Vulnerability as Openness to Grow

Last week we wrote about fear and anger, and how beneath them are the deeper realities of our longing for life, meaning, and relationship or belonging. We have used the somewhat similar image before of longing as a yearning to gather ourselves into our hands as something valuable, and to place ourselves somewhere worthwhile where we feel we belong.

The very crucial experience of longing reveals our sense of incompleteness. We can see this longing in the kitten wandering ever and ever further from its mother. We can see it in the child struggling to stand up, to walk, to talk. We can see it even in the desire in so many of us to travel, since if where we are, not only physically but in every other way, offered completeness, we would not move further.

This incompleteness itself uncovers an openness within us to move beyond our present state, whether in thought, feeling, decision, or activity. Fear, of course, can hold us back, for to be open is to be ready not only to go beyond the present situation, but to receive something or someone beyond ourselves. And what enters from beyond ourselves can be not only fulfilling but also wounding. We may attempt to build an impenetrable wall around ourselves. But it is never successful, and can leave an inner desolateness, like a plant without water.

Our longing, incompleteness, and openness, reveal our vulnerability. The very term “reveal” means to remove a veil from, to uncover something so that it can be seen. However much we may attempt to deny or evade it, we are in fact vulnerable. The word itself comes from the Latin vulnus or wound. To be vulnerable means to be able to be wounded or hurt.

The Hebrew Song of Songs contains an expression which resonates with me in its Latin wording: vulnerasti cor meum, literally, you have wounded my heart. I wrote something on this theme some years ago. I’ll repeat it here.

“These words suggest a wounding that is not an attempt to hurt, but the reaching of love into the inmost recesses of one’s being, a reaching past all the hopes and fears, all the joys and sorrows, all the barriers and sensitivities, to the place that is totally open, undefended, and in this sense liable to be hurt. It is the openness of me to you as I truly am. It is the place where I am in fact most vulnerable, most woundable. And yet it is an openness in trust to you, a trust that you will cherish me and not hurt me, that you will walk gently and caringly in this sacred place.”

Where trust is present and honoured, vulnerability is not threatening, but invites and is open to receive a caring that is not offset by our limitations. It allows another to enter place within that are usually hidden behind defensive walls. The story of Sleeping Beauty suggests that we all have hedges of thorns around us, as does the rose to protect the flower. Yet it is possible for someone to see the beauty behind the thorns, the beauty of who one is, and to awaken that. The fullest response to one another is the response not to what we do or say or have, but to who we are. This true self, as many have called it, is something that is only gradually and never completely discovered–often only after much stumbling and even hurt.

There are other situations where we may shy away from showing our vulnerability, for fear of exploitation, attack, or betrayal. These are situations in which trust is neither advisable nor possible. Trust is usually built gradually as mutual openness is offered and honoured. A trustworthy person is someone to whom we may reveal anything but to whom we need not do so.

Perhaps I might insert here again words written long ago.
“To be alive, to feel, to long, to care, is to hurt, whether the pain blows as a raging wind or a gentle breeze through my life. I may simply acknowledge the hurt that is there, perhaps even think of it as a wind that I allow to blow through my life, without resisting or struggling or running from it, letting it pass through me. As I do, I may also realize that if I hurt, I am a being, a someone, who is able to be hurt, able to be wounded, that I am vulnerable, woundable. I may then feel a need to set up defenses, barriers and fences against future wounds. Yet, while there are some instances when it may be advisable to do so, I may also come to realize that I cannot shut out all hurt unless I also shut out all life. If I try to exclude all hurt from my life, I will exclude all life from me and those I encounter. In the vain effort to avoid all hurt, I take life away from all those I encounter. I build walls of fear that becomes fortresses of hostility, and I barricade myself against receiving or giving love. I built a lonely and empty castle without windows or doors, without entry or exit. Instead of choosing the beauty of life in its preciousness, strength, and fragility, I reject life and inflict death on myself and all I meet.

“And if I receive in caring hands the hurt of another, being a safe place where another can enter with a trust that allays the hesitations of fear, then I too can entrust to a caring other my own hurt, with the expectation that I too will find a safe place. If I am honoured by the trusting of another who offers me their hurt as a precious gift, then I too may honour another by entrusting them with the wounds that make me weep with sorrow.”

May you all find situations in which trust makes vulnerability possible, in which you are valued for who you Are, and in which you find healing for the wounds you have felt.

Norman King, June 6, 2022