And the power of vulnerability

Charlie: Not too long ago I received an email from my good friend Mark. I hadn’t heard from him for a while and I was glad to be getting what I hoped would be an update on his life. He did fill me in and despite, or perhaps because of the difficulties and struggles that he described, his message left me feeling inspired and enriched by his honesty and openness. I felt admiration for the courage that I knew it must have required to share his experience with me and his friends. Honesty, transparency, and vulnerability are qualities that most of us claim to value, yet when it comes to embodying these virtues in our actions and words, we may be reluctant to “get real” and instead opt to present ourselves in a more “favorable” light. I was struck by Mark’s willingness to expose the underbelly of his experiences. I told him that his words were too powerful and important to be limited to the few people to whom he had mailed his email and I asked him if he would mind if I excerpted parts of it and shared them in a blog. He granted me permission to do so and it is my hope that you will also feel the power of Mark’s words and be inspired and moved by them.

 “Why has it been so many months since I connected with all of you?

 Quite simply, I have been overwhelmed with losses and endings.

 Just over a year ago, a dear friend, mentor and teaching colleague for dozens of workshops, passed away on his 70th birthday. 

In February, I was with my father for his last two days, at his bedside, staring into his eyes as he transitioned a few days after his 77th birthday.  

My godfather and my father’s lifelong best friend, Philip, passed away a week after my father. 

And then in July, my girlfriend, and I ended our romantic relationship after two years together – lovingly but with both of us heartbroken that we were unable to find our way to each other for the long term. 

Yet, strangely, in all of this, my work has deepened and flourished.  I had never imagined that in the midst of so much grief, that I could be so present with my clients.  Nor did I imagine that being so open with everyone about when I was feeling grief or heartbreak or exhaustion would actually be of value to those who I have been working with. 

How is it possible that in the times of greatest distress we can find the energy and presence to be of even greater service? Somehow I was able to risk trusting that these losses were increasing my capacity to be attuned to my clients’ deepest needs, hopes and challenges.  I learned that part of the grieving process involves becoming more connected and empowered in our calling.  I trusted that my grief was a natural process that would have its way with me when it could, that it did not mean anything about me except that I was in pain from the losses that could never be replaced. 

Occasionally I would catch myself believing that the pain meant that there was something wrong with me. I sometimes find myself wishing that I had done something differently to avoid the losses.  But with the loving mirroring of friends I would remember that when I suffer great losses I am simply not whole anymore.  And I also remember that I have lost someone who loved me and opened my heart to greater love.  Of course I would feel empty or shattered.

Here is the most vulnerable discovery I made: in a moment of where I was feeling the pain the most, I realized that I just needed it to be OK that I was in pain.  I didn’t need the pain to go away, or for anyone to take care of me, but I did need for the world (well, me really) to look kindly on the fact that I was hurting. 

Why am I telling you all this?  Because in the process of developing our capacity as facilitators leaders, we face countless challenges, the hardest of which are usually with ourselves.  Over and over I have seen people find their way to the next level of their lives as a result of moments of great courage facing a painful truth, taking an unimaginable risk, stepping into their true purpose.”

There is much wisdom in what Mark says but what is even more meaningful to me is the depth and honesty of his revelations and his willingness to have his words be an embodiment of his message. In so doing, he is walking his talk, or to paraphrase Gandhi, being the change that he wants to see in the world, rather than simply talking about it.

All too often we fear that exposing aspects of our life experience that may be perceived as negative in some way could cause others to have an unfavorable opinion of us, and so we intentionally seek to conceal anything that could threaten our public image. Doing so not only results in us feeling less whole and more inauthentic, it reinforces our tendency to identify with our “false self”.

Every decision that we make in regard to being the change rather than talking about it does make a difference. We are either bringing more truth and authenticity into a world that is in dire need of it or adding to the fear and distress that seems to be characterizing the experience of growing numbers of us.

The opportunity to choose is presented to us every day of our lives, multiple times. Every decision really does matter. In the words of the great philosopher-poet, Bob Dylan, “He who isn’t busy being born is busy dying”. Think about it. Better yet, be it!


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