The other night we were sitting around having a discussion about what it takes to be vulnerable. The guys had been at their men’s group meeting and vulnerability had been the theme of the night. We continued exploring the topic when they came home. I loved it. I felt close to these men who I know so well, as they explored the defences that keep them stitched up behind their public images.
In case you haven’t noticed, being honest and open, being intimate, being yourself, showing up warts and all, have become thrusts of the New Yoga. There are articles published in on-line yoga magazines and blog posts that emphasise showing the writer’s soft underbelly. I do it myself. There are teachers everywhere these days who present, as part of the content of their classes or their retreat curriculum, motivationing talks on how they’ve learned to be a better person. Perhaps I’ve done this, too. It’s okay; it’s even encouraged these days to be open and sharing.
However, in the 80’s when I was learning Iyengar yoga, I used the yoga practice to become stronger, more flexible, and to do more and more advanced postures. In those days, I equated vulnerability with weakness, and there were masks and armouring I wore that ultimately, and probably fortunately, became too heavy.
In the 90’s, I enrolled in a workshop called ‘Sex, Love and Intimacy‘ where my learning was mostly about what it takes to be intimate. I don’t mean sexually intimate. I mean the ability to be with myself and with others, practising the art of dropping my persona and the artifices that kept me separate. In the safe space of the workshops, I saw that when I was completely myself, I didn’t have to put my guard up. I discovered that the gift of vulnerability is retrieval of innocence.
I’m still learning to be vulnerable; it’s not a foregone conclusion. I had a deep realisation as I explored the subject of this post. I hold myself back from being vulnerable at the times when it feels confronting or risky to be completely honest. So then, I end up sitting in my judgments of another person or gossiping or complaining about them rather than having the courage to be upfront.
Vulnerability is ultimately part of the fabric of life. Most of us are forced to reclaim our vulnerability at some point. There will be a mid-life crisis, a relationship break-up, a natural disaster, for instance. For me, when I was 47 years old, I developed osteoarthritis, and, as a result, I thought I would have to give up teaching. In these sorts of critical times, we can either stay stuck in fear, grief or resignation, or make a conscious choice to turn a dilemma into an opportunity for growth.
Ageing and dying present us with the most challenging situations in which we can practice vulnerability. Sally Kempton, writing about vulnerability in the Yoga Journal article ‘Protective Services’, has said that in the Indian tradition, we practice the yogic disciplines so that they will be with us at the time of death. Focussed asana practice, meditation, and yoga nidra are some of the tools that help us develop the stillness to face even the most intense internal and external difficulties.
I’m grateful that at my stage in life I’ve begun to practice mindfulness meditation. It’s a practice that has provided me with an inner safe space to meet the vulnerable and open being I am, and I’ve seen that in the awareness of that ‘me’ arises a paradoxical invulnerable open spaciousness.
And again, from Sally Kempton:
When you consciously enter the state of vulnerability, you find that at its centre is peace… the peace that comes from standing poised in the aching heart of life.
For a little more inspiration on the importance of embracing vulnerability, have a look at Brene Brown giving a TED talk on this topic.