I came up close and personal with the experience of vulnerability this weekend. I was participating in a coaching training and chose to share regarding my experience of vulnerability. I acknowledged my desire to be open and to connect with the group, and at the same time, I felt vulnerable. As much as I wanted to bond with others, another part of me wanted to shut down because I felt scared. My best attempt to deal with this was to push through my feelings of vulnerability and share. At least I wouldn’t be repressed by my fears. I would overcome them and show up.
This has been my modus operandi. I have used the feeling of vulnerability to guide me in the direction to go. If my ego tells me not to speak in public because I am afraid of experiencing shame, I would ignore my ego and speak. This was my way of rebelling against my internal rules, and how I have been approaching my personal development: Push through the fear! Ignore the vulnerability! Do it anyway!
This weekend, however, I saw something different. I recognized that pushing through my feelings of vulnerability and fear did give me the brief high of an adrenaline buzz, but it didn’t do anything to sustainably expand my horizons. Faced with the same situation on another day, what would be different? I would still have the same old thinking that would create the same feelings of vulnerability that I would need to push through once again. I started to see the reactive nature of my behavior. When vulnerability surfaces, I was like a teenager rebelling against a curfew. Even if I didn’t need to come home late, I would, just to prove a point. I would push through my vulnerability no matter what, to prove that I am not weak.
So I asked myself, “What is vulnerability? Where does it come from?” What I recognized was that my experience of vulnerability was coming from my thoughts. Being open and connected with others doesn’t mean I have to feel vulnerable. The only reason I felt vulnerable was because I was feeling fear of being hurt or criticized. I saw that I had beliefs running that if I am open in a group, I am unsafe and at risk for being judged. Without these beliefs I wouldn’t feel vulnerable.
Vulnerability happens when I notice that I am about to step outside of my ego’s comfort zone and challenge my status quo, but I can, at times, forget altogether that I have a comfort zone and just experience being free. There are periods when I forget to be afraid. Most of the time, I am not spending my days fretting over whether or not I am going to be hurt or condemned. So in spite of my ego, I enjoy plenty of time not worrying about myself and getting on with life effortlessly. It is actually the most natural and ordinary experience there is, to be secure and not be paying attention to my self-conscious chatter.
Perhaps enlightenment exists when we are not looking? Growth in consciousness definitely happens in spite of ourselves. The ego doesn’t have a grip on us. We have to grip on to the ego. We hold on to the noise of our personal thinking out of fear of falling into the abyss of oblivion and annihilation. The ego experiences the formless as nothing. The soul, however, knows it is the potential of all things.
I recognize now that vulnerability is not a prerequisite for growth. It is no different than any other emotion. It is a compass that lets me know the quality of my thinking. For me, it lets me know I am buying into habitual beliefs telling me where safety lies, and I am contemplating stepping across some imaginary line into perceived danger. How challenging it is for me to pry my fingers loose from the imaginary ledge I am holding onto for dear life. What will happen if I let go? Will I lose my mind? Will I loose my ability to function? Will I loose all my safety when I let go of the known for the unknown?
Now I see my freedom doesn’t come from pushing through fear and vulnerability. Instead, the feeling of vulnerability lets me know when I am buying into thoughts that are telling me I am going to suffer. It helps me see I am contemplating going up against self-imposed restrictions designed to keep me safe. Before this weekend, I would have seen crossing these boundaries as courageous and brave, but the truth is, it isn’t very daring to battle imaginary dragons. It doesn’t take much to box with your own shadow.
When vulnerability arises now, rather than having a knee jerk response to go into action so I can plump up my ego by perceiving myself as bold, I have the opportunity to see more accurately in the moment. I have the possibility to see that what I am scared of doesn’t exist, and that I am not any greater, better, stronger, or braver for overcoming something that is not real. This would be like me imagining a monster in the doorway, and then feeling that I am a more valuable and worthy human being because I had the courage to walk past it. It is a farce. I don’t need to prove my worthiness, and I certainly won’t ever be able to win my ego’s approval. When I surrender to this, I just might start looking in the direction of my true nature and experience the bliss of not having to prove anything and the enjoyment of just letting myself be.