Vunerability and a Great Relief
I remember when my daughter was born. I remember the hours spent just looking at her tiny hands, the pudgy little arms, the sky blue of her eyes, and the being she was, looking out at me from behind them. I was in love, in awe. The sense of loving someone so wholly and at the same time letting her go into the world was the most terrifyingly poignant challenge I had ever faced. And it changed me. Somehow it worked my heart.
Given even a moment to think about it, most people will tell you that the most important things in life are–our friends, our children and loved ones. Some people might say, making a contribution or helping others, maybe even abstract values like the truth, love, freedom. Most of us could very quickly identify that the topics which seem to cause us so much angst are not really important and yet we stress and obsess about how attractive we are, how much money we have, how much job status we have.
We try to secure ourselves by having status and power, sexual power, financial power. But, the slightest disruption to our false sense of security, an acquaintance passing away, too much exposure to the constant onslaught of disturbing world events reminds us, very quickly that what matters is much deeper than these surface impressions. And yet, we get caught up in ourselves. We want to be better. We want to be the best. We want others to love us and admire us. How much pain and suffering we endure over our self-perceived inadequacies!
I am not saying there is anything wrong with having power, money, status or good looks. Those things in and of themselves are desirable things, however we tend to not just have them , we let them have us.
There is often a defensive layer covering over the pain of a sense of inadequacy. We all have ways of dealing with the basic sense of humiliation we experience from being human beings. Human beings are imperfect, very flawed, all of us. We are not gods. We are not omnipotent, most of us not particularly powerful at all. We are doggedly attached to controlling that which we cannot control.
The object of our desire rejects us, he prefers someone else, she moves out, someone younger, prettier, smarter gets the job. We get old, we lose money, we get sick, we fail. If we risk at all, we fail, often. We get criticized. We get ‘feedback’ from others about how rotten we make them feel. Don’t get me wrong, we also do well and the human spirit can be remarkably impressive as well, but it is impressive when we contend with our basic vulnerability. It is unavoidable. The more we try to avoid it often the worse it becomes.
For most of us it hurts and we don’t know what to do with this pain. Some people control others through dominance, or create dependencies, or play the victim, or strive for perfection, or try to prevent every undesirable eventuality through anxious avoidance, but none of it really takes away the original pain. We generally create more suffering for ourselves or we annoy and frustrate people around us.
So what would it mean to embrace this basic human vulnerability? If I choose my vulnerability, I choose myself as I actually am, with all my feelings, my human messiness, my imperfect body. When we choose ourselves we have spontaneous compassion for ourselves. I choose myself as I am, flawed, full of feeling, and temporarily on this earth. We create so much more pain and difficulty for ourselves by trying to avoid our basic natural vulnerability.
This process of recognizing how we are creating a second layer of pain, can be quite a difficult look in the mirror. Oh wow, I’ve been tying people to me with guilt, or I’ve been clingy and needy and not respecting people’s freedom and need to grow. I haven’t been taking responsibility for my own state of mind. I have been wanting someone else to do it for me and stressing them out with my exaggerated emotional reactions. Ouch! And yet, with some compassion, even humour, we can see that this is what it is to be a human being. We ALL do it. If we can be gentle and accepting of ourselves and others, we will grow more easily.
If we can be honest with ourselves and others what a relief it could be! I feel. I feel pain. It sometimes hurts to be a person. Other people are not what I want them to be. I cannot control people. I cannot even make them love me or give me what I want. Ok. My mother hurt me when I was little. My father puts me down and disappoints me. Ok. These things hurt. It does not mean we are inadequate if we don’t get what we want or if we feel intense feelings; it means we are human. To feel, to hurt is not a pathology. To feel pain means you can also feel joy, happiness, love. When we stop trying to control love, we can experience love because we allow others to be what they are. Only then, can we really love someone! For what they really are, not for what we are trying to make them be for us. We don’t have to like them and they don’t have to like us. Yes, you can love people you don’t like.
Renowned Jungian, Marion Woodman puts it like this,
“This is the point where love becomes possible. We see the other with the eye of the heart, an eye not clouded by fear manifesting as need, jealousy, possessiveness, or manipulation. With the unclouded eye of the heart, we can see the other as other. We can rejoice in the other, challenge the other, and embrace the other without losing our own center or taking anything away from the other. We are always other to each other — soul meeting soul, the body awakened with joy. To love unconditionally requires no contracts, bargains, or agreements. Love exists in the moment-to-moment flux of life.”
Awareness of our own patterns is the largest part of the change. Awareness of what we are doing to make things worse. Then a willingness to feel what we are already feeling but hiding or repressing or otherwise defending ourselves from.
And then, what can we change? What do we have control over? Are we being responsible externally as well as internally? Responsibility is the ability to respond, to do what we can do in a situation and give up trying to control what is not our responsibility. What a relief!