The Art of Practicing Vulnerability

Lifestyle Culture
by Carlo Alcos Dec 30, 2010

I explained to my new Haligonian* friend that whatever way you act around people, you give them permission to do the same. You want to be a dickhead, then expect to get dickheadedness in return. I choose to be open. By being open, I invite others around me to be open. This is what she was experiencing. This is why she told me things she normally wouldn’t have.

I’ve been thinking a lot about vulnerability lately. It’s a topic that seems to have come to the forefront and it’s coming from multiple unconnected sources. For example, in a recent yoga class my teacher was discussing being vulnerable. After class we chatted a bit more about vulnerability and she mentioned a TED talk she watched, although couldn’t recall who the speaker was.

The next morning I received an email from a good friend with a link to the talk that my yoga instructor was telling me about. The importance of vulnerability is making itself clearer.

Brené Brown on vulnerability

The TED talk was one by Dr. Brené Brown, a researcher who has been studying the topic for 10 years. Over a six year period she collected thousands of stories; data in the form of anecdotes, interviews, and focus groups. She found she could place the subjects in two groups: those with a strong sense of love and belonging, and those who struggle with it. She discovered that those in the former group believed they were worthy of love and belonging.

Courage comes from the latin “cor”, meaning heart. The original definition of courage was “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.”

Courage was the one thing that these “worthy” subjects had in common. They fully embraced vulnerability. They described it as being fundamental. As Dr. Brown says, we live in a vulnerable world. The way we deal with it is by numbing vulnerability. But she also goes on to say that we cannot selectively numb emotions. When we numb vulnerability or shame or fear or grief, we also numb other emotions like joy, happiness, and gratitude.

Learning about vulnerability through yoga

As I continue along my spiritual journey, I’m finding that everything we do can be a metaphor for life. Travel is no longer an act; the fundamentals of travel — acceptance, openness, education — are representative of how I want to live. Since starting a regular yoga practice, I’ve also come to understand that yoga is a metaphor for life.

For me, the basis of yoga is vulnerability. To progress in yoga, you have to practice vulnerability. From a physical standpoint, it’s necessary to have an element of surrender in every pose.

To complete the holistic experience that is yoga, being vulnerable in the mind and heart is necessary to progress spiritually. One of my instructors, Elissa Gumushel, had this to say:

Generally, we try to avoid vulnerability because it is inherently uncomfortable, yet vulnerability is necessary. In fact, it is absolutely required in order to live a full and satisfying life. In order to grow and prosper in life, we must embrace vulnerability. To be vulnerable is to be courageous. Acceptance of vulnerability affirms a person’s strength and ability to accept that the outcome might not be what they hope for, which in turn affirms the process as being the primary goal.

Vulnerability takes courage

We are born vulnerable into a vulnerable world. To protect ourselves from pain and discomfort, we spend a large chunk of our lives building defenses.

Fear drives us to build these walls and fear keeps them strong. But those walls also keep out and hold in the love.

Connection is a basic human need. Since I’ve learned to be more open, I’ve found it much easier to make connections with others. Even passing connections — looking a stranger in the eyes and smiling can have a profound effect on them and yourself. It takes vulnerability to truly connect.

Take 2011 as an opportunity to practice your vulnerability. To be more open, more honest, more loving, and more thankful.

We shouldn’t be scared to be ourselves.

*A Haligonian is someone from Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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