Learning to be vulnerable

Last month, I went to an Art of Hosting training and one of the sessions we had was Open Space, so anyone could propose any topic for discussion in small groups. One of the topics proposed was “healing recipes.” Something told me I should join this session, and so I did.

I came looking to share my experience with yoga and meditation, and other mindfulness practices, how I had overcome my worst moments and attained a state of poise and calmness thanks to these practices.

But sometimes there are pains so deep inside that we are not even aware of. And when they surface, they are so powerful.

I always felt a void inside, a part of me that was always in the dark. More than once people have told me I have a bright smile, but there’s some pain or sadness in my eyes. I never could really give it a name.

It wasn’t until that day, when someone in the group shared her experience working as a psycho-analyst for people who had gone through the trauma of war, violence, abuse…as well as family and friends coming to her with all kinds of problems. She had spiritual practices which helped her grounded, and somehow that boost her ego and she thought she was “better” than others and assumed the position of “the helper.” It was up to a point when she felt overwhelmed and couldn’t hold it anymore, when she burst out and said: “Enough. I don’t want to be anyone’s trash bin. I don’t want to be strong anymore.”

These words were like a punch in the face to me and my tears just went flowing out. This was how I had been living all this time, and in fact, all my life, trying to be strong, to be someone else’s shoulders, thinking I’m strong enough to “host myself, and host others. Rationally, I never wanted to think I’m better than anyone. But deep down inside, after having overcome my worst period myself, gained poise in front of situations, I subconsciously believe I’m better and pride myself being a come-to person for others, being a shoulder for others.

It was that moment that reality struck me in the face. Her words just awoken part of my subconscious, a pain I wasn’t even aware of, a pain waiting all this time to surface, to be acknowledged.

It was at this moment that I connected the dots, realizing my pain and the root cause of it. Because of my parents’ broken relationship since I was 10, I grew up in a family where neither parent expressed their pains, disappointments, fears to each other or to their children. So I never learned to.

I learned to overcome the pain and disappointment of my family on my own, not sharing with anyone. And through that experience, I’d developed the strength and ability to balance myself, to contain my emotions, just like my parents, without realizing how unhealthy this was and without realizing that I was digging a burial site for all of these pains and suffering inside myself.

All of the peaceful feelings I had later was just sitting in top of this massive graveyard beneath. And I’ve done this for so many years, so naturally without much effort that I never noticed it. Deep down inside I knew something was not right, but I could never give it a name or put on a face to it. I just knew I didn’t feel quite “human” not being able to express my vulnerability, because I really didn’t know what it was I had to express.

It was also at this moment that I realize deep inside, I have a fear of betrayal, fear of being alone, of not being able to share my feelings with someone. I witnessed and experienced this void in my childhood, and the pain was so deeply implanted in my subconscious. And as I grew up and entered my first relationship, the fear was still there unknowingly. Perhaps a part of my soul had always wanted to experience the pain, and yearned to learn more through these pains.

Even after having experienced betrayal, I never fully expressed overtly how I felt and always tried to overcome myself. It was really just my ego disguised as understanding, peace, compassion — all that I was striving to become. My mind kept telling me: “Everything is impermanent. If two people don’t stay together, it’s just not meant to be. Each person comes into your life for a reason, and when the job is done, it’s time to leave.” And yes, these thoughts still hold true for me, but it doesn’t mean I have to swallow my pains inside by myself, and just observe them, because they won’t go away that way. I need to learn to let them surface, face them by expressing them out, and let others into my world of emotions.

It’s taken me a while to learn this lesson, but the wait is worth it. I feel much more liberated being able to see and express my feelings. I feel like I’m starting a new journey with this understanding, embracing my vulnerability, my weaknesses, and learning to lean on others. For the first time, I’ve experienced how beautiful it is to be protected, to be embraced, to let my tears flow freely. I’m learning to balance strength and vulnerability.