from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

the power of vulnerability

I've been thinking about vulnerability recently, and what courage it takes; what an art it is. And how crucial it is to intimacy with self or other (whether or not that latter's sexual).

I think it might be useful to mention here that by 'vulnerability' I don't mean emotional manipulation, victimhood, martyrdom or self-indulgence. I mean simply a willingness to stand in who you are, weaknesses and strengths, and let another see you.

You have to be pretty strong in yourself to risk others seeing you as you are, no masks. More, you need to have grown beyond navigating your life according to others' approval, and whether it's offered or withheld.

You need to be living from your own centre out; and to have moved beyond the need to make ego and pride the be-all and end-all. It takes a certain depth of humility; and it takes being able and willing to carry on being vulnerable when others reject it, or kick you.

It takes being willing to keep on being 'out there' when others withhold – without demanding that they change, but knowing that you're going to keep on keeping on anyway.

After all, that's how the world gets in; and without the world getting in, how can we experience interbeing and empathy? The most rewarding experiences come from deep exchanges; deep honest authentic exchanges.

My daughter posted a shared snippet on her facebook page recently: 'It's easy to take your clothes off and have sex with someone; people do it all the time. But opening up your soul to someone, letting them into your spirit, thoughts, hopes, dreams, fears – now that's being naked.'

I know this is not a new thought, but I am reminded how often we'll let other things stand in for vulnerability and intimacy: sex, for instance. Or food, booze, shopping, heated debates, clever talk, words that sound good but convey nothing of depth. Even silence – because of course there's silence that's evasive as much as there's silence that is shared.

I wrote once: 'The connections we make with each other are as good as the connections we make with ourself'. Intimacy and vulnerability, true openness, require a willingness to know oneself first and foremost, and to keep learning about oneself and the world, and to find a way of accepting oneself, strengths, weaknesses, triumphs and fuck-ups alike.

This means facing one's deepest fears about not being, ultimately, loveable as one is.

What's brought all this to mind (not that these things are ever far from my mind) is that I've had some very profound exchanges with people recently; or perhaps I should say that I'm currently meeting a number of men, specifically, on a deeper level: men who are not afraid to be open, tender, vulnerable – and not wimps. (I don't mean in romantic or sexual engagement, I simply mean in the course of daily life/work.)

There are of course always people who are willing to challenge the mores that tell us to walk in armour and that the world's out to get you, especially when one moves in alternative circles and if one leads the kind of retreats, or goes to the kinds of workshops, talks, campaigns, poetry or eg 5 Rhythms dance events that I do. I have always had close women and men friends both who are emotionally open in that way. But suddenly, partly in relation to my work, the number of people in my life who've made a transition into this kind of strength, coming from a sure and authentic centre, seems to have increased swiftly. I guess this post is to acknowledge, honour and thank these people. You make a difference.

What is happening in all our lives, individually and collectively, percolates to the surface at certain times, perhaps, more than others. We live in extraordinary and challenging times, and I suspect this is one of those 'surges', where there's a collective shift going on, an acceleration, at the moment, in counterpoint to global brutality, violence, anger and hate – in which I include, albeit in dilution, the defence mechanism of cynicism.

I've had a useful lesson recently, though, in the fact that others don't always want your vulnerability, or are threatened by it. What I'm learning at the moment is how to stand firm and let myself be vulnerable without forcing that on someone who, for reasons of their own, doesn't want it; how to keep one's counsel and hold still while not closing down oneself. An overtly (so to speak) open person can perhaps be just as much a threat to the wellbeing of a more reserved person as vice versa: it's not helpful to make judgements here, only to notice, and respond accordingly. (The image that comes to mind is the incongruity of a nun in a habit on a naturist beach – or a talkative nudist in a silent-order convent! I've been trying to avoid this obvious and seemingly value-laden analogy, but it keeps impressing itself. Neither's 'wrong'; they both just value different things.)

And of course the world, and our 'significant others', will continue to challenge us. That's how we grow; not in solitude on a mountainside in the Himalayas (though learning to love solitude is a prerequisite for all sorts of other strengths), but in active relationship.

This morning my 'Tricycle Daily Dharma' dropped this into my inbox:

'Relationships work to open us up to ourselves. But first we have to admit how much we don'’t want that to happen, because that means opening ourselves to vulnerability. Only then will we begin the true practice of letting ourselves experience all those feelings of vulnerability that we first came to [Buddhist] practice to escape.' ~ Barry Magid, “No Gain”

Here's to the strength to remain soft and open on the outside, and firm, clear and strong on the inside.



  1. Nicely observed and written, Roselle! I'm interested in this subject, and would very much like to quote a little from your piece and link to your post in a post of my own at some point — if that's ok.

  2. Robert - as always, thank you. And - of course; I'd be honoured.

  3. Those last two lines have been resonating and echoing deeply within for me. Succinctly put, and perfect.Thank you , and here's to you in your vulnerability and strength, Roselle. Cx

  4. Dear C - I appreciate your kind comment. Thank you! Rx

  5. From Miriam: such a welcome, insightful, comforting post. Thank you, Roselle (still in wild Northumbria and not able to email). This is a subject very dear to my heart. It's that last statement of all that sums it up so beautifully; there are precious few people I know who understand this as you do.
    (Back 22nd and shall email then)
    M x

  6. Miriam, hello up there! Hope it's golden. Thank YOU - it's comforting to know that there are others out there who feel similarly and get this. Rx


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