“Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.” – Brené Brown
On January Second, 2015, in front of witnesses, I looked directly into my own eyes and told my reflection, “I love me,” in a clear, compassionate voice.
While that seems like a simple act, I’m sure that anybody who has tried it will agree that doing so is anything but easy. To make that proclamation, especially in the presence of others, normally would leave me feeling very vulnerable. However, in this case, I felt empowered instead. I felt empowered because I had allowed myself to show my vulnerability rather than hiding it. In that sharing, I was set free and found that rather than weakness, displaying my vulnerability led to strength.
Over the past few years, I have come to appreciate that allowing our vulnerability to be seen can be an incredibly empowering experience for myself and those around me.
There were two experiences in the last eighteen months that really brought home to me that expressing my vulnerability as a leader empowers and heals both me and the members of my community who witness it.
The first experience centered on a ritual my partner of the day and I created as a tool for healing. I created the ritual as part of my healing work regarding sexual trauma. I had made a huge breakthrough near the beginning of December in which I did some powerful writing around forgiving the girl who was so scared and confused and ashamed about the situation surrounding the rapes. However, in the weeks that followed I came to realize that I had not forgiven all of me; I had not forgiven my adult-self who had made questionable decisions and chosen harmful paths in an unknowing result of what I experienced.
It was important to me to have witnesses and people to hold space during the ritual. Sharing struggles and triumphs is a human need. That need is a major reason why ceremonies like weddings and funerals are such important religious and secular events. I wasn’t thinking about the greater context at time I invited my friends. I just wanted to share my fears and celebrate my growth and healing with those I hoped would acknowledge and accept me.
In the ritual, I shared with my friends some of the specific things I had done for my healing and how utterly lost I had been for the past several months: the hours spent crying, the days spent shaking and rocking, the inability to take care of my children in the way I wanted to. Expressing those fears was an important part of taking back my power and my confidence in myself.
My partner then took us through a meditation about seeing forgiveness not as releasing guilt, but in accepting ourselves and our choices.
After the meditation, I took a jar and put in some important symbols representing different parts of my development. Looking back on it now, I think the most important item I placed in that jar was a piece of pyrite (fools gold). It represented my fear that people perceived me as gold, but if they really knew what was inside me, they would be disappointed and see me as a fraud. I was a healer and a leader in my spiritual community, after all. What if people knew how dysfunctional I had been in the previous few months? What if people knew how full of doubt and fear and shame I was? Part of my intent in that ritual was to bury that notion and to begin to perceive myself as gold.
After I buried the jar, the others formed a line and took turns telling me how they saw me and appreciated me. I was brought to tears, not only by the beauty of the words, but by their sincerity. I wouldn’t have been able to accept their words as genuine if I had not shared my fears first.
That ritual was a seminal moment in my life.It helped me to move back into my roles as healer, teacher, and leader with confidence.
About a year later, I was hosting a Moksha Magick ritual at my studio. It had been a long day. There had already been two other events at Circle of Light that day. The previous group had run late. Two people arrived early for the Moksha group, and I hadn’t had a chance to eat yet. My partner and I had just had a tense moment. I was hungry, tired, and on edge.
We went ahead and ate our dinner while the discussion topic was introduced. As the discussion wrapped up, we began to get ready for ritual. My partner met my eyes and asked if I was in a space to participate. The question stopped me in my tracks. I sat down and burst into tears. The old shame rushed up to greet me. What kind of leader was I? The gathering was in my space. I had suggested the day and time. I was the high priestess, for heaven’s sake!
Then something monumental happened: I was able to think clearly enough to ask myself what I would do if it was someone else in the same situation. I realized that I wouldn’t hold it against another person at all, even from a host and a leader. I would assure them it was okay and ask if there was anything I could do to help. I was able to express this revelation to the small group and then express what would help me without waiting for one of them to ask.
What I wanted was to just be held and nurtured. Instead of creating the ritual we had originally intended, we created a beautiful, powerful ritual that perfectly met the need of the moment.
I realized later what a blessing it would have been to have witnessed leaders in my own life show this level of vulnerability in a similar situation. I was blown away. What a gift! A gift I gave myself and those who shared that space with me.
Brené Brown says, “When we meet someone, vulnerability is the first thing I look for in you, but it’s the last thing I want to show you in me.” In other words, we admire those who are able to embrace “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” However, we fear others will judge us when we do the same.
That really doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? It’s a paradox. Maybe we admire those who are willing to show their vulnerability because we want to be able to do the same. We allow our fear of weakness to hold us back from embracing our greatest strengths. Perhaps just recognizing this double standard we have for others and ourselves will allow us to begin exploring the expression of our own vulnerabilities. In doing so, we begin to courageously accept our own strength.