The Key Ingredient for Growth & Connection
This past weekend I was fortunate enough to attend a retreat called "Fire Within," in which we focused on connecting with nature, ourselves, and others. It included many mindful moments, meditation practices, and even times of playfulness. I had never attended a retreat before, so I felt a little outside my comfort zone when I initially signed up for this adventure. While I'm always up for time in the beautiful outdoors and find it so grounding, I knew that part of this weekend would involve opening up to complete strangers. But as I often say to my clients: I'm not going to ask you to go where I won't go myself.
That brings me to one of people's least favourite topics in my work - intimacy. (Don't click out of this page, stay with me here.) Intimacy rests on vulnerability, on the very parts of ourselves that we hope no one sees. It's the exposing of what we don't feel is lovable and fear will lead to rejection. Truly, it's a wonder any of us do it at all.
However, the paradox of vulnerability is that the exposure we fear will lead to abandonment is exactly what will lead us to the powerful connection we have always wanted. When we are in a healthy relationship (whether romantic or otherwise), that vulnerability will be met with non-judgment, acceptance, and love. When we are in a healthy relationship with ourselves, the inevitable occasional rejection or disappointing response won't stop us from standing strong within ourselves.
I had the rare opportunity to observe this a bit differently over the weekend. It has been a while since I've been introduced to a whole group of strangers, none of whom knew who I am, who I used to be, what to expect of me, what issues I have had to work on (or am still working on), what I did for a living, or even my last name. I was just Stephanie at a retreat. This also allowed me to view others just as they were presenting themselves.
While it is a fair assumption that most people at this retreat would have done some internal work and are more comfortable with vulnerability, that isn't a guarantee. Maybe someone is going because they feel pressured to do so, or maybe they misread the event description.
So here's where the risk comes in. We don't really know how someone will respond to our vulnerability and to showing them our true and authentic selves. It can be terrifying to take out those gunky parts that we have been told are bad and broken, and to shyly hand them over for inspection. However, this leap of faith shows others our shared sense of flawed humanness and can therefore create a powerful connection.
This weekend I shared my dreams, laughter, and tears; I disclosed parts of my past; showed pieces of myself that maybe not everybody likes; and admitted to imperfection. I held prolonged eye contact with people I barely knew and sat with the discomfort of what they might see. I stayed in meditations that brought up overwhelming feelings, engaged in love-filled hugs, and sat in the space we all held for one another.
I was reminded that ultimately all of us are working on something and are hoping for the same thing. To be accepted, to be loved, to be held, to be seen. It's powerful to take the ego out of the equation and remember that we are all taking the same risk here. Without knowing their story, I do know that everyone in that room was hoping for something bigger in their lives.
One of the scary things about vulnerability is the idea that we are handing over power to someone else. If they know this "horrible" thing about you, they are the ones in control. However, that couldn't be further from the truth. No matter where we are on the journey, or at what pace we're going, we're all trying to head in the same direction. If we can see ourselves in others' pain and process, we can gently remove the fear of being judged and let go of judging others. That person who irritates you or who you think is a know-it-all: they're just trying to figure out life the same way you are. If we can hold onto that, then we are better able to open ourselves to a fully connected conversation.
As mentioned earlier, I have no business asking clients to go to scary, new places if I haven't done it myself. This weekend was a reminder of powerful connections that are built on risks, trust, and being grounded in our authentic (and flawed) selves.
Kind of like climbing a mountain, we might start the journey of vulnerability and connection feeling nervous and excited, and then wonder about halfway through if we should've just stayed on the bottom. Because really, was it so bad down there? But you wouldn't have started this journey if you didn't think there was something worthwhile at the top of that mountain. And while you might feel raw by the end of it, I can promise you that the view from up there will fill your heart to the brim.