How I Learned to Be Vulnerable

Written by Sean Devenport

Recently, I watched a TEDTalk called "The Power of Vulnerability" by Dr. Brene Brown. I don't watch TedTalks often, but about six seasons of them were just released on Netflix and it's been raining, so I put on my yoga pants, got under the covers, and got down to business.

Brene Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, and has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame.

In this clip, Dr. Brown walks her audience through her journey of vulnerability: her struggle with what it means and how to apply it to her life. She talks about how she used to shut out people, and refused to feel her feelings. She is honest about her eventual breakdown and decision to see a therapist.

In my own journey, that breakdown occurred in the beginning of my yoga practice. Rather than therapy, it was followed by more yoga and eventually Teacher Training. Which was followed by more breakdowns, and more yoga…

At the ripe old age of 21, I walked out the doors of my college dorm, where I'd spent the previous four years struggling and fighting to keep out my feelings. To not get hurt.

However, once I stepped through that door and on to my yoga mat, I found the world I'd been hiding from; a world teeming with feelings and emotions and sticky situations I did not want to deal with.

But I faced them head on. Now, after three years, not only can I do Sirsasana (head stand) in the middle of the room, but I also love my family and my friends deeply and without restraint.

What I practice on my mat is what I bring with me out in to my world every single day.

My point is this: vulnerability is part of yoga and a part of our lives. Psychology and sociology are ways in which we study interactions with ourselves and with others. Yoga is one way (and my preferred method) of working through those interactions and observations and things. It's like therapy on my mat, without having to talk about it.

I've also learned, while attempting to unravel Dr. Brown’s message in this video, that vulnerability is a lot to unpack. That's why I've picked out four of her speaking points to unveil some of the things that vulnerability is not.

1. Vulnerability is not fear. 

Humans are hardwired for connection. It's what gives us meaning and purpose. If you are like me, however, your immediate reaction to something great is that you are going to lose it. So we fear that these connections we so deeply crave with others are something we are not worthy of. As a result, we keep our relationships with others, maybe even with ourselves, shallow because we are afraid to get hurt.

2. Vulnerability is not shame. 

We are so afraid that there is something about us that if people knew it, or saw it in us, we would not be worthy of the deep connection that we crave. For example: I played with dolls until I was 13 years old. I think everything tastes better with a little extra butter on it. I only do laundry when I run out of clean underpants.

But guess what? There are people who love me anyway. Other times, we hide behind natural, organic makeup and clothes sewn out of hemp because we are afraid to be seen. However, in order for us to really connect, we have to allow ourselves to truly be seen for every thing, and every way that we are.

3. Vulnerability is not selective. 

In Dr. Brown's words, “We are the most in debt, obese, addicted, and medicated adult cohort” in our society's history. I'm ashamed that I can't lose those last five pounds, so I smoke a cigarette. I'm afraid that guy from the coffee shop isn't going to call me back, so I have a glass (or five) of wine while I wait by the phone.

What I'm saying about vulnerability, though, is that you can't selectively numb your feelings. You can't numb the vulnerability, the grief, fear, shame, and disappointment that are inherent in our human existence without also numbing joy, gratitude and happiness.

I want to feel gratitude, don't you? I want to feel joy and happiness, but that's impossible when I'm in a food coma or blacked out and can't even spell my name.

4. Vulnerability is not perfection. 

Eating an all-organic no carb no sugar balanced diet of coconut water and kale makes us feel in control of our lives. Nutrition is important, no doubt, but so is enjoying your life. So is being honest about how much we love chocolate cake, and not getting down on ourselves for eating a slice every now and again.

I don't have kids, but I can assure you that what I remember most about my childhood is not that my parents were perfect. They didn't expect my sister and brother and me to be perfect, either. Of course, they wanted us to do well in school, and they sat in the first row at every dance recital and soccer game. But they did not expect perfection because they aren't perfect, either.

My mom was not trying to control my life, she understood that I had to make my own choices and learn from my mistakes. She was also there for me when I made them (and made them and made them…) The best thing that we can do for ourselves, for our loved ones and for our kids, is to make absolute sure that they understand that they are worthy of our love and connection, that we are worthy of our own love and our own connection to our Divine selves, no matter what.

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