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The Paradox Within Vulnerability

5 May 2015

There is a huge paradox within vulnerability: That from a place of such struggle and pain comes never before experienced strength and growth in an individual.

Vulnerability has an immense power and beauty that we are unaware of until we are pulled down into its darkest centre; sucked down into the blackness and held there for a time. It feels like it will never end and we yearn for the life that we once had.

And yet, something miraculous is taking place. Something marvelous is happening; we are changing and growing in a way that is impossible under normal circumstances, or rather, when we believe ourselves to be invulnerable...

How is, it we ponder, that after being taken to hell and back - perhaps through illness, loss or an accident; after going through the grist of the mill again - sometimes taking us so near to death we can almost touch it; where we are taken down to the depths of insecurity, fear and anxiety in times of extreme vulnerability; where we feel fragile, uncertain, wracked with self-doubt and we can even doubt we have a future at such times - that we then re-emerge feeling stronger, wiser, older, more matured and centred in ourselves? We are surer of ourselves, we are calmer inside and we feel more grounded that we ever have before. 
We are, indeed, utterly changed. Essential growth has taken place and we are different somehow. Others can see it in our face, we look different; fresher. We also feel different, our energy is different, we have grown and matured; something of necessity has taken place.

There's also something about being taken out of our normal routine, roles and responsibilities in life that is a vital and necessary component of this process for change.

Like refugees, we are utterly displaced from our own lives. We may need to be dependent again on others, perhaps for the first time since we were a child, which in itself conjures up painful memories of letting others do for us and help us, and, of course, of not being in control. We desperately want our independence swiftly back, to be self-sufficient again and not to feel helpless.

And yet, for this change to take place, we have to surrender all of that we hold so dear.  Our lives it seems, are not just our own, we do belong to others, we are cared for and we do need others to get by in life. As BrenĂ© Brown says: Through my research, I found that vulnerability is the glue that holds relationships together. It’s the magic sauce.” 

We cannot do it all ourselves. We are not superman or superwoman. We are fragile, needy and vulnerable. It turns out we are in fact soft in the centre of our hardened outer-shell of persona or status.

Vulnerability pulls us down into this softer place - where we find our real selves, quietly sheltering from all the noise and business of normal daily life.

During such times normal time frames seem to dissipate. Each minute counts and is felt; time seems to literally slow down. And in a way, it has. Except really it us who have slowed down. Forced to do so through immobility, pain or illness, grief or depression, we are forced to face each moment anew, instead of sailing-by, barely catching a glimpse of it as we race through our busy lives.

Each small tiny step of progress back to health or normal life is a marvelous, wondrous and huge achievement. The first time we walk again after a fall, the first time we can lift something or make ourselves a cup of tea again, the first time we smile or laugh, becomes a major accomplishment, one that is celebrated and not taken for granted.

When we return to work if we can at some point, we are different and our colleagues see this in us, and we feel proud of ourselves for being able to return to our "normal" life once more. More grateful now for our colleagues, daily work tasks and challenges as we begin to feel stronger.

Everything we take for granted, now becomes a wondrous achievement all over again, again, like in childhood when we tried something new for the first time and it worked and we applaud our smallest of milestones.

After such periods of vulnerability you also see the world differently. You're hugely aware of and sensitive to others' vulnerability now too as well as your own. Your fragility has been brought closer to the surface; it is no longer hidden so deeply away. Tears come more easily. You empathise with others more, with their pain and struggles; you have more time overall for others too. Our compassion for our self and others deepens after such experiences.

The magic potential within vulnerability is not only how it changes us inside, but also that it brings us closer to others. We have felt into our perhaps unwanted need for others, we have realised how dependent we are on others and they, on us; our real inter-dependency becomes more apparent.

The growth and changes you have gone through was the reason for the accident, illness or loss. Something major had to be re-balanced. And to do so it was necessary to crack your being wide open, to stop you and say: Okay, let's start again. As if we need re-setting from time to time; energetically, emotionally and physically.

At the same time a clear message is given to us: That it's not okay to keep going in the same way or on the same path, year after year; something therefore must happen to set us off on a different path, and crucially in a different way than we have conducted out lives previously.

The paradox of vulnerability is, therefore, that it can indeed sometimes take us to hell and back, but that when we do return, we are changed. Things cannot ever be as they were before. And from our insecurity and pain, and our doubt and fragility, has come a strength and a confidence that is mature, wise and enduring.

We have returned but we are changed: normal life should not simply be resumed but rather allowed to expand through our new found awareness, sensitivity, compassion and strength.

© Angela Dunning, 5 May 2015

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