I remember the moment when it first happened. I was 4 years old, lying in bed one night with my bedroom door cracked open just enough so that the warm light from the hallway would filter in. I always asked my mom and dad to leave the hall light on because I was scared of what creature might be lurking in the darkness. I was also scared that if I stepped out of my bed a monster would reach out from under and grab my ankle. I literally had to leap in and out of bed to ensure that my legs were out of the monsters reach. Typical childhood stuff.
Often, when my mom would come to tuck me in we would play a little hide and go seek game. I would hide under the covers, she would pretend not to see me and I would giggle away with the pure innocence of a child. This one night in particular I could hear mom coming down the hall into my dimly lit room to tuck me in as she always did. The giddiness inside of me started to bubble as I quickly hid under the covers using every ounce of my energy to not burst into laughter. But instead of coming in to play the game with me, she pulled the covers back from over my head and with a somewhat frustrated tone told me to settle myself down and go to sleep. It wasn’t terrain that I was used to navigating. This night was different. I froze.
This moment I experienced was incredibly small in the constructs of time, but the shift it created in me was exponentially huge. As a parent now myself I can easily understand what might have been going on for my mom. It was just a few fleeting words to express what she needed, but in that moment something shifted in me. My attention turned inwards and in that split second I felt wrong, I felt shame and I felt that my joy was just “too much”. All of a sudden I was experiencing myself as separate and the joy that was innately in me no longer felt pure. This was the moment that my system coded my joyfulness as too vulnerable.
This is not to say I haven’t had great experiences in life, and would even call myself a happy person growing up, but there was alway this niggle within me to restrict my joy. Most of my exciting experiences I managed to keep at bay, but those odd moments when I could feel myself losing control to the joy bubbling up? Those are the times I would experience the corners of my mouth tightening up to prevent me from exploding into it. It stirred this fear of vulnerability inside of me that took me right back into that night with my mom. It was too risky! I sometimes even remember this risk being so immeasurable that the feeling of joy arising in me would actually cause me to shift into anger so that I could completely escape any chance of being hurt or rejected. I am learning to un-train myself from this reaction so that I can fully experience myself, but this still comes with mixed emotions. One side says YES! The other quickly recoils from this tender and vulnerable experience. I know in my heart that being open and vulnerable in my joyfulness is my birthright. I’m working on it.
Often with these big shifts in awareness, while the new learning is there, it can take a time for one’s system to fully integrate it and feel at home with it. This is the stage I am in. In the exceptional words of my friend and mentor Lynn Sumida, “Even something that feels really good does not automatically get accepted by the mind, especially when it involves a very different way of seeing and doing life.”
It seems to me that as a society we have generally coded vulnerability as an overall negative expression, but in actuality, it’s what creates connection and ultimately freedom. It brings us back home to a real and authentic place where we all reside in the truth of our being. There is something that is so incredibly powerful in being open and raw in vulnerability. It is what creates true bonds and connection, but when that gets wronged or attacked, as it has for all of us at some point in life, then we learn to shut it down. It takes incredible courage to stand in that rawness. It means going against the things that we fear the most. These vulnerable moments, when we feel our knees get a little weak and our head get a little light, it is actually a display of our inner strength.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” – Breneé Brown
As I leave you I will offer this one question to explore, and that is – What was a pivotal moment that turned you away from vulnerability and how might that affect your life today?