Isn't it funny how a word or a quote or an idea will strike you and, once it does, you see and hear it everywhere? I don't know why it happens. Is it because there's something you're looking for? Or is someone (God, the universe, Buddha, your mom) trying to tell you something? Sometimes when it happens, it's a little disconcerting and sometimes it's just cool. Anyway, this has happened to me.
I'll spare you most of the long, drawn-out, gory details but, in short, the idea of vulnerability has been presented to me again and again over the last several months in one form or another. To this let me just say: YUCK.
"Katie, you have to open up and let people get to know the real you."
"Katie, you need to put yourself out there. Make new friends. Go on dates."
"Katie, you need to tell people how you feel. And not just the people who you already trust, but also the people you want to build relationships with."
Like I said... Yuck. I mean, I'm tough. I'm strong. I hold it together when others are falling apart. I don't like to feel sad (no one does - duh). I don't like to feel uncomfortable. I don't like to show weakness or vulnerability. I don't like to cry in front of most people (with a few exceptions - fun fact: I have an ex-boyfriend who refers to me as "The Crier"). I like to make jokes, avoid the crap out of uncomfortable situations, and use logic to keep myself from getting too emotional in most circumstances. I don't even like to type the word vulnerability - it sounds so ... "let's form a hug circle and talk about our feelings" (i.e. NOT ME).
But, like I said, this idea of being vulnerable and needing to let people get close to me in order to create true intimacy has been tugging at my leg for a while. Then, a month or so ago, I came across a story on NPR's "On Being." The hostess was interviewing Brene Brown, a PhD in social work who researches shame and vulnerability. I immediately fell for her message. She was funny, she was real, and she's a Type A professor who, herself, has avoided vulnerability for years (we'd probably be BFFs if we ever met).
In a nutshell, here's what she says: In order to live life with our whole hearts, in order to live a life in which, no matter how much we screw up, our own sense of worthiness is not up for negotiation, in order to be a good leader, a good parent, a good partner, a good friend or family member, etc., etc. we have to open up and put ourselves out there and let others do the same. We have to do things even though we are scared and even though we might fail. We have to love even if we might not be loved back. We have to feel pain and let those we love feel pain, too. Dr. Brown has also found, through 15 years of teaching Masters and PhD students and years of research, that people who have overcome tough times in life end up being the most hopeful.
Now... I'm mildly obsessed. I have listened to the NPR interview about a million times, watched both of her TED talks, read a bunch of her articles, and am a few chapters into her latest book. I've bought into this idea and I'm trying to learn what it takes to be a little more courageous, to stop avoiding the pain and discomfort, and to open myself up to others.
Let me tell you what. Reading about vulnerability is a whole freaking lot different than doing vulnerability.
A few years ago, the yoga studio I go to in Lincoln hosted a little New Year's intention-setting gathering. We spent some time on our own, but guided by the teachers, thinking about the past year and about what we'd like to manifest in the coming year. We wrote down a whole bunch of intentions (i.e. "I want to get closer to my family." "I want to pay off my credit card debt." "I want to be more patient with my coworkers.") and picked the one that stuck out to us most as our intention for the year ahead. I loved this exercise, so when my mom and I found out they were offering another gathering at the end of 2012, we jumped at the opportunity (and drug my sister along with us). As we sat down in the studio on Sunday evening, lights low, candles lit all around, warm and comfortable, I started thinking about my 2012 and 2013 and started preparing for some quiet time with myself (surrounded by 40 other people, but still). Ummmm... I couldn't have been more mistaken about what was to come. Before we started, we were asked to think about an animal we most identified with, write the name of the animal on a name tag, and put the name tag on.
My first thought? "Seriously? They're going to make me think creatively tonight? Um, cat? Dog? I don't know what fucking animal I am."
My next thought (after choosing giraffe)? "Please don't make me explain to everyone why I chose giraffe."
Guess what we had to do? Go around in a circle and explain why we chose our animal.
We also had to make the sound that our animal makes.
1) I do not know what sound a giraffe makes (I tried to channel my 2 year-old nephew and failed miserably). 2) I do NOT WANT TO DO THIS. 3) It makes me uncomfortable even telling you that I did this. Let's not even mention how uncomfortable I was actually DOING it.
Um, the night was not over. We wrote about the things that happened in our lives in 2012 and shared them with the neighbor on our right (thank goodness my neighbor was my sister). Then, we wrote about the things we want to happen in 2013 and shared them with our neighbors on the left (this time a complete stranger).
We had to pick a partner and sit cross-legged across from that partner. My mom and sister chose each other leaving me high and dry (a choice they have been paying for ever since), so I partnered with someone else. Luckily, this someone else was one of the studio owners and someone I've known for a while. But, we're sitting across from each other, and the other owner and leader of the workshop tells us to look into each other's eyes.
WHAT?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!? (*curses in my mind at my mom and sister*) NO!!!!!!!! GOD! UNCOMFORTABLENESS!!!!!!!!!!!
"Look deeply into your partner's eyes. See who they really are. Let them see you."
If I could have smacked myself in the forehead and had a "Doh" moment right then, I absolutely would have. I mean, here I am, reading and listening to this researcher talk about being vulnerable and letting others around you be vulnerable, and then I'm put smack in the middle of a situation in which I have almost no choice but to be vulnerable. I have to stare in someone else's eyes, for god's sake. For like 5 minutes. And I was SOOOOO uncomfortable. I even fished my glasses out of my purse and put them on, just to have a protective barrier between me and everyone else in the room (yes, I realize they can all see through the glasses...).
My point? I'm still all in. I'm forging ahead. But, holy shit, this vulnerability stuff isn't easy. It's uncomfortable. It can be really stinking scary. Because I know I can - and probably will - get hurt. I think it'll be worth it, though. At least I hope so.
I also hope I don't have to stare into someone else's eyes for minutes on end again any time soon.
Happy New Year, friends, from my family to yours. May 2013 be a fan-freakin-tastic year, full of fun, laughter, love, courage, and a little rest.
p.s. You really, really MUST watch or listen to Brene Brown's stuff. I'm dead serious. Maybe you won't be as into it as I am, but there's some good stuff in there and my blog post just can't do her work justice.