On Vulnerability

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Most people are uncomfortable with showing vulnerability to others. As humans, we are used to presenting the strongest and most positive images of ourselves rather than the vulnerable parts we all possess. We are more likely to talk about the things that are going well in our lives than the things that are bothering or challenging us. More attention is put on our positive accomplishments rather than failures and obstacles, on our happiness rather than our sadness, and on our strength rather than on our weakness. And yet it is in our vulnerability, the very thing we avoid sharing with others, where stronger and more truthful connections between people reside.

I have had the privilege to live in various countries and cultures in my life. And in the process I learned that each culture deals differently in which emotions they show and how they choose to show them individually. Americans’ first response to the question of “How are you?” is always “Great!” to Middle Easterners, on the other hand, always put a melancholy tone on the answer by saying “Thank God”—mostly as means to avoid saying “I am bad” or even “I am good” for cultural reasons that combines a show of gratitude with a worry that of being envied by others. Some cultures like to brag of happiness (mostly Western cultures), while other cultures like to speak of sadness (mostly Eastern cultures). I know I am highly generalizing here, but I do so to make a macrocosmic point that what people in various cultures choose to show or not to show does not always equate with openness.

The concept of vulnerability transcends all cultural boundaries. It is a human emotion that deals with our doubts, fears, and worries—something that each human being has no matter where you live and what you have or don’t have in this world. Our vulnerabilities stem from our individual stories and life narratives. Particular uncertainties may vary from one person to the other given their backstories, but fears always revolve around the concept of whether one will be accepted, loved, safe, and successful. Although we all have these emotions running in our minds, we worry about revealing them for fear of being judged.

To show vulnerability—genuine and truthful vulnerability—is the exact opposite of learning what societies have taught us for so many years, which is to hide our weaknesses deep in ourselves. But if we do not show vulnerability, we continue holding the mask over ourselves and, therefore, alienate others as opposed to sharing connections. So what happens if you expose your most intimate worries? Perhaps you fear not being accepted or loved by others if you speak your truth, or you’re concerned that you cannot achieve what you perceive as the expectations others have for you and who you are. Being fully vulnerable is like being naked with no clothes to cover the most private parts of the self.

That is not an easy task by all means. As a matter of fact, it requires a leap of faith in the goodness and the love of people around—something that cannot be guaranteed. Yet to avoid expressing your true self and desires is to be stuck in the shell of your fears and often leads to self-fulfilling prophecy where your worries become manifested. This can lead to isolation from authentic relationships and friendships.

Showing vulnerability started with the journey of truth. I couldn’t be truthful to who I am if I didn’t also expose my hopes and fears honestly. The responses I got each time I showed vulnerability varied. Sometimes people were uneasy seeing me vulnerable, and would rush to try to make me happy and tell me everything is OK. Some felt a duty to “save” me, which was not necessary needed. Others felt uncomfortable and turned the other direction immediately. But, thankfully, more often than not people showed up in the most loving, kind, caring, and generous ways. People listened and helped me reflect as I processed. Often just their presence and the smallest acts of kindness would make a huge difference in my life. The gift of that connection with some helped me filter through the meaning of friendships in my life. Knowing friends in happiness is a very different experience than knowing people in times of trouble. Vulnerability forces facades to be broken down and with that we encounter another reality of the self and the people around us.

Still, you may wonder, why should we show vulnerability? After all it is indeed a very uncomfortable feeling to share. Well, it is because you accomplish two things. First, you can at least cathartically reveal what is inside your heart and be in your truth no matter what the issue may be. And second, instead of living in fear and worry based on your own assumptions of how people may respond, you gain insight into the people around you. You will indeed go through some process of sorting that will tell you with more clarity what is worth going through. I know that in my experience witnessing the vulnerability of others—even someone who I perceived as a distant friend at first—made my relationship with them so much closer and real. It has lead to the most beautiful friendships with the most unexpected people.

The way to deal with vulnerability is not to worry more, but to open your heart and with that your mind and connection with others will follow. When it was I who showed vulnerability, the process felt like vetting through the “truth” verses the “bullshit” of people around me. In the time of thoughtful language brought by the life coach industry, expressing yourself helps you distinguish between those who only “speak” from those who actually “act.” The experience will always lead you to a more truthful place with yourself and with others around you. And the taste of truth is always, always worth it!


The Journey of Truth

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It is much easier to talk about being in truth with oneself and one’s values than to act on it. To be in truth entails shattering old perceptions of yourself, your life,  and some of the  values you grew up with.  Most of us live in response to norms set by society without questioning the conventions and their validity—or their timeliness, for that matter. The day you catch this discrepancy between your heart’s true desire and the life you actually have is the day the journey of truth starts.

But that journey is not easy. One will need to confront ambiguity while entering unfamiliar territories.  That includes confronting what is not working including within yourself as well as others around you.  The path of truth may actually bring instability and uncertainty but it is worth it.

In walking the journey of truth, each individual create their own path based on the circumstances and experiences they faced.  But there are patterns in that path and the way I experienced it, it entails the following:

 1. Standing on the cliff

There is always a catalytic moment in which you find yourself with an emptiness, or catch a lie you told yourself. In these instances exists a reality you need to confront but had been avoiding. One of my moments of awakening was when I found myself bored in front of the very people I loved.  It was like an ax of consciousness that came with a clarity I couldn’t deny.  That awareness kept me up for nights. I knew that if I hid this feeling I would be betraying myself—and, more importantly, betraying the very people I love.  But to confront this reality can risk everything.  It would involve destroying the figurative brick walls that I have built to define who I am for myself.  That moment feels like one is standing on the edge of the cliff. One is too afraid to jump off the edge because you just don’t know if you will land safely or die. And yet one is too afraid to stay on the cliff because you know it is no longer sustaining you. It is a feeling that is summed up in the old adage “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.” In this moment you will discover the strength of your convictions, curiosity, courage, and desire to be in truth. Do you free yourself, or do you stay on safe but shaky grounds with heartache while continuing to suppress a calling that you keep inside of you?

2. A leap of faith

There is no way to embark on the journey of truth without taking a leap of faith and jumping off that cliff. That moment for me includes speaking up and telling people your truth—your simple truth and nothing else.  There is no way of knowing how anybody will react. Will people around you understand your truth? Will they judge you? Will they hate you for it, or love you for it? Will they be angry at you, or feel hurt by you? There is just no way of knowing what will happen when you start this discourse with yourself and others, whether it relates to starting a new business initiative or speaking your truth to your family members or friends. But the act of articulating what is going on in your heart, however you choose to express that truth, is the biggest leap of faith one can make. It sometimes feels like you will be risking everything—and you may be risking everything, indeed, for the truth.  It is a choice one makes between dying within silence or speaking up and living, but risking potential change in one’s life. The next step, however, is the most difficult and horrifying.

 3. In between places

This is the place of nowhere.  It can feel like the abyss at times, a very dark forest in another time. Or just that instant in the middle of falling without knowing if you will land or not, and if you will die or endure.  That is where true courage comes. To be in that place and survive it, one needs to harness confidence and believe in their own truth to keep them going.  And yet it is in this place that doubt arrives.  This is the place of fear, too.  You start asking yourself, am I crazy for doing what I just did? That is when you panic due to the idea of risking everything in order to follow what your heart tells you. You may not even see the path out of the dark moment. That is also the time where some people show up and some friends disappear. Those who show up become like angels, their words and support is an acknowledgment of your path. Those who stand by you provide an insight from a different perspective that can help a lot when you are facing the pain of the unknown.  Those who do not show up leave you with a hurtful confusion of what they once stood for in your life and why.

This is also the time where you need to make sure you have a support team: a handful of people whose perspectives you trust.  Their eyes become like flashlights into your own darkness until you can find your way out.  They don’t have to be friends. They can be paid professionals such as a therapist. There is no right or wrong about that.  What is most important is observing the consistency of their feedback.  The way I see it, if I hear the same observation three times then it is the truth. And when my support team did not know each other and yet were still telling me the same exact thing, I took their input seriously.

Within this period, I used books, movies, lectures, my body, and all kinds of knowledge I could get my hands on as a crutch until I could walk on my own feet again. I needed to know if I was on the right path or not. I needed to learn tips and input on how to deal with this unknowingness. And, of course, there is just crying out of fear—deep and utter fear—at the possibility of jeopardizing everything without knowing the outcome and where you will land in your life.

Whatever you do, hold the space and the place for this period.  You can get out of it but you must go through it.  What comes next is freedom and freedom is delicious.

4. Finding your wings

I cannot promise there is a particular pivotal moment where things just land themselves and new wings sprout in a way that is surprising even to you.  The shedding of old pains and old stories is always a painful process. The shedding of old skin hurts even if you are just using a luffa in a Turkish or Korean bathhouse.  But what materializes is a new clarity and a cleaner skin for sure.  That new person–yes, I call this emergence as “that new person” as it is not familiar even to the self.  In my case, I became curious about this new woman that came out of this process.  I knew she behaved differently. What she accepted and tolerated before may not be acceptable anymore. There is a kind of calmness in the heart that is just too delightful to forgo. A fresh spirit and strength comes out of walking through that dark forest, where you must encounter all the shadows of yourself and some of the people around you. Consequently, your new narrative starts to develop from a revitalized source of truth to oneself.  It may result in a very different lifestyle, setting, and kind of existence. But in all cases they bring about a silent peace inside, where joy lies in a most subtle way.  Just a taste of being in truth with oneself is so delicious.  Once you get a glimpse of it, you will want to have more of it. It lightens the weight off your shoulder and releases all the pressure that we’ve accumulated through our experiences.  And it makes everything worth it—even if your life is so very different.

May we each walk the journey of our truths, and be aware that they don’t come only once.  Being truthful to ourselves and sharing our best potential to all beings is ultimately the best anybody can do for themselves, for others, and for the earth.  The journey of truth may be difficult, but it is a definitely worthwhile. The leaves of your tree may fall in the process, but the blooming blossoms always come back, filling you with new meanings and a more truthful essence of yourself.