What Vulnerability *Really* Means


The real gift and the crux of our difficulty is our constant and entirely natural experience of vulnerability. Trying to live without feeling vulnerable means we do not understand the fierce nature of the reality we inhabit. In closing off our vulnerability, we close off the authentic exchanges that tell us we are actually having a real conversation. Vulnerability is the door through which we walk into self-understanding and compassion for others. Being enlightened does not mean we assume supernatural powers or find a perfection that exalts us above the daily losses other human being are subject to; enlightenment means we have accepted thoroughly our transience, our vulnerability and our imperfections and live just as robustly with them as without them.”

David Whyte, in “The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self, and Relationship.”

Advertisements

Denial & Impermanence


“We know that all is impermanent; we know that everything wears out. Although we can buy this truth intellectually, emotionally we have a deep-rooted aversion to it. We want permanence; we expect permanence. Our natural tendency is to seek security; we believe we can find it. We experience impermanence at the everyday level as frustration. We use our daily activity as a shield against the fundamental ambiguity of our situation, expending tremendous energy trying to ward off impermanence and death. We don’t like it that our bodies change shape. We don’t like it that we age. We are afraid of wrinkles and sagging skin. We use health products as if we actually believe that our skin, our hair, our eyes and teeth, might somehow miraculously escape the truth of impermanence.” – Pema Chödrön “The Places That Scare You

“Why Love if Losing Hurts So Much?”


Why love if losing hurts so much?
I have no answers anymore, only the life I have lived.
And twice in that life I have been given the choice:
As a boy…
…and as a man.
The boy chose safety.
The man chose suffering.
The pain now is part of the happiness then.
That’s the deal.

( – from the motion picture “Shadowlands“)

.

God breaks the heart again and again and again until it stays open.” – Hazrat Inayat Khan

.

We shall only draw nearer to God not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in love, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; by throwing away all defensive armor.

If our hearts need to be broken—and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break—then so be it. Hiding away our hearts for fear of their being broken, is like hiding away a talent in a napkin and burying out back, and for much the same reason—because “I knew that thee wert a hard man.”

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; become a relationship nomad, run away and emotionally cut others out of your life at the first sign of trouble; and lock your heart up safe in the casket or coffin of your own selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; rather, it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The only alternative to tragedy, or at least the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

( – C. S. Lewis, from “The Four Loves,” pp 120-122)

.

One way or another, you will be forced to face the truth: everything you acquire is eventually lost. Every body you hold eventually dies. You have been waiting to give your deepest gifts, waiting to love and invest safely without the possibility of loss or rejection. You have been holding back while your life—everyone’s life—passes. You have traded in your true destiny for one of false comforts and muted agony.

If you are afraid, if you are waiting for more comfort or security, if you are holding back your gifts or closing down your love, then feel your act of closure fully—feel the tension in your muscles, the clenching in your jaw, the hardening of your heart—in short, the wasting of your life.

(David Deida, “Blue Truth,” pp. 8-9)

.

Affirmation” – Donald Hall

To grow old is to lose everything.
Aging, everybody knows it.
Even when we are young,
we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads
when a grandfather dies.
Then we row for years on the midsummer
pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,
that began without harm, scatters
into debris on the shore,
and a friend from school drops
cold on a rocky strand.
If a new love carries us
past middle age, our wife will die
at her strongest and most beautiful.
New women come and go. All go.
The pretty lover who announces
that she is temporary
is temporary. The bold woman,
middle-aged against our old age,
sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand.
Another friend of decades estranges himself
in words that pollute thirty years.
Let us stifle under mud at the pond’s edge
and affirm that it is fitting
and delicious to lose everything.

.

The sooner (and more completely) I can wrap my little head around this and live in accordance with this, the better.

And it’s not that I have a death wish and want to court relationships where the instability is inherently and wantonly high because the other person has set their life in diametric opposition to this fact of life and therefore is prone to flinch, spin out, shut down, run, self-preserve by throwing others under the bus or into the fire or just plain throwing them away period whenever the going gets tough.

No, I don’t want that.

But if that’s what life presents me with, then it is my duty as a man and not a boy to live that reality and that relationship at the highest level that I can and that I am able to muster. There can be no shrinking permitted from myself.

Or else all of these fine words and excerpts are just words, and I’m just kidding myself with them by citing them and quoting them. I have to live and behave myself into what I aspire to be; I have to be willing to fight myself—my smaller frightened avoidant self—tooth and nail, even when I’m scared. Especially most of all when I’m scared and feel my heart about to get wrung and broken again.

If this is the way that God or the Universe chooses to break my heart fully open, then so be it. The Universe or God or Life is always in the right. And the Universe and or God will keep breaking my heart again and again and again until I get it, until I realize that there is no safe investment, that everything will be taken from me—us—eventually, that everything is temporary.

So how do I want to live my life in the meantime, until the eventual end comes? As a coward? (Cue up the movie “Fearless” with Jeff Bridges and that wonderful scene on top of the skyscraper downtown where he declares in fear and trembling that he won’t live his life as a coward.) Or do I want to live my life as a man, with as much courage and openness and integrity as I can muster?

Both the long and the short lesson in life is loss. It’s not a particularly cheery lesson, especially not at first, and perhaps not ever, but picking and choosing our life lessons—the lessons in life we decide to learn—on the basis of their cheeriness or how well they appeal to our congenital preferences and temperament and emotional limitations and current level of differentiation doesn’t seem to me to be a particularly healthy or ennobling or even an honest way to live.

To set ourselves, heart and mind and soul, in opposition to the fact that loss is inevitable, that everyone dies, that no one gets out of here alive, that life and health and security are all fleeting and tenuous and temporary at best, seems to be a foolish way to live. And the more we set ourselves against this set of unavoidable “brute” facts of life, then either the more dishonestly or the more discursively and superficially we will have to live (“taking ruins to ruins” as Emerson put it, which is the same as the gist of Cavafy’s poem “The City”). There’s really no depth or personal growth possible except by wrestling with accepting this fact. —In fact, isn’t that what all real true personal growth is?—learning to better and more courageously and heroically accept life for what it is instead of what we escapistly wish it would be?—learning to better live and love on life’s terms and not on our own? (to lessen our inner control freak?) “He must increase, I must decrease” – John 3:30 (God I love that Gospel!). Yes, Truth and Light and Love and our level of courage and clear-headedness and honesty and clear-thinking must increase, and our own personal flighty discursive self-deceptive avoidant escapist control-freak tendencies must decrease. That’s the gist of genuine personal growth—coming to live more honestly and courageous, becoming more and more dedicated to truth and reality. And we each have a unique path we must take, one full of hardships and difficulties to be met and faced if we are to truly grow as a person. Or else in a very significant sense we end up wasting our lives, wasting the time we have been given—whatever modicum of time we may be given, living and dying as emotional children and cowards, living as “just another troubled guest darkening the earth” (Goethe, “The Holy Longing”). Which is not how I am at all interested in living or loving—as just another avoidant troubled guest darkening the earth. . . .

.

The Holy Longing” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Tell a wise person or else keep silent
For the massman will mock it right away.
I praise what is truly alive
And what longs to be burned to death.

In the calm waters of the nights of love
Where you were begotten, where you have begotten,
A strange feeling comes over you
When you see the quiet candle burning.

Now you are no longer caught
In this obsession with darkness
And a desire for higher love-making sweeps you up.
Distance does not make you falter.

And now, arriving in wonder, flying,
And, finally, insane for the light,
You are the butterfly,
And you are gone.

And so long as you haven’t
Experienced this—to die
And so to grow—you are only
A troubled guest darkening the earth.

.

The City” – C. P. Cavafy

You said, “I will go to another land,
I will go to another sea.
Another city will be found,
One better than this.
My heart, like a corpse, is buried.
How long must I remain
In this (self-made) wasteland?
Wherever I turn here, wherever I look
I see the scorched and blackened ruins of my life
Where I have spent so much time
Wandering and wasting away
.”

You will find no new lands,
You will find no other seas.
The city you are
and constantly trying to flee from
Will follow you everywhere.
You will roam the same streets elsewhere
Age in the same neighborhoods
Grow gray in the same houses.
Always you will arrive again and again
At this same doorstep
In this same city.
Do not hope for any other.
For there is no ship for you,
There is no road.
As you have destroyed your life here
in this little corner,
you have ruined it in the entire world.