Written by Anna Santoro, WLLC 2015-2016
In a culture which encourages self-numbing practices, it can be extremely difficult to be vulnerable. From all directions, we are being told not to feel. On TV, we are handed scenarios in television shows and movies which depict people “having fun”, abusing substances or closing themselves off so they can avoid their problems and ignore their emotions. We (especially college students) are pushed to accept hook up culture as the best option because of its lack of emotional commitment. We brush off things that hurt us and hold in tears because we are told it is weak to express emotion. We view sadness or anger or jealousy as “bad” emotions, and are taught to push them away and just be happy, all the time, at every moment. In her TED talk about vulnerability, Brené Brown speaks about shame as the thing that keeps us from wanting to feel. She says shame is the “fear of disconnection”, the voice that asks “is there something about me that if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection?” It is because of all of these things that we are afraid to feel. But why not feel? Why not be vulnerable?
In class, we discussed a poem called “The Guest House” by Rumi, which closely ties the practice of mindfulness to vulnerability. It suggests that the experience of being human is like a guest house, with someone (emotions) new arriving every day. This is perhaps the best metaphor to combat the numbing culture we are surrounded by. Mindfulness means being aware of yourself, and in order to be self aware, you must let yourself be vulnerable, to yourself and others. You have to truly feel what you feel, without judgment and without stewing in the emotion. This is a practice that I do personally to help myself move forward through difficult emotions. If you ignore something you feel, it will build until you are forced to face it at some point in the future. So you must feel it initially. When I feel distressed or emotionally devastated, I force myself to feel it. Sometimes, this means crying for five or ten minutes straight. Always, this means being able to be vulnerable with myself. But what it does not mean is ignoring the emotion or, on the opposite side of the spectrum, complaining about it. It means closing my eyes and saying to myself something like, “I am feeling heartbroken. It has become a part of where I am emotionally. I feel betrayed, and I feel sad, and I feel jealousy. I recognize that these emotions are part of where I am, and I welcome their place in my experience. With this in mind, I am going to move forward so I can begin to move past it”. I try to visualize the way the emotion looks within me, and through this let myself feel it without judging it. These emotions are guests in my human experience, so I must give them attention without creating more negative emotions towards the fact of their existence, keeping in mind that they will eventually leave. When I am vulnerable with myself, I am able to move forward. Through openness with ourselves, we will be able to be open with others.
Omid Safi writes, “We cannot be loved from behind walls”. In “confus[ing] strength with impenetrability” in our own selves, we can close ourselves off to others as well. It is important to recognize that all souls exist to help each other move forward, or as we discussed in class, “we are all just walking each other home”. We must first open up to ourselves, and once we have done this, we will understand ourselves enough to develop relationships which align with our own values and emotional state. Safi includes a verse within his writings, with which I will conclude this post, that we may be able to use as a sort of mantra:
“May we see the walls between our hearts come down;
may we see the walls between our communities come down;
may we see the walls between our nations come down.”