#reverb15: getting vulnerable

Playing some #reverb catch-up. This is Day 5 from Sarah & Kim. Vulnerability. It’s scary to share our true selves because it leaves us open and vulnerable. When were you vulnerable this year? What was the result?

In 2013, I chose "open" as the word to frame my intentions. I did so because I felt like I need to be unfolded. I'd spent a lot of the previous years in a really internal space, managing some difficult situations and I was finally in a place where I wanted to open up again. One of the definitions of "open" that I loved, and came back to again throughout the year, iss "to permit passage".

Imagine how differently vulnerability seems if you think of it this way. When you open yourself to people and experiences, you are permitting passage, letting things through, providing space.

Pema Chodron says about our capacity for openness:

When you begin to touch your heart or let your heart be touched, you begin to discover that it’s bottomless, that it doesn’t have any resolution, that this heart is huge, vast, and limitless. You begin to discover how much warmth and gentleness is there, as well as how much space.

This year, on numerous occasions I found myself talking to students who were sharing very personal situations and challenges with me. I was probably the most open with them about my own life than I've been before simply because it was important to share something back, to empathize with their experiences. One student in particular who lost a parent this semester told me that she would never managed the end of the semester without my understanding. The amount of students who disclose their struggles with anxiety, depression, trauma, grief staggers me. I'm constantly reminded how much the work I do exists outside of the classroom. Even within the classroom, I try to be open, vulnerable with my students. It's a tricky line to walk because I need them to trust that I've been thoughtful about the work I ask them to do and that the see me as a guide, a resource. I'm slowly realizing that when I share stories with my students, the connection grows between us rather than diminishes. And once you crack yourself open, it's tough to tamper yourself back down.

I used to be afraid that if I let myself feel vulnerable, I wouldn’t be able to control the flood of emotions that would come; I would be overwhelmed and unable to handle all I was feeling. I think this is why Brene Brown’s “The Price of Invulnerability” resonated with me when I first saw it five years ago: because that’s what I was doing then, numbing myself from feeling anything at all, especially joy. Because I was afraid.

I'm not sure exactly when we, as a culture, or even I as a person began to associate vulnerability with weakness. But what I know now is that being vulnerable is the bravest, most demanding think you can ask of yourself and other people.

One of my students asked me what advice I would give myself in college. I think I would probably want to tell her that she has a right to her feelings, whatever they may be, that her future is so much more than she could have imagined, so full of love and friendship and amazing experiences. I would tell her that she will be okay. And that one day, her voice will be stronger than all the other voices that tell her no, or that she can't or shouldn't do xyz. One day she will listen to that voice, and fall in love, and go on adventures and make connections and be fiercely and deeply loved in return. To do that, though, she has to be vulnerable, to permit passage.