Inhabiting Our Vulnerability

I’ve been living mostly ‘unplugged’ these days and I love it, even if my email Inbox is turning into a virtual mountain.

If you’ve followed this journal for a while, you know that I have a tenuous relationship with social media; embracing it reluctantly as part of building an author’s platform and for its unparalleled merits for sharing information. Certainly there are gems and some beautiful inspiration to be found, but I find most of it pretty vacuous and a waste of time (to say nothing of addictive). Frankly, I’d rather be sitting outdoors and enjoying the lavender flowers, the breeze whispering in the trees, and a bit of spring sunshine warming my face. Or reading a book. Writing one, even.

I am rarely on Facebook or Twitter anymore other than to broadcast the journal on Sunday mornings. The other afternoon, however, during a brief check-in for notifications, I stumbled on one of those aforementioned jewels. It was a quote by David Whyte, the Welsh born poet whose soulful work I have long admired, and I shared it immediately to my FB timeline (and then promptly signed off).  

“The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability, how we become larger and more courageous and more compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance…”

man_sunsetYes, I thought, feeling an expansion in my own chest, that is really the heart of it. And what if, gods willing, we are actually met and supported in that bold risk of personal enlargement?

To a certain extent, it is what I attempt to do each week in this journal, inhabiting my vulnerability while also offering some measure of insight or inspiration. Or so I hope. Week after week I show up at the page, sharing some facet of a soul-centered life for the senses and celebrating the ordinary sacred.

It is a dance, or maybe a tight rope balance; how does one travel deeper into his own vulnerability, sharing from his experience, while not becoming too self-absorbed? When I cast the net wider, so to speak, writing topics and stories that perhaps have a broader appeal, such as cooking or nature, it tends to mean that my posts are more widely read and shared.

I always wish to tell you something that is true and relevant. I long to write words that reach out and strum the soul with soft fingertips and evocative notes. I want to take you away from the surface world most of us inhabit, to those places where we live, laugh — weep — from an undefended, trembling heart.

Some weeks my posts are certainly better than others, and they touch more people. Sometimes they seem drawn from a deeper well, or offered in a more graciously carved cup. But really, if the journal rings true and resonates with just one person then it is a success. As for readership counts, “likes” and social media sharing, that’s all just smoke and mirrors.

raindropsRecently a friend in Oregon left a message on my voicemail. When I saw the notification on my phone, I tapped it to play, switched on speaker mode, and set the device down on the table to listen (holding a mobile while it is receiving or broadcasting makes me go wobbly). My friend’s sweet voice sprang forth, telling me that she had just read the latest SAJ post, and how much she appreciated my vulnerability.  

“It’s always like rainwater for my soul,” she said, and I could hear the genuine smile in her tone.

Rainwater for my soul… could anything be more lovely than that?

Certainly I appreciated her call and dear words, the timeliness of which seemed seemed serendipitous given my own recent musings about vulnerability. Beyond sharing my electromagnetic woes here in the journal, the David Whyte quote set me ruminating, and I have been wading through the edits of my latest manuscript — in itself an exercise in speaking the deep truth and exposing the heart, both its songs and tears.

How do we fully inhabit our vulnerability, especially when the bulk of messages in our society tell us not to be undefended and exposed, particularly as men. Indeed, if we begin to pay attention, we notice that the underlying directives are almost always those of fear, telling us how to be ‘safe’.

Safety is largely an illusion.

From the outset of The Bones and Breath, a revelatory moment while crossing an English field at twilight, the unifying thread in those pages is that everything is relationship. The minute we encounter a thing, we are in relationship with it. And there exists no other way to have an authentic, soulful relationship with life than to be open and relational — read, vulnerable — in that exchange. 

We dwell in our exposed authenticity when we create and then share. Fearlessly. Knowing we must pass away, realizing that our reach will surely exceed our grasp, and that we will fall short of others’ and our own expectations, what are we willing to risk in our “one wild and precious life”?

The ability to truly inhabit our vulnerability is largely determined by the relationship with our own bodysoul. Those who are petrified in tissues and blood, whose skin is little more than a calcified shell and the heart locked in cold armor, for them the risk of opening will be little more than a mental exercise. It is the body that knows.

I often think of (and admire) my younger brother’s lovely girlfriend, the talented Flora Bowley, an artist who teaches “brave, intuitive painting.” She urges her students (some of whom have never held a paintbrush) to venture past their limiting voices and critical judgments, to use their hands and get dirty, to try something new that doesn’t need to be perfect or even good.

This is very close to the heart of it, I think, getting intimate with vulnerability while tearing off the bandages and shackles of shame, brush in hand. Now, I say, bring in breath and movement to dance a bit, further opening the pulsating mystery at our core.

torso_angel“Create simply to give it away, an offering the Holy, with no expectation of return,” a mentor of mine used to say. Make it an act of sacred reciprocity. Do it with outstretched arms, unfettered breath, and a great shout. Only when we go naked to the gods do they meet us, bestowing some larger measure of ourselves in return.

Friend, each day a hundred opportunities exist to play it safe, to hold back, to turn away from that quiet inner voice that whispers the bare truth. Step into the circle of authenticity instead, the ring of Soul Artists.

Show me your heart, the shape and shifting hues of it, trembling and alive. I will look you in the eye and smile, take you by the shoulders and then lay my hand upon your warm, heaving chest. It is you, the ones who shed their armor and inhabit vulnerability as their own skin, who risk their own enlargement and disappearance, that I most I want to know … and dance with.

Come, let’s shake it all loose like fools, celebrating the raw and juicy marrow in our bones, casting vulnerability so far aside that we lose it in the tall, wild grass.


(Facebook says this post does not exist, and people have been unable to link to it or “like” it. Very odd. If you are able to “like” or share it from here, it would be appreciated.)

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