Practising vulnerability

So I’ve been thinking about this for a while…

In the Spring of this year I really thought I’d nailed it. Last winter I signed up for the most physically challenging goal I could come up with – the Virgin London Marathon.

I trained diligently for it. When I felt tired, low, uninspired, fed up, cold, and reluctant to pull on running gear and head out into winter temperatures, usually on Sunday mornings that should have been spent curled up with coffee and my trusty ‘counsellor’ ArchieBear, I did it anyway.  And when I got home feeling elated, pleased with myself and not a little self-satisfied, I kept saying to myself…”You’ve got this whole vulnerability thing”!

Hmmm…the more I’ve read over the summer, the more I’ve studied, and the more I’ve exposed myself to challenges, I’ve separated vulnerability out from the pack of emotions we usually work hard to avoid. Vulnerability isn’t fear. Nor is it bravery. Facing physical challenges is brave. Doing something when every fibre of your being says it’s going to hurt is brave.

But it’s not “being vulnerable”. My sense of allowing yourself to hold your vulnerability gently and with the respect this emotional resilience deserves is that it is essentially an emotional ‘practice’. In the way bravery is a physical ‘practice’.

This summer I studied for my equine Reiki qualification with the lovely Sarah Berrisford at her Epona Equine Reiki Centre in Lincolnshire. A tranquil, gorgeous setting, surrounded by her lovely horses.

I had the most amazing experience with one of Sarah’s elegant equine ‘coaches’, the stunningly glamorous mare, Yvane. The objective of the session was to flood her stall with Reiki energy and enable her to accept it should she choose to. Horses won’t let you near them unless they trust you. They are prey animals. Their response to danger is almost always flight.

I entered Yvane’s stall and stood quietly in the corner attuning to Reiki and sending it around her stall. Yvane continued to munch indifferently on her hay, though very aware I was in her space. Then she looked at me. Really looked at me. Two enormous, amazing eyes, sparks of amber and gold blazing through, gazing searchingly into mine. I swear I saw her soul! She was looking for my trust…exploring if I was friend or foe. As we continued to gaze openly at each other (me beaming as much unconditional love as I could embody) Yvane gently turned, walked towards the bankings (of straw) and lay down at my feet, her head and neck wholly vulnerable. As I began to realise what complete vulnerability is, I felt tears streaming down my face. I was in awe of this beautiful creature’s capacity for demonstrating her absolute vulnerability, albeit based on a very cautiously informed decision and choice. She only did so because the conditions allowed her to. I had asked for her trust and demonstrated that I would hold it at the centre of my focus. As soon as my focus moved from her safety, to my own (admittedly indulgent self-congratulatory) emotions Yvane stood up and walked away. Lesson over L

Reflecting afterwards on what I had done to shift the balance away from trust to risk for Yvane, it came to me that we humans do this all the time too. We are only prepared to show our emotional vulnerability when the person (or group) we are with, holds that vulnerability with respect, gentleness and consistency. The moment we intuitively sense the respect being withdrawn, or our vulnerability leading to emotional risk (hurt, embarrassment, guilt, shame, humiliation), re pull our vulnerability back. Flight. Just as Yvane did.

So what? Why does it matter? Because we are increasingly becoming a world where we think it’s weak to show our vulnerability. The curious thing about vulnerability, and Brene Brown explores this extensively in her brilliant book “Daring Greatly”, is that we expect others to show us their vulnerability before we will show our own.

If we lean in to our courage and emotional resilience, if we let our ego know that sometimes we’ll get knock backs, sometimes people won’t respect our vulnerability, we see amazing responses in others. I’ve realised that when others don’t ‘step up’ in the way we would like them to, when we feel disappointed that they don’t ‘get us’, we are simply projecting our own ego needs onto them. In the same way, when others withdraw, hold back, or behave in a way which might make us feel negative (angry, frustrated, hurt, let down, sad) they are simply acting according to their ego needs.

We are all doing the best we can with what we’ve got. Sometimes we get it right. Sometimes we get it wrong. It’s the times when we get it wrong that practising vulnerability, leaning in to the courage to admit it, address it, and move on from it, that really matter. For these are the times when we rebuild bridges we’ve broken, reach out and show our own courage in order to enable someone else to show theirs. This is when we create authentic connections, when trust, respect, honesty, and yes, unconditional love, flourish.



I’m running the London Marathon on April 22nd 2018 for Worldwide Cancer Research. Please click on the charity’s link to read about their amazing work. If you would like to support my fundraising goal, please click on the virginmoneygiving link below. I am thankful for every pledge – they all count. (running in 2018)

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