Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The Power Of Vulnerability


“In my defenselessness my safety lies.” A Course in Miracles

I take notes. Maybe it is a diversion, but when I hear great or unique ideas, I write them down. I take notes when I listen to videos, read books, attend conferences, and even pull quotes from the Internet. I write them down because I do not want them lost in my subconscious mind. I even turn my thoughts into quotes. I have journals, notebooks, notes scribbled on scraps of paper, and recorded messages on my phone. Right now I’m writing this in a special bound notebook full of notes, quotes, and ideas. These notes will be transferred to my computer, and soon you will take a peep into my world. Once I put the ideas in a notebook, they become mine. I nurture them, read, and reread them. These notes are life notes for me, because they often become lifelines. When thoughts spin in habitual circles of inner madness and illusions, I pull out the notes to myself. The words breeze through me and I feel like someone hit my mental refresh button.

The following ideas came to me through BrenĂ© Brown, who quoted psychoanalytic theorist Karen Horney. The ideas are in my notes, though I have added more from my research. Each time I run across them, I feel relief! “That’s right. Of course. No wonder. How insightful. I know that but keep forgetting.”

Maybe you too will be interested in the ways we respond to shame. What are our neurotic needs?

  1. Withdrawal – We Move Away From People. Detachment. We clamp down. We put up walls. We keep emotional secrets from others and bury them in ourselves. We run and shut the door to our room or to our heart. We are desperate for personal achievement and have an unhealthy need for a high level of self-sufficiency, autonomy, independence, and perfection. We house a fear of being slightly flawed, and have a need to live life in narrow confines, as inconspicuously as possible.

  2. Compliance - We Move Toward People. We people please. There is need for affection, a partner to make life okay, for social recognition and personal admiration.

  3. Aggression – We Move Against. There is a need for power and power over others. We move against, shame others, exploit, control, or manipulate.

My notes on shame remind me of how shame manipulates me; not all the time, but it holds a prominent place in my psyche. I am a people pleaser. I do not want others to dislike me. I walk a thin line between pleasing people and loving, appreciating, and supporting others. I watch my thoughts and emotional reactions. Can I come clean with myself? Which side of the emotional divide am I living from in the moment? Am I in my power or in my shame?

Even as I write this, I imagine you reading and thinking I am a complete flake or a weakling. Then I laugh and realize that only a shame-based person, who projected their shame on me, would do that. We would therefore be in the same boat. Vulnerability has a rightful place in my inner and outer dialogue, even if others cannot appreciate or respect it.

Life is complex. Complexity adds character and richness to life, but the egoic mind is a specialist in turning complexity into complication. The biggest complexity of human life is integrating our human limits with our true nature. We are unlimited, brilliant beings who live in a dimension bound by limits. This dimension is form, and, for us, we take the form of humans. Unfortunately, form has developed a generous portion of shame, and that shame is reinforced by parents, teachers, friends, and our families. William Q. Judge spoke of this divide between our limits and our true nature in his translation of the Bhagavad Gita. “The battle refers not only to the great warfare that mankind as a whole carries on, but also to the struggle which is inevitable as soon as any one unit in the human family resolves to allow his higher nature to govern him in his life.” He is saying that being in a body will cause suffering because our two sides will do battle. In the Bhagavad Gita, the struggle is between Krishna, our higher nature, and Arjuna, our lower nature.

In unpacking boxes yesterday, I found an old letter from a friend who attended my spiritual center. She wrote in glowing terms about the talk I gave that Sunday morning. I read with rapt attention, resting, glowing in her words. She purchased the cassette of the talk and listened to the tape repeatedly. She even shared it with friends. Then I came to the real kicker: she said that the most important part was when I said I was standing in my power, even as I navigated my abandonment issues. Her words reminded me of the truth. Sharing our vulnerabilities and our lower nature requires courage. It demands that we risk that others may not like us, but when we take that risk, it usually has an opposite effect. Exposing our weaknesses to others inspires people as much as sharing our success stories and our against all odds stories. Her letter speaks to the power we have when our strength holds hands with our shame. It somehow transforms our weaknesses into stories, lessons, and realizations. We are not perfect, nor can we escape the limits of human form, but if we courageously face our limits, we charge our spiritual momentum, and our lives become EZier and EZier.