The strength of vulnerability? Sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it? Vulnerability is often thought of as a ‘touchy-feely’ invitation to get your butt kicked by those who refuse to let sentimentality influence their actions. A quick look at our world could easily convince most people that vulnerability is not an asset.  And even the dictionary definition, “capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt,” would cause most of us to associate the word with weakness rather than strength. But in both cases, we would be wrong.

Social conditioning is responsible for a very high percentage of the thoughts that shape our world view.  In some ways, the brain is very much like a sponge. It’s confronted each day by far more information than it can assimilate, so it ‘soaks up’ whatever appears to support its overriding mission: self-preservation.  On the surface that would appear to be a very positive thing, but in reality, the brain’s intense focus leads to many problems. What appears to the brain to be logical and in our best interests often backfires. But the brain, like a dog with a fresh, meaty bone, digs in and refuses to consider that the bone may fracture into splinters that will cause it pain and perhaps even serious harm when ingested.

We recently heard a Ted Talk on vulnerability by Brene Brown, a research professor who’s spent the past ten years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, shame and empathy.  Professor Brown observed, “We are the most in debt, obese, addicted and medicated adults in US history” We live in a society of constant change where we are extremely vulnerable. This creates fear and to navigate this world we try to numb those fears with things, food, drugs, alcohol etc.” The brain connects invulnerability with safety, but fails to see that invulnerability creates other, more severe, problems. As Brown went on to explain, “When we numb, we numb everything, not just some of our emotions, we numb all of them.”

The brain is all about ‘doing.’ When the brain senses possible pain or danger, it begins to construct walls. We underlined possible because the brain would rather be safe than sorry, so it usually gets busy building at the merest hit of trouble. Even the smallest incidents in childhood can result in walls of numbness that we cower behind for the rest of our lives. The more fearful the brain becomes the higher and thicker the walls, and unfortunately, the brain tends to feed on its own fears. As Professor Brown pointed out, those walls can be built with innumerable addictions that trick us into thinking we’re successfully navigating the world without actually being touched by it, but there are many other methods we use to protect ourselves from vulnerability. Professor Brown also described these strategies:

Perverting emotions: Love has been reduced to an addictive sentimentality, a ‘deal’ in which each party expects to receive more than is given. As David Hawkins explained, loved has become, “…physical attraction, possessiveness, control, addiction, eroticism…it’s fragile and fluctuating, waxing and waning with varying conditions…That love can turn to hate is a common perception.”  Brown adds, “Self-love has become narcissistic and self-involved. Self-esteem taken to the furthest level with no vulnerability involved.”

Blame: Blaming others for the problems we experience allows us to discharge pain and discomfort and gives the brain a rational reason for staying clear of all offending parties. We can sit within our self-built walls smugly congratulating ourselves over our own superior judgment, but it’s a very cold and lonely celebration.

Creating a façade: We try to perfect everything, believing the façade can somehow protect us from the inevitable. We imitate the rich and famous thinking that somehow this masquerade with produce the same result. Professor Brown gave the example of sucking fat from our butts to inject into our cheeks, creating a culture of youth that tries to deny aging and death. The outside may remain beautiful, while the inside is empty.

Rigid rules: The mystery and wonder of life requires vulnerability to experience, somewhat like the willingness to get on a roller coaster ride that takes place in the dark. Rigid rules, such as those made in religion, remove the possibility of our stepping into mystery.

Seeing ourselves as an island: When we believe what we do has no effect on others, we’ve given ourselves a license to do anything. Our current world situation is a blatant example of the result of this sort of thinking. Others become a means to our end, a resource that can be used and easily discarded.

As you’ve probably already deduced, there’s a huge price to pay when these strategies are put into practice. The brain tells us we must use to protect ourselves, but like the dog’s splintered bone, these methods rip our own guts apart as we swallow them.  Although it seems counter-intuitive to the rational brain, vulnerability is the answer.  Professor Brown discovered that people who had resisted the temptation to build walls were among the happiest because they had let down their guard and made connections with others that went far past the surface level we usually experience.  Although the brain tried to convince them they had set themselves up for disappointment, pain and problems, they experienced the opposite.  

It’s easy to see that our fear of vulnerability has caused us endless misery, both personally and globally. But there’s also little doubt that it’s a difficult leap to make in this world. Professor Brown suggests that we must make the plunge and begin by accepting ourselves as we are, imperfections and failures included. She’s certainly correct, but by first understanding who and what we really are, these ‘leaps’ become far easier. If we believe we are this fragile body living in a volatile and chaotic world, the brain’s resistance to vulnerability makes sense. When we realize that we are all actually immortal consciousness and the body is no more than a virtual reality projected from that consciousness, everything looks different.

From a quantum perspective, everything in existence is one thing, and you are an immortal part of that Oneness. When you know that the happenings in this world have no more effect on your Reality than a book or movie can have on your body, you see vulnerability as a route to reconnection with your own Oneness.  You can be compassionate with the things the body appears to do because you know none of it has any impact on Reality. Yes, the choices we make do take us either closer to, or further from Oneness, but they can’t change our intrinsic value or end our Oneness with All That Is. Instead of building walls that keep you in a prison of separation, use your vulnerability like a wrecking ball to tear them down. You’ll find out you always have been, and always will be, completely safe.  Surprise yourself; find out that your real strength lies in the vulnerability and openness of Divine love

You have done well in the contest of madness…Wayfarer, why not rest your tired body? —Hafiz

Lee and Steven Hager are the authors of several books featuring the synergy of science, spirituality and gnosis.

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