Every other day I hear folks talking about the importance of being present. There are hundreds of mindfulness books written and published including the one I’m currently reading called the The Mindfulness Habit. The author hit me over the head with this: “We create our own stress when we time travel.” She goes on to explain that we stop being able to be present when we stay traveling and dwelling on the past (which can cause non-clinical depression) or we are constantly worrying about the future (causing non-clinical anxiety).
In fact, every self-help guru worth their salt claims that our inability to be present is the root of all our ills. We take Facebook fasts and social media sabbaths in order to reclaim our ability to be present with our families and callings. And while presence is preached from every pseudo-contemplative pulpit and community, most people fail miserably and epically at the act of being present.
It’s just hard to do.
To give our lives our undivided attention; to truly sit with ourselves and observe our thoughts and feelings without judgment; to bear witness to another person’s pain and/or pleasure is all so devastatingly difficult for one reason and one reason alone: It requires vulnerability.
For some of us, vulnerability is like kryptonite. We wrongly believe it weakens us.
Being vulnerable is scary as hell. Like, literally! Exposing our hearts is as equally frightening to some folks as the idea of burning in the raging fires of Hades. As a result, many of us just choose not to be present. We resolve that if being present in our lives means metaphorically turning our skin inside out then… “Hello, distraction and busyness. Have a seat. Stay awhile.”
Why is that?
Why are we (the collective we) so afraid of being vulnerable? Why are we so scared to share our truths?
And because this is a natural consequence of not being willing to expose ourselves, why are we afraid to heal?
The answer isn’t simple and maybe it’s different for every person but I think it can be found in the metaphorical language I used a few paragraphs up. I likened being vulnerable to turning your skin inside out.
And we resist doing that because…uhh yeah…that hurts.
Being vulnerable hurts. It requires us to remove our masks and don our authentic faces in the hopes that those around us will see our truth and accept it. It also means we have to be OK with the knowledge that they just might not. Yes, we are ultimately better off with putting ourselves out there. Yes, healing lies on the other side of giving our stories air. But before the healing, before the revelation of our best selves, there is pain. And our natural instinct is to flee from pain. I mean, you (translation: me) stopped going to the gym because it hurt at first. As a kid, our first burn from touching something hot made us super cautious the next time we encountered that thing. We don’t want to hurt. We don’t want to feel the heat of embarrassment or isolation that might come…even if there is a larger possibility that love and resilience and understanding will be the outcome. And yet, without being willing to risk vulnerability, being present is nearly impossible. Because being present means that we are fully “here” in the moment and willing to deal with whatever emotions or experiences that might come up in that moment. Emotions and experiences that we have no control over.
No control? Psssh. Who likes that? Lol. We refuse vulnerability and ultimately presence because we want to be in control of how and when and which emotions and experience overtake us.
But we also want to heal, right? We want to be better. We want to be free. It’s not that we don’t know WHY we should be vulnerable. One of my favs breaks down the benefits better than I could ever:
Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” ― Brené Brown
Doesn’t that last sentence make you think of your [fully present and vulnerable] self as this fierce superhero with a large Afro, wielding a sword—vibranium, of course– that shoots out love and joy and healing to everyone who crosses your path?
Umm, me neither. 😁
Anyway, Brene gives us a pretty good reason WHY we should choose vulnerability as a path to being present. The next question is…HOW? How do you get comfortable with the discomfort of vulnerability?
For real, I’m asking. Lol.