We’re in the midst of a crisis. Many of us have mistaken cruelty for strength, bluster for wisdom, and bullying for courage. It’s time to place the wisdom of our own hearts at the center of civic life. The hard-edged extremism that passes for discourse these days has withered the gentle growth of our perennial humanity. But the good news is there’s hope. There is always hope.
It turns out that real strength, real wisdom, and real courage have at their core vulnerability, that is, the willingness to humbly reveal our own humanity flaws and all. And when we do, something miraculous happens. Those around us lean in, listen, and join together in loving community.
Every teacher, minster, coach, parent, or leader worth their salt knows this is true – that when you show up authentically, honestly, openly, and risk it all, a wave of electricity moves through the room. And then you hear it – the hinges of a hundred cage doors swinging open. When you model your own freedom, you give people permission to find their own. Boldness begets boldness.
When we misread strength as force we close ourselves off from the inexhaustible spring of the universe. In our isolation fear, tribalism, and aggression take over. When, however, we come to understand strength as resilience, fluidity, and allowance we move into accord with the sacred source. The universe shimmers with possibility and abundance.
The simple-minded think that victory is the opposite of surrender – they praise one and mock the other – but the wise know that these are two points on a circle, forever bound together in cycles of arising and fading. The sea surrenders to the cloud, the cloud to the rain, the rain to the stream, the stream to the river, and the river to the sea. Water does not see these changes as defeat. It neither seeks nor resists these transformations. They are simply allowed.
Look how the flowers leap from the field, offering their petals to the wind and hail. They are not afraid of what’s next. They know that their strength lies not in rigidity, but in vulnerability. It is not praise or permanence they’re after – it’s the holy joining, the prayer of playing your part, the surrender into oneness.
Vulnerability is the face of real courage. It’s the willingness to be seen, finally seen, for who and what you really are. It is the ultimate manifestation of trust – trusting the other, and trusting yourself – knowing that who you are, how you are, is enough. Nothing to add, nothing to fix, nothing to find. Sure, room to grow. But in this moment, perfect as you are. Perfect in your imperfection. Just like everything else.
And when you can finally let go, and be bold like this, it feels as though years of weariness slip from your frame. You had not realized how exhausting it was to maintain the façade, play the part, and dutifully read the script written for you by your fear and pride.
The final reward of vulnerability is the shroud of safety it weaves around you. You know in your bones that wherever you go, wherever you are, you belong, and the world belongs to you. No more strangers. No more strange places. You have let all of that drop. Lightness fills your being. It illuminates the path before you, and lights the way for others. Your vulnerability is your greatest gift to the world.
[A version of this piece first appeared in the March/April 2020 edition of Unity Magazine, and is reproduced here with permission.]