Lessons on vulnerability, communication, and freedom.
These days I find I have a lot of time to think. Some of the topics that have been on my mind: Communication. Freedom. Space. Vulnerability.
Yes, you’re right. These are not small topics, and I am not even sure how exactly I am going to pull them all together, but I think a good place to start is with my struggles with communication lately.
Who would have thought a therapist and a coach struggled with communication? Crazy, right? But it’s true—in certain places in my life I’ve struggled to communicate. Ask any man I’ve ever been involved with and you will find that in matters of the heart I lack words. It’s partly my tender heart that leaves me tongue tied. But if we go deeper, it’s really my fear of vulnerability (word 2—it’s coming together) and if we go even deeper fear of rejection. I am always asking my clients to “go where the pain leads.” And I am right, it leads to all the real places.
As Barbara Brown Taylor so eloquently states in her book An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith;
“When pain is as ubiquitous as air, why comment on it? Better to go where the pain leads, down to the ground floor where all the real things are: real love, real sorrow, real thanks, real fear."
I know—why would I choose to talk about this today. Well, because I am currently struggling through it. Despite my natural affinity to avoid vulnerability, specifically through silence and lack of communication, I have found that moving towards the open space, although initially gives me a feeling of chaos, relieves the pressure and releases the fear allowing me to feel more freedom. When we hold ourselves back, suppress all those overwhelming feelings of fear, we hold ourselves back from feeling the freedom of vulnerability that happens within thoughtful communication.
Think about it this way. I have been studying dance for some time now—in particular, Argentine tango. When two people agree to partner within this dance, they come together in what we call an embrace. I have been in many classes over the years, where instructors have attempted to describe this connection. Maybe my favorite description of the embrace between partners has been referred to as a conversation.
Unless a couple is preparing for a demonstration or a performance, the dance is pure improvisation. Much like our lives, we can attempt to manufacture our path forward, but we quickly find that too much planning and futuristic thinking can make things more complex. I have found, being in the moment and allowing the steps to unfold, makes for a much more authentic and interesting path, well that is, if I can let go of control.
Which leads me back to the tango embrace and this conversation between lead and follow. The lead will propose a movement within the dance and the follow has the option of stepping into the open space of that movement with grace or choosing to stay within the containment of the embrace thus halting the dance movement altogether. Of course, the lead can force the follow into the space but, as you can imagine, that can look somewhat stifled and awkward if the follower doesn’t go willingly.
The embrace offers a perfect illustration of moving towards our vulnerable places.
Do we dare step out into the unknown spaces in life and experience the beauty of freedom? Or do we stay contained in the safe, and enclosed space of the embrace where movement and expression are stifled? The answer seems relatively simple when I put it like that, but I can tell you it’s not so simple.
When I first started dancing it felt much safer to stay close to the lead, especially since I didn’t know what I was doing. Stepping into the space to create something new—beautiful—different—well it seemed nerve racking, scary. I’d much rather just let the lead decide. My fear of vulnerability got in the way. My fear of expressing who I really was, scared me. It took me time, practice, and understanding to recognize that my lack of knowledge of myself was holding me back. Studying tango helped me to learn about myself in a purely silent way, through movement, and over time I was able to understand how much I was playing out pieces of life in my dance.
I have found that moving towards my vulnerable parts and releasing myself from the restrictions of my silence and containment, opens me to what may seem like scary places. However, as is the case in relationships, when we cling too tightly to our partner, we stifle them, as well as ourselves and run the risk of codependency. More effective and a much healthier expression of connection happens when partners allow full and open expression, remaining tied together and connected but with ample space for freedom.
As I am starting to realize, my theme for the time being is balance, and here it is no different. When we allow for the containment of the embrace, which provides structure, yet the flexibility of the embrace, which allows expression; we can find a balance and create an environment that allows us to feel safe enough to express ourselves and grow.
Full expression of our true selves happens in the open space and healthy connections in our lives will allow us space to be who we really are. It is our fear that often gets in the way but when a safe environment is created that fosters open communication, we can overcome many obstacles that enter our path.
I’ll admit, I’m a bit surprised that came together as it did. This one was therapeutic for me and I hope helpful for you as you navigate your own relationships. I think relationship will be a bit of a theme for me too this year—so more on that to come.
As a final thought, my fear of vulnerability comes out even within my work. The illusion that as a coach and therapist I have some clear answer that others are looking for is simply not the case. Today’s entry will show you that I am searching for my own answers each day. I am a fellow pilgrim in this journey, engaging in my own self exploration and growth. I am just working with what I have right here, right now and I look forward to the possibility of working with you.
I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes by one of my all time favorite authors, Wendell Berry.
From his book Hannah Coulter:
“You mustn’t wish for another life.
You mustn’t want to be somebody else.
What you must do is this: ‘Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks.’
I am not all the way capable of so much, but those are the right instructions.”