Vulnerability: How we got it all wrong

Insights

Nirav contemplates an issue rarely discussed by men, at least in the past.

Vulnerability by Nirav
Nirav, Vulnerability, 56 x76cm, watercolors, Pune 2003

When I recently came across a quote by B. Brown, where she says that “vulnerability is the first thing I look for in you, and the last thing I want you to see in me,” I stopped for a moment and inquired, especially into what it means for me as a man. Because that is not how it is for me any more.

If vulnerability is certainly the first thing I look for in you, it is also the first thing I want you to see in me. Why? And how did I get here?

As for most people growing up in this society, I learned very early how to be tough, harsh, critical, independent, even threatening. As a boy, I learned that to be a so-called real man I had to take on this tough guy image and show the world only certain parts of myself that the culture I live in has defined as manly. I also learned that protecting myself was necessary in order to survive.

In the emotionally unstable family where I grew up, I very soon worked out an impressive collection of strategies to protect myself, close my heart, space out, dissociate, and be on guard at all times.

My Dad never cried, never talked about his feelings, never showed any pain or emotion. He was and still is as impenetrable as one can be. My Mum, on the other hand, was an emotional bomb, exploding regularly, especially when you least expected it, and usually right in your face.

However, and in the midst of it all, when I was still very young I had a sense that protecting myself in that way meant that life could not really be lived fully. Of course, I didn’t understand it intellectually then, but I feel that I always knew deep inside that being open and real was the only way to be a full human Being.

I have been a spiritual seeker for as long as I remember, at least since that day, as a 4-year old, when, crawling on the bright green sofa, I suddenly stopped and stared at the adults… looking at the dramas going on. I knew that this was a show adults were lost in, and that reality was something else.

Vulnerability is my most innocent and authentic state. It is being open and able to receive life in all its dimensions.

Vulnerability feels like an immense asset, my greatest gift, and as a man the source of my intrinsic strength.

Our current values and ideals in society portray softness as undesirable and dangerous to our well-being. In reality, the opposite is true: our vulnerability empowers us to love deeper and grow stronger.

I spent many years opening and closing, moving between trust and fear, experimenting with being vulnerable and being protected. I had lived my life with the belief that exposing myself without any mask would somehow get me hurt and isolated.

Embracing vulnerability totally, one hundred percent, did require an in-depth experience that permanently terminated my embedded concepts that being vulnerable is dangerous. I had to experience in my very marrow that I had it all wrong and that the exact opposite of what I feared the most would be what actually happened if I exposed myself, naked.

This experience can only happen through grace. For me, it happened in an intensive meditation process. There, by pure miracle, I experienced that the more I opened the more I touched people, even strangers. The more I exposed myself without any mask, the more people opened their hearts. The more I revealed my shadows, the more love was showered on me. The more I was vulnerable, the more I was alive. This was one of the most life-changing and extraordinary inner phenomena I have ever encountered. I had it all wrong, for so long.

From that moment onward, what I always intuitively knew became natural again; since then vulnerability is my way of life and my greatest resource. And as a man, I would say that vulnerability is real strength, one that bends without breaking and that touches people where they most need to be touched. It is my most reliable friend, one that is always available and more intimate than my own breath.

Vulnerability creates connections. It is the source of all connectedness and without it, Oneness can never be experienced.

Artwork by the author

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  • The myth of male vulnerabilityFor men, vulnerability is not something to be confronted and expressed directly in the same way as it is for women, writes Divakar (Marc Itzler)
Nirav

Nirav is a painter, writer and chef. nirav-art.com

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