Last year I attended Burning Man for the first time, partly to have space to examine my life from a distance. During the trip, I committed to finding a new work situation, hopefully some configuration of self-employment. Two weeks after I arrived home, before I had enacted any of my plans, my boss delivered the news that our division (I had a corporate job) would close at the end of December.
Having willed my job out of existence, I subsequently encouraged myself to consider nearly everything in my life as subject for debate. In early 2011, a friend shared a TED talk that truly changed my life and direction: Brene Brown’s “The Power of Vulnerability.”
I’d already discovered some of her conclusions, such as the world is vulnerable by nature. More importantly, I understood that one “cannot selectively numb emotion”—in other words, numbing the emotions I dread also deadens all the ones I appreciate.
Most vitally from the TED talk, however, was the idea that vulnerability is necessary, rather than comfortable or miserable. I had never considered that perspective. Years before I’d started to understand the benefits of vulnerability, but those small quivers of terror sometimes still caused reluctance, frustration, or resentment.
But Brown explains that perceiving vulnerability as excruciating—how I always felt it—diminishes the potential for connection. Certainly true in my life. As a child, I rarely experienced vulnerability positively. And as I grew older, my own unwillingness for it ensured that I rarely felt connected to anyone. That said, I desperately craved connection. I always wanted to be part of a community, but for the most part I was unable to do so.
Given the timing—when I changed all but my diet and sexual orientation—viewing vulnerability as simply, neutrally necessary affected everything. Brown emphasizes that connection results from vulnerable authenticity, explaining that in order to be ourselves, we must let go of who we think we should be. She echoes the famous Lao Tzu quote: “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”
So I tried to not to project so much emotion onto vulnerability. Yogic philosophy also aligns with this endeavor—I knew not to impose judgement on my yoga practice, but I was still inclined to criticize my emotions.
And I attempted the courageousness that Brown considers necessary for being imperfect (i.e., the human condition). I shared my insecurities. I admitted my lack of knowledge. I declared my boundaries and defended my integrity. And perhaps most importantly, I asked for help. Constantly, on all counts. Consequently, I encountered frequent, soul-stirring connections. Not just romantically, but with many types of relationships: friends, students, colleagues.
Soon after the vernal equinox, when nature is rebirthing, a friend dreamt that she and another mutual friend helped me birth a child. I realized how much my intentions for vulnerability were connecting me to others—not because I want to have children soon (I don’t), but because now I see how others want to assist a rebirth for myself and my creative efforts in both work and play.
The communities to which I feel connected now—mostly overlapping groups of yogis, artists, musicians, and burners—are much of what I value most in my life. Not because we are all the same, but that we are all willing to hold vulnerable, supportive space with each other.
I also connect with myself more profoundly, via projects about which I feel satisfied and proud—a thriving yoga community, a growing charity. And another that you’re reading at this moment, for which I feel humbled and grateful.
Not surprisingly, Brown encourages us “to allow ourselves to be deeply, vulnerably seen.” From her research, she concludes that people who connect “believe that what makes them vulnerable makes them beautiful.” Though I easily believed that vulnerability allowed us to live more authentically, at first I was highly skeptical that it revealed beauty. I had always believed that vulnerability exposed flaws, and that people loved in spite of them.
But life continues to prove otherwise, and I’m starting to believe that the cracks allow the light to shine through.
SK © 2011