Those of us interested in meaningfully supporting our personal growth seem to be increasingly aware of the importance of vulnerability. What exactly should the role of vulnerability be in our emotional and spiritual lives? How does it become so challenging to feel vulnerable, even in the absence of any danger? How can we become more adept at integrating vulnerability into our lives? In order to address these questions, we need to examine several key images: 1) The penetrable heart of a child, 2) Feeling vulnerable vs. being vulnerable, 3) Exercising effective discernment and boundaries in order to prevent ourselves from being unnecessarily vulnerable, 4) The Journey.
The Penetrable Heart of a Child
A child’s heart is by its nature penetrable. Since it has not developed sophisticated defense mechanisms, a child’s heart is porous to a wide range of positive and negative energies. It readily takes in love, affection and kindness, as well as ridicule, contempt and shame. The child’s heart retains a body memory of its permeability and any resulting hurt. The heart’s immediate reaction is to register being in the presence of energy that could penetrate it. It does not discriminate whether the energy is beneficial or harmful. Therefore, an adult might initially act defensively to an offering of love or compassion that is capable of penetrating the heart. The heartfelt memory does not distinguish whether what is presented is favorable or detrimental. That is, the heart does not know whether it is safe (feeling vulnerable) or unsafe (being vulnerable).
Feeling Vulnerable vs. Being Vulnerable
Feeling vulnerable can be described as an emotional state where the heart is both receptive to being penetrated and safe. We might feel the potential of being penetrated by kindness, and therefore feel vulnerable. Although we feel vulnerable, being penetrated by kindness will not likely place us in danger. On the other hand, if we are in the presence of cruelty, we can say we are not simply feeling vulnerable; we are being vulnerable and therefore potentially unsafe. Our lack of safety can be either emotional or physical. Physical danger obviously includes anything threatening physical injury or death. Emotional danger might include being the recipient of shame, prejudice, blame or toxic expressions of sarcasm. We need to become acutely discerning about what is set to penetrate our hearts. We can let love in and set a limit that blocks what may be harmful.
Discernment and Boundaries
Our potential for growth calls for the practice of discerning what serves us, and what does not, employing boundaries for protection against the later. Such a practice deepens our capacity to feel vulnerable and safe to receive the good things of life. It also strengthens our ability to employ appropriate boundaries, preventing our hearts from being penetrated by injurious emotional or physical acts. Physical boundaries happen by placing distance between the potential danger and us. Emotional boundaries occur by our asserting that unkind talk and gestures are unacceptable. The goal is to become more discriminating between the safety of feeling vulnerable as when our hearts are penetrated by love and the lack of safety when we are being vulnerable due to some harm threatening to penetrate our hearts.
The journey of life is essentially mysterious, insecure and unpredictable, making us actually vulnerable to a myriad of emotional and physical hazards. The key is to avoid a naïve view of life that would make us unnecessarily vulnerable as we lose the ability to be reliably discerning. We also want to stay clear of a cynical perspective that encourages us to avoid life and therefore miss out on opportunities for love, adventure, learning and fulfillment. If we are willing to move out of naiveté and cynicism, then we might engender the courage to live life on life’s terms. Such a position allows us to take on the emotional task of allowing ourselves to be touched and moved by life. We can allow ourselves to feel the vulnerability of a heart being penetrated by human kindness and bold enough to impede anything harmful.