Vulnerability

“The rain to the wind said, You push and I'll pelt.' They so smote the garden bed That the flowers actually knelt, and lay lodged--though not dead. I know how the flowers felt.”—Robert Frost (Image via Pinterest)

“The rain to the wind said, ‘You push and I’ll pelt.’ They so smote the garden bed that the flowers actually knelt, and lay lodged–though not dead. I know how the flowers felt.” ―Robert Frost (Image via Pinterest)

Dr Brené Brown‘s research on vulnerability is fascinating.  She gave an incredible TED talk on this topic back in 2010, as well as a more recent one on shame, which really resonated with me. In it, she even quoted Theodore Roosevelt to sum up her point, which was that:

Life is about daring greatly, and about being in the arena

Enter vulnerability. Though most people avoid it like the plague, she calls it the “birthplace of innovation, creativity and change” and even “the most accurate measurement of courage”.

All this borrowed wisdom on vulnerability is proving relevant during a transitional time in my life right now. After 14 years of  full-time employment, I will soon switch to part-time consulting and project-based work. The thing is, I’d always seen myself going down this road eventually. But not this soon, and in this manner. I thought I had another good five to ten years to go, but it looks as if God has other plans for me.

On some level, I am excited to finally have more flexibility over my schedule and I am looking forward to more time with my children, and for writing—but then I also find myself wrestling with this little thing called vulnerability. Optimism for a bright and beautiful future can oftentimes be overshadowed by an oh-so-foreboding sense of what if this ends badly? But if Dr Brown is right, allowing myself to remain vulnerable is the only way any real growth can take place.

One night I sat up thinking about all this. I wasn’t sure I felt ready to get back in the arena—I didn’t know if I dared anymore to dare greatly. I felt myself convinced that all the bad stuff happening now must mean I made the wrong decision somewhere earlier in the process. But it wouldn’t be fair to blame myself: how could I ever have known? I relied only on whatever information and tools I had at the time, and discerned with the limited knowledge I had.

And as I went back and forth with the same questions of  “Why now? and “Why like this?”, I heard a quiet little voice within go, “If not now, when? And if not like this, then how, ever?”

Ready or not, it’s time to say hello to my old friend, vulnerability, and to acknowledge that maybe I’ll always be vulnerable. And that it’s OK.

I’m still in the arena, and my story’s still being written. People who’ve hurt me don’t get to decide how it ends—I do.

Magical thinking

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magical thinking

[maj′ikəl] (in psychology) a belief that merely thinking about an event in the external world can cause it to occur… 

The first time I came across the term was when I read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking almost 10 years ago. The book was too depressing for me to finish, even with my then appetite for existentialist and grief literature (see this post). After that, I never gave ‘magical thinking’ much thought, or any at all. That is, until it dawned on me yesterday, quite suddenly, that I’ve been doing it—magical thinking. I can’t speak for the rest of humankind but who knows, maybe everyone’s been doing it since time immemorial. Consciously or subconsciously.

As a born and bred Catholic, I am familiar with the practice of novenas and intercessory prayers, and belief in transubstantiation and miracles, and these form a core part of my spirituality. Though I would never think to use the term ‘magical’ when it comes to my faith, I believe being Catholic may have shaped to some degree my predisposition for magical thinking.

How many times have I thought, if I just did something a certain way, a totally unrelated sequence of events might follow, or if I believed resolutely in something, a fact would cease to be. Case in point: the new year and all that it represents. When we crossed over into 2015, I earnestly and sincerely felt I would have a better relationship with a certain someone because, well, it was the new year and, well, I desired it. Truth is, circumstances were status quo, and he continued to treat me unkindly. This shouldn’t be news or have come as a surprise, but I found myself disappointed all the same. What was his very normal, typical way of interaction became harder to bear—because, how do I explain it, it was a new year.

I took this woe to an old friend, chiding myself for my own foolishness, but then quite uncharacteristically of his cool, pragmatist personality, he said, in these exact words: “Then make it a year of magical thinking. No harm in maintaining your belief in good things and good people while fighting the good fight.”

[Pause]

Going home from work that day, I mulled over what my friend said, walking in the rain to the train station. As I skirted puddles and felt cold showers beating down upon a borrowed umbrella, I realized I wasn’t ready to give up magical thinking. Disappointed though I often find myself, it makes up the better part of me that refuses to give up hope. Call it a coping mechanism or plain delusion, but would life truly be all the better without magical thinking? I didn’t want to believe it.

Reaching home, I saw the most beautiful rainbow. A large and full arc of colors painted across the evening sky. The last time I saw such a gorgeous rainbow was when I left my previous job 7 years ago. I was standing in front of my parents’ home, holding my son, less than a year old then. I remember it like yesterday. Magical thinking.


Photo: Taken by my husband from our bedroom window.