows up in the body.  Let’s say it came in her heart, throat and belly.  If we look through the lens of science, we could remember that the sympathetic nervous system (aka fight or flight) prepares the body against threats, shutting down digestion, increasing heart rate and tightening muscles.  Her body is responding to the mental messages and doing its job well.  It’s saying, “Pay attention.”.  So we do:

Instead of abandoning her feeling of anxiety or wishing it would just go away, we move in closer (open-heartedness), with the knowledge that her body’s wisdom has something important to say.  I would have her describe the actual physical sensations, not the ideas of the way that anxiety feels.  She might describe the feeling in her belly as hard, dark, cold, spikey, or constricted.  Although this is uncomfortable, we do not abandon this part of her, but get even more friendly and ask this part for its name.

We can then acknowledge this part of her, let’s say its name is Granite, and ask it to tell us what it is and what it needs.  It is sometimes a very young part of the client, triggered by current conditions, and needing reassurance.  Granite might need comfort, a hug, maybe  warmth or space, a kind word from a loved one.  In my practice, we would use yoga postures, breath practices, and many other yoga options to allow Granite to express who it is and give it what it needs.  All the while, we assure Granite that we do not want to get rid of it, but rather to acknowledge its place in a healthy life.

We pay attention, hearts open, and allow.  This brings relief.  We decrease hiding or shaming or pretending.  We might find that simply breathing softens this hard belly.  Maybe resting one’s hand on the belly gives reassurance.  Often, just telling Granite, “I am here for you.” allows it to let down.  We acknowledge this wise, tender part and remember that it has its place in our lives.  We want to hear from all the parts of ourselves and better understand how they each belong as components of a rich, authentic life.  As with all communities, if one member takes up too much space, the others suffer.  Each member needs to be seen and heard in balance with the others.

Meanwhile, explore dependence and vulnerability in your life. Let it in, taste it and smell it, roll around in it.  Express it.  Befriend it.  How does it want to be seen today?

Afterword

Facing this kind of vulnerability is best done with a guide, but you can try it on your own.  My recording this week offers an Introduction to Yoga Therapy (on the Introductory Recordings page).  If this piques your interest, contact me to set up a private session.  I can usually offer scholarships, thanks to a generous community member who believes in yoga therapy as a powerful healing modality.