The Gift of Vulnerability


One of the ways I’ve discovered of opening my eyes and heart more fully to the sacred gift of life is through diving into the essence of a word or quality and inviting it to speak to me. This week I have been immersed in experiencing the world through the lens of vulnerability, a kaleidoscope-like quality that continues to reveal its profound secrets. Oh, what a glorious teacher……..

For most of my life, I’ve related to the quality of vulnerability in a traditional, narrow way: having to do primarily with the experience of re-opening an old wound, or of being susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm. Over the last 30 years of my own transformational path and work with others, I’ve thankfully discovered the power of vulnerability — that it can be embraced, not as a weakness, but as a sacred ally and entryway into our own depths and wisdom. To me, it affords the experience of being truly open and alive, of allowing ourselves to participate wholeheartedly, and to be deeply touched by life inwardly and outwardly.

As I reflect upon the surfer above who has placed himself in an exhilarating dance with the powerful forces of nature, vulnerability reveals itself to me as an intimate tributary and prerequisite to so many other rich experiences in life — including courage, surrender, humility, grieving, wholeheartedness, tenderness, co-creation, etc.

Living with an open heart can feel very raw for me at times, as it requires being open to the full spectrum of life’s experiences — my all-too vulnerable humanness as well as the rapture of the divine. Last weekend while participating in a workshop with poet and author David Whyte, one of my richest teachers and fellow travelers, I asked him to speak about vulnerability. Here’s a few of his well-earned perspectives that he generously passed along:

“We’re living in a time where we each need a tremendous amount of courage — a fierce kind of attention and intentionality. The doorway is always through your vulnerability, the experience where you are open to the world whether you want to be or not.

“I’ve come to consider vulnerability as a form of imaginative intelligence, and the good news is that it can be cultivated. The real challenge is the pain that comes with vulnerable living. When pain arises, it is tempting to say to yourself: ‘If this is the way that God is playing, no thanks, I’ll back up.’ Self-compassion is needed to understand this.

During and after the season of pain, the question that comes up is: “Will I turn back to vulnerability, to living a wholehearted life?”

~ David Whyte

Whatever the current landscape of your life, I invite you to consider opening to new ways of holding the experience and gift of vulnerability. In closing, I’d like to share a poem that speaks to what may be the ultimate act of vulnerability: the miraculous process of carrying and birthing a child. Poet and mystic John O’Donohue, in his imminent curiosity and as a man who could not have the experience directly, interviewed many woman about their sacred process of pregnancy and birth, and then allowed this poem to flow through his heart:


by John O’Donohue

Nothing could have prepared

Your heart to open like this.

From beyond the skies and the stars

This echo arrived inside you

And started to pulse with life,

Each beat a tiny act of growth,

Traversing all our ancient shapes

On its way home to itself.

Once it began, you were no longer your own.

A new, more courageous you, offering itself

In a new way to a presence you can sense

But you have not seen or known.

It has made you feel alone

In a way you never knew before;

Everyone else sees only from the outside

What you feel and feed

With every fiber of your being.

Never have you traveled farther inward

Where words and thoughts become half-light

Unable to reach the fund of brightness

Strengthening inside the night of your womb.

Like some primeval moon,

Your soul brightens

The tides of essence

That flow to your child.

You know your life has changed forever,

For in all the days and years to come,

Distance will never be able to cut you off

From the one you now carry

For nine months under your heart.

May you be blessed with quiet confidence

That destiny will guide you and mind you.

May the emerging spirit of your child

Imbibe encouragement and joy

From the continuous music of your heart,

So that it can grow with ease,

Expectant of wonder and welcome

When its form is fully filled

And it makes its journey out

To see you and settle at last

Relived, and glad in your arms.

If you’re willing, I invite you to consider reading this poem a second time. Before you do, first reconnect with a powerful sacred passage in your life, a memory of a time when you were deeply immersed in a process of being born into something new. This might be the first time you fell in love, or perhaps birthed a new invention or creative project from deep within you, or perhaps a season of unexpected spiritual awakening, etc. — any experience where something profound was blossoming inside of you. After a memory comes to mind, you might find it meaningful to re-read the poem as you re-connect with the memory and the power of that experience.

My heartfelt blessings are flowing your way this coming week. May you continue opening wide to the frontier of your life — to be touched by adventure, by the breathtaking, and perhaps by new experiences of pregnancy and birth.

With much Love, Gavin

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