The Here Year: vulnerability

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Aidan has chosen vulnerability as this month’s Here Year theme, and I’m thrilled by that selection.  I hear that word a lot.  People ask why I’m so comfortable making my self vulnerable on this blog, and I also am quick to say that it’s people who are real and vulnerable themselves who most interest me.

But what does the word really mean? I fear that “vulnerability” has become a bit of a catchphrase, in the vein of “authentic,” and I want to really understand it.  I turned to Google and found one definition that I particularly liked: “the inability to withstand the effects of a hostile environment.”  It reminded me of years ago, when I learned about a syndrome called atopy: “a group of symptoms that demonstrate acute sensitivity to the world.  I am reactive to the air, to the very stuff of everyday life.  Just living in the world is a stress on my system.  This seems like a physical manifestation of my emotional porousness.”

So, yes.  I am familiar with vulnerability.  When I talk about being porous to the world, maybe I am simply describing vulnerability.  But it’s not quite that simple.  People ask me all the time whether writing this blog makes me feel vulnerable.  I’m not sure I know how to answer that, to be honest.  In some ways, yes.  Clearly I write about personal topics and share the prickly, complicated contents of my heart and spirit.  But in other ways, no.  And candidly, part of the reason I’ve backed away from writing a book-length memoir is my unwillingness to share certain aspects of my life.  I’m comfortable being vulnerable when it comes to my own issues, wrinkles, and flaws.  No question.  But when it comes to being open about others in ways that make them vulnerable, I balk.  This is true with my husband and children in particular, and I realized that with a book-length memoir the expectation for disclosure was much higher and more universal than it is on my blog.

So here I am, happily sharing things that are true and honest, trying to be candid about the good and the bad.  One of my favorite posts I’ve ever written, It’s Not All Shiny, dealt with this particular question, that of the gulf between reality and perception.  I share photos on Instagram with the hashtag #everydaylife in part to try to show the good and bad and messy and beautiful.  It’s true that one of my most fundamental goals in life is to see the glory and the holiness even in the most mundane moments.  I wrestle with this, because I doubt myself and think: does that mean I’m glossing over the ugliness?  But I don’t think so, ultimately.

Maybe the practice of showing what is and trying to see the beauty in it is the essence of vulnerability.  Do you think so?

For me, vulnerability is wound around being present to, and in, my daily experience.  I can’t really engage with my life – with the dark hole at the center of it, with its joys and pains – without letting down my guard.  The practice of showing up here day after day for years on end has forced me to confront both the beautiful and the difficult aspects of this life of mine.  That has made me vulnerable.  To myself, to those close to me, to anyone reading.  I’m still understanding the precise contours of the relationship between vulnerability and presence, but I know they’re strongly related to each other.

I’m looking forward to thinking about and writing about vulnerability this month (I also have a great guest post planned!) and am eager to hear your thoughts on the topic.

 

 


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8 Comments

  1. Posted January 12, 2015 at 6:12 am | Permalink

    I wonder about this word too. I’m never really sure how to wrap my mind around it. I share a lot both personally and on my blog but I’m not sure that makes me vulnerable? Will be curious to hear what you and Aidan have to say this month…

    admin Reply:

    Yes. It’s complicated, I think. xox

  2. Posted January 12, 2015 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    I completed agree with your definition of vulnerability, and love the idea of the porous nature of life. I was hiking with my daughter the other day and the talk came to writing books. She asked-begged- me not to write a book where she would be a character- she said she can hardly take my blog. I understand that fine line between opening up too much, and also understand when we are vulnerable in our writing is often when we are writing our best.

    admin Reply:

    Yes. I had the opposite experience, where Grace felt disappointed that I wasn’t going to write a book about her, but I know that the day will come when she’ll perhaps be glad I didn’t. It’s not a risk I’m willing to take … xox

  3. Posted January 12, 2015 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Personally, I think a lot of folks think merely the act of being open and candid about one’s life (i.e. revealing private matters) is being vulnerable. I don’t see it quite that way. Yes, that can set you up to become vulnerable, but in some ways that depends on the kind of person you are. Some people just don’t give a hoot–and so when they reveal something with bravado that perhaps I might not, is that them being vulnerable? I don’t think so (or at least it falls on the far end of the spectrum). Instead, I see vulnerability as potentially subjecting oneself to some reaction that is less than ideal. For some that may actually be revealing secrets that lead to public scrutiny, for others that might be simply declaring your love for someone with the very real possibility of it being unrequited. Things like that, which I see as falling more along the lines of taking risks with no promise of positive results. For me, and it seems like for you too, this kind of vulnerability means opening myself to really take in all the wonder that the world around me is showing me in the face of finite time which is diminishing. That is hard to take, and it leaves me feeling quite vulnerable most of the time.

    admin Reply:

    Yes. I think vulnerability is more than just saying things about ourselves that may seem ugly or possibly controversial. But somehow that seems to be what peple mean when they refer to being vulnerable and that doesnt’ feel quite right to me.

  4. Posted January 12, 2015 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Lindsey, this may be my favorite post of yours yet–which is saying a lot. You’ve given me much to think about. I’m an oversharer, an open book–within reason. But I firmly believe that letting people in is the key to genuine connection, to being heard, to feeling loved and less alone. For me, the intersection between vulnerability and presence may be rooted in that sense of comfort, the deep breath, the exhale that accompanies letting down my guard so that I can simply be. me. Come what may. When I stop putting on airs, admit my truth, come as I am, I feel most in my life and the closest, most present to the people who are there with me.

    And oh the stalled (stifled? stashed?) memoir…one day, I hope you and I will meet and have a long chat about all of this over wine or hot cocoa or something else equally delightful…xoxo

    admin Reply:

    I look forward very much to that conversation!! Soon, soon, soon I hope. xoxo

  5. Posted January 12, 2015 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    I adore this post. And I agree that vulnerability has become a new buzzword. I love your definition of it: “the inability to withstand the effects of a hostile environment.” I also like Brene Brown’s definition of vulnerability of “whole heartedness.” And this very much ties into how you are. You open your heart on this blog in a way that keeps me in the present moment in my own life – thank you. Perhaps being open hearted and open minded is just another form of being present?

    I always admire how you can share without oversharing and how you can be vulnerable without making anyone uncomfortable. It’s really a beautiful skill and I agree with all of the other commenters who want a book!!!

    admin Reply:

    I really appreciate, as always, your kindness. I think that living in the world in an open-hearted and open-minded way is surely one way to being present. Absolutely. For me, that also means letting in a lot that can slice and hurt. (post for Wednesday). On the book – I fear I was not clear enough. Publishers passed on the proposal, so it wasn’t that I didn’t try or that I didn’t go down that road. It’s that what I understand to be one major stumbling lock was a perception that I was holding back. About my daughter’s adolescence. And when I really thought about it, I was absolutely willing to make that trade. No book and no writing about things that felt uncomfortable for me to write about (about her). xox

  6. Kim
    Posted January 12, 2015 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    I look forward to seeing your header in my inbox every week. My sister sent this post along to me. I am probably 10+ years older than you and am facing a different phase of parenting, raising teens and twenty something’s. I hope you enjoy this post. It describes he vulnerability that comes with raising older children.

    http://www.homesanctuary.com/rachelanne/2014/02/dear-lonely-mom-of-older-kids.html

    admin Reply:

    I LOVE this post – thank you so, so much for sharing. It is making me think a lot – look forward to writing about it (and linking of course!) xo

  7. Posted January 12, 2015 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    Interesting. I think of vulnerable as being open to being hurt- whatever that means. So it’s different for different people. Sharing that which exposes your marrow seems vulnerable to me. But I think doing so also creates strength. So I used to be a person that did not want anyone to ever know that anything hurt me. I would not have shared that which made me scared or embarrassed. Then in my twenties something shifted. I find that sharing whatever you are most afraid of is freeing and seems to release some of the power the thoughts held on me. I’m rambling now. I’ll end by saying that being vulnerable is the quickest way to become my friend. I am not interested in your perfect life. I’m interested in the quirks, in the fears, in the shared places we dwell. You can’t connect with people unless you are vulnerable.

    admin Reply:

    Me too. And furthermore I don’t believe anyone’s life is perfect so those who want to portray theirs that way make me vaguely sad because I understand that there’s a reason they’re doing that. xox

  8. Posted January 18, 2015 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    Whoa, when I first saw the word vulnerable, I thought well, that’s exactly what I’m feeling with this new daily practice of mine, but then I read the definition you liked and the two things didn’t fit. I actually have no trouble withstanding the effects of a hostile environment. I never have. I was an attorney, after all. But perhaps this new place of being open will change all that. It’s going to be a wild ride.