My friend, Emily, wrote a thoughtful and revealing guest post for Jenion a few months ago titled, “Why I Love Tolkein‘s Writing”. In the process of crafting her post, Emily confided a certain hesitation about revealing too much of herself. She didn’t want to feel too exposed. Too vulnerable.
I’ve had occasion to ponder the idea of vulnerability this week for several reasons.
First, I’ve written about vulnerability before (here, for example). However, earlier in the week my feed brought me this piece, from Kathy over at “Lake Superior Spirit” which speaks more eloquently, and with specificity, about the vulnerability of blogging and the inherent dangers of sharing too much before you are prepared for the consequences: insensitive comments, intemperate judgements and labelling among others. I wish Kathy’s post had been available before I published this gem (especially the “gasbag” part) for example. Or before I sent some notorious emails in which I emoted dramatically and diarrhetically. When we’re roiling with emotion is not the best time to write cogently or thoughtfully – that’s a better time to stop and think about how much, or even whether, we truly wish to share.
The second event which has had me ruminating on the idea of vulnerability took place at the Downtown Farmer’s Market on Saturday. While meandering around Green Square Park, we happened upon a demonstration of belly dancing by a local troupe. The group consisted of seven women ranging in age from (I’m guessing) late teens to 60ish. They were not all equally sure of the specific steps in each dance, and on one occasion all but the troupe leader turned the wrong direction and a chorus of self-deprecating sounds came from six embarrassed mouths.
Each dancer was in full garb and make-up. The costumes, as dictated by tradition, bared the dancers’ midriffs. These were midwestern women in the middle of their lives. They all had bellies. My friends and I commented to one another that it took courage to dress that way in front of so many strangers. I heard more than one person suggest that it didn’t do much to forward belly dancing’s claim of whittling the midsection. And while I heard no comments more cruel than that, had I been one of the dancers I would have been sure they were being made at my expense – whispered behind hands or in private, judgmental thoughts.
In spite of their initial self-consciousness, the women kept dancing. And as they danced, their comfort level increased. So did their enjoyment of the experience, easily evidenced by the expressions on their faces and the loss of timidity in their moves.
That is the gift hidden in the choice to expose our vulnerabilities: the experience of openness.
Some of us will risk vulnerability only in small amounts under tightly controlled conditions – with a loved one, for example. Like a cat, we make an assessment of the other’s trustworthiness, and only when we feel reasonably sure that we’ll be petted and cosseted, do we expose our soft core. This is understandable – we’ve all experienced being hurt at vulnerable moments. Sometimes this kind of risk takes great courage, either because of the depth of past hurts in general or because we haven’t learned yet if this particular person is worthy of our trust.
Stepping into a public arena with our soft bellies exposed is risk on a completely different level. In those moments, it is as if we are saying to the world, “Bring it on! Because the joy of sharing my passion, my art, my suffering – the joy of being authentically and wholly who I am – is greater than the possible exposure to hurt or ridicule.” Artists, musicians and writers know this. So do activists and athletes – anyone, for that matter, who dares to share a piece of themselves with the world. As Gregg Levoy says, “We move toward a kind of divine presence because, through our passions, we are utterly present. We are utterly charged and focused. We are oblivious, we forget ourselves, our troubles, our day-to-day…lives.” (from Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life). As we become more present, we experience less discomfort with our vulnerability – it isn’t that it goes away, it’s just less central to the experience than the exhilaration of openness.
It seems fitting to end with some photos of the dancers. I hope you can see, as I do, their progression from hesitancy, in the first shot, to enjoyment!