Authenticity always involves vulnerability. When we really listen to ourselves, and let our presence in the world reflect what we care about most deeply, we are making ourselves truly available and opening the way for beautiful connections with others. We are realizing our full potential. We are inviting unimaginable, transformative experiences that we can meet wholeheartedly. But there are risks. What we have to offer can be rejected; what we long for can be denied; who we are can be dismissed. When we give ourselves wholeheartedly, we can be hurt.
Several times in my life, I’ve felt this kind of hurt. I know that I’ve done my best, yet it doesn’t matter—my best is not good enough. Maybe I’ve been as open as I can be, as responsible as I can be, as caring as I can be—and someone takes advantage of the opportunity to do harm. Our politics, social dynamics, and interpersonal struggles frequently show the same pattern. But I don’t think this is a reason to shut down. Just the opposite. I believe that being authentic—and vulnerable—is my greatest strength. I believe that authenticity and vulnerability are exactly what we all need right now. Pain is a possible outcome when we are authentic, but inauthenticity always leads to even more pain in the long run.
In order to be trusting without becoming victims, we need to have each other’s backs. This doesn’t mean that we should fight off bullies on behalf of others—the more we fight, the more we become bullies ourselves. It’s not useful to see others as helpless weaklings who need us to protect them. Authentic vulnerability is not neediness: it is strength; it is courage. Like trees who grow from the same root system, we need to stand together. And standing together means being true to ourselves and one another: letting others know that they are not alone, that we see their strength and courage, that we are willing to be strong, courageous, and vulnerable alongside them.
What I try to remember when I’m feeling wounded and raw, is that sweet, familiar quote from Ram Dass: “We’re all just walking each other home.” When we’re being authentic, we’re not alone. We inspire others to walk with us, to grow with us, to dance with us, to ride along with us.
Being physically vulnerable is one of my own biggest challenges right now. I’m aware that, if a situation is emotionally charged, my neuro-muscular system will reflect my vulnerability in a way that I can’t disguise or control. I’ll develop tremors; I’ll become tearful; my heart will skip and skitter; my voice will shake; I might get faint, or have sudden chills or sweats. Even—or especially—when I trust the strength of my authenticity, my body can seem terribly weak and awkward. Sometimes, I feel ashamed of my infirmities and uncertain about my own truths. In these situations, the affirmations of others who stand with me can make all the difference.
In my dreams, I see the importance of our interconnectedness. The other dream figures may be seen as distinct individuals but may also be seen as aspects of myself, so the support, guidance and companionship I get from these figures may be exactly the support, guidance and companionship that I need to give myself (as well as receive from others) when I am feeling vulnerable.
Similarly, in waking life, if I want to risk standing for what I care about, even when my knees are shaking, then the people whose presence strengthens me will show me the same inner qualities I most need to strengthen in myself. And the vulnerable strength I am showing by standing with others will inspire them to find those vital qualities in themselves, too. In our waking or dreaming lives, our shared strengths and vulnerabilities make up our authenticity.
Our dreams may become more extraordinary as they reflect the true commitment we have made to our interdependent gifts, needs and callings. Continue reading