The madness for mindfulness
The clamoring for compassion
The hoarding of happiness
And the vogue of vulnerability
There is value in all of the above, always has been, it is the scientific research that places them as front runners in the mind of a society. As a society we value the logical linguistic linearity of things – the ‘top down’ thinking mind as the lead, and as such, we feel safe when science suggests that these characteristics of humanity have value because we have ‘proven’ positive outcomes, found metrics for our well-being. I find it all quite interesting that it is on the platform of a ‘masculine’ construct that we usher in the ‘feminine’, and that we cannot trust in these capacities until the gatekeeper of the cognitive validates a value for ‘feeling’ / relational. Now I hope you don’t get too caught on the words ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’, it is my lack that limits us here. Simply meaning to refer to different ways in which we all process, as is beautifully articulated in Ian McGilchrist’s work “The Divided Brain”, we need all aspects to be connected versus biased and imbalanced. I could go further on this layer of investigation, but that would require a much longer writing, here I will simply state, that if we were to begin to look into misogyny, we can trace it to a deep-rooted fear of the feminine, for both its power and vulnerability. For now, I just want us all to begin to be truly interested, within our own moment to moment experience, how the capacities of mindfulness, compassion, happiness, vulnerability, available to each us, come into fruition or not.
The headlines steal our attention, the news feeds us, until the next novel teaser arrives, never diving deep into any one thing, grasping and never sustaining. So, for today, let’s explore one: What the heck does vulnerability mean and why is everyone suggesting it is necessary for our health and well-being. When we as a mass of people begin to make things vogue it only means we are taking the good news of a capacity as yet another strategy toward our own end, ‘how can this serve what I want’ – increase productivity, how I am perceived by others, make me seem more viable, and then we are back where we started, trying to build ourselves up motivated by fear, not having grasped the essence.
What is vulnerability? The willingness to be changed.
Vulnerability is the opposite of increasing our sense of security. I will remind us again and again and again, the brain is only interested in history, in the memory that tells us what to expect in the present and creates the same future. It creates a simplified version to save us metabolic energy. Great for basic stuff like, socks go on feet, one foot moves forward then the other v hopping, but we live in the expectations and assumptions about self, other, situations that are far more complex, needing more reflection to understand, or lost to rigid stances that lead to the need to annihilate the other to secure our own survival (think Twitter). Simply, if met with a reality that counters our assumptions, we will automatically reject the information. To the brain, this is keeping us alive. To consciousness, this is what kills us. Take the simple example of going to breakfast, and if you’re American, expecting eggs, pancakes and the like, but instead you find miso soup, rice, and vegetables. In that moment there will be the reaction to the mismatch between assumption and reality. In an effort to find certainty, the typical automatic reaction is aversion. Now this is a pretty simple example for us to study, what is my typical reaction, what pattern of behavior might ensue, etc. In short, we will fight against other, self, or situation to keep old construct of how things 'should' be. But what if we didn’t? what if we remained uncomfortable and engaged with things as they are? Hmm, possible change. This is vulnerability. Beau Lotto brings forward so much in his brilliant work, “Deviate”, one of which is the fact that we have about a 400-millisecond time lapse between the behavioral neural circuitry of a decision to move and the awareness of that decision, and then 200 milliseconds between the decision and the actual movement. We hold the key to creating change by getting in there with awareness to pause to know the automaticity and make a new decision. To get familiar with the unfamiliar. Maybe I’ll eat Miso Soup!
It is the art of discomfort, changing the interpretation of when we feel uncomfortable from the bio-protective assumption of threat and need to avoid pain, to the conscious care that lets us know a new interpretation – we are evolving, growing, cultivating working with the basic truth that anything alive is in constant movement, discomfort = good. In fact, the opposite of the biological protective interpretation is true: When we resist, push away, avoid, get fixated, we die.
So, I will offer what I call a ‘living inquiry’: “pain indicates what is already well and good in you”, it points you in the direction of health, which simply means wholeness, versus the conclusion that you are somehow a problem needing to be fixed. We are meant to be changed by our interaction with the environment. Pain may very well be indicative of that change.
This is the truth of our vulnerability, it is not something to consume or make ourselves be, it is the reality of our humanness already, which asks of us a relationship. So difficult for us to understand that this soft uncertainty is at the heart of our resilience. The cues from biology need a translator, need more information to retrain it, reinterpret the perceptual cues from ‘the bottom up’, the body first – this is what I call Somatic Intelligence which leads us to the potentiality of mindfulness, compassion, true happiness.
Vulnerability is standing on the ground that is always shifting, aerating, turned, softened to seed our next best behavior.
We can determine an ability to be with discomfort if we remember a wider intention of why we might bother. Intention will determine outcomes. What is it that we value? What is it that truly matters when all is said and done? It is important to keep remembering our deepest vulnerability is that we will all die. People hate when I talk this way. But I find it robust, stimulating, inspiring, and helps me navigate my fears. When I do public speaking as an introvert, I call up the wisdom of Martin Luther King when asked, ‘aren’t you afraid that someone might kill you’, and he clearly answered, “some things are more important than my own life”. When I speak, I have to remind my dear brain and biology, though it might be experiencing a sense of threat – might be ‘voted off the island’ therefore not able to survive as my evolutionary biology requires that I be affiliated, and so on…. Oh dear brain, you need some more information, this is not about me alone, but there is something that might be conveyed that might benefit one person, this vehicle, this body, mind, heart, is just a delivery system.
We each need to decide what is worth our discomfort. What change do we seek? Just what is the cost of avoidance: Netflix to Narcotics – what suffering does this cause.
Good news, you just need to take the next moment and be curious about what your memory told you to assume, and find the discrepancy between that and the actuality of the moment, and then sense into the bodily reaction, which links then to imagination, thoughts, emotions, spirit, the subsequent urges, and behaviors. That’s it. One moment. Many times. Repeated.
Voila! True meaning of 'healthy habit' - changing behavior, by reinforming the brain, through the body's 'somatic intelligence'