The Vulnerability of LovingBy Sheryl Paul
December 17, 2012
The fear of being vulnerable and the risk of loving can manifest in many ways.
Through a rare turn of events, I was able to attend a yoga class last night with my favorite teacher in Boulder. The class started at 5:30pm, so at 5pm I gathered my things, left dinner instructions for my husband, kissed my boys goodbye, and walked into the darkening night. As I parked then walked to class, I marveled at the novelty of being out at night: the bare-leaved trees on the 29th Street Mall, where the studio is located, were adorned with winter lights; couples on first dates strolled on the idyllic promenade, the Rocky Mountains jutting up in the dark blue light behind them; young parents toting their baby from the restaurant to the car beamed at their little treasure. It had been a long time since I was out at night on my own and I felt like an alien visiting from another planet, thoroughly enjoying our earthly sights.
The class was beautiful, as always. My teacher channels wisdom throughout the class, and my body half-hears him as I breathe into the poses and allow the words to trickle in and reverberate on a non-verbal level. Sometimes a phrase will cause me to catch my breath like, “We must meet our egos with kindness, as it’s not something we can get rid of. The ego is the part of us that must travel on this earth, and because it knows that it cannot accompany us beyond the line of mortality, it holds a sadness. We must meet this sadness with compassion.” His words traveled directly to my heart where I thought first about my eight year old son and his unfiltered awareness of death, which brings with it a necessary sadness. I thought about how my husband and I have tried to meet his sadness and help him find ways of concretizing it in his body so that it can move through him without causing stagnation. I then thought about my many clients who also struggled with an awareness of death as a child, and how alone they felt as they tried to process the existential questions without a guide. I opened my heart to the pain, the tenderness, the rawness of being human, and how, especially for the highly sensitive among us, this pain and rawness is exponentially magnified.
As the class progressed and the blue evening darkened into black night, I thought about the walk from the studio to my car, which was parked at the far end of the parking lot; I noticed a jolt of fear flash through me. In my twenties, I used to go out all the time at night and have parked in all kinds of strange places. I’ve certainly felt fear in the past, but I’ve never had as much to lose as I do now: a husband who I adore beyond words and two magical sons who would be crushed if something happened to me. I have more to lose than that, of course, including a tight-knit circle of family and friends who are like family, but it’s the intimate loved ones, the children of my womb, that flashed into my fear-mind as the class came to a close.
I lied down in Sivasana and breathed into the fear. Within moments, I could feel underneath the fear into the vulnerability of loving my husband and two boys more than I ever knew possible. And with the awareness of the vulnerability, came the tears. They weren’t tears of grief; they were tears of rawness, tears that arose from knowing that loving this deeply means taking an immense risk, and that should anything happen to me or to any one of us, the others would be affected in ways I cannot possibly know. But what I do know is that it would crush us. I know that our hearts would be torn into shreds. Beyond that, I cannot go, except to hold out a thin strand of faith that somehow, some way, we would mend.
But the risk of loving… oh, it brings me to tears even now as I sit a few feet away from my sleeping angels. The risk of spinning this web of love around the four of us more deeply every day, of opening our hearts wider and wider and wider until we feel they will break from the loving. But they don’t break; they only expand. The love reaches out into worlds beyond our world and asks us to grow beyond ourselves.
And as I sit here now, I think about my clients and ecourse members who unravel into the heart of the fear and at the very center touch down into the risk of loving. The fears keep us separate from the raw and vulnerable places in our hearts. Fears are head-spaces, even when they create such uncomfortable and debilitating bodily symptoms. But there are moments, like right now, I see with crystalline clarity that all of the endless questions and statements of “Do I love him/her enough?” and “What if I’m settling?” and “What if I’m making a mistake?” and “I don’t want this” and “I’m not attracted to my partner” are elaborate and convincing defense mechanisms designed to avoid just this: the vulnerability of loving, the exquisitely painful knowledge that when we commit our hearts, we take the risk of enduring the most painful of human experiences: loss and heartbreak.
As one of my Conscious Weddings E-Course members, who has been working her tail off to kick the fear voices out of the driver’s seat, wrote yesterday (four weeks away from her wedding):
“But now – the feeling of being comfortable in my own skin, of feeling so at ease in my relationship and with A, and letting myself feel joy and happiness – comes with a heightened sense of fear that I’ve never really touched on before. It’s the fear that is talked about in the message boards, in the e-course, the articles, the blogs: the fear of loss. When I first read the posts about fear of loss I was like…yeah yeah yeah, that’s not me, I don’t fear losing anything… but now that I’m so centred and calm about my life the fear has become so real, so raw and so, so painful.
“I am not only scared of losing A and our relationship, but I’m scared of losing myself, of losing this newfound comfort and happiness, of losing this sense of peace, calm and serenity. It is so raw it’s unnerving. I am almost too scared to Inner Bond® about it because I know this touches me at the centre of my core. But I have to – I have to go right down into my gut and sit with this fear of loss, because only then will I be able to say to my inner child, “Yes, there is always a risk that we might lose something in life, including A, but I promise you that I will be able to handle it.” And only then will she be able to free herself from that fear, knowing that EVEN IF something does happen, I can handle it.
“Coupled with this fear is the knowledge that I have never let myself fully live and fully love because it means I will never have to face the pain of loss because I never allow myself to ‘have something’ in the first place. By that I mean if I don’t allow myself to be peaceful, serene, calm, joyful, happy, then I will never have to face losing it. If I never marry A and always keep a distance, then I will never face the fullness of losing him. That for me, only after doing this work have I realised, is very sad. It means I have never really fully lived because I have always kept myself back, experiencing only ‘half living’ so to speak.
“So here is the new work for me…a new stage that I will enter into…a continuation of the inner work that I’m doing as I enter into the final stages of wedding planning…”
Like so many others who find their way to my work, she had long-suffered from the intrusive thoughts that plague the anxious mind: I don’t want this. I don’t love him. I’m not attracted to him. I’m settling. Sitting at the center of intrusive thoughts is, quite simply, the fear of loss. If you could peel them away, you would cry, as I did tonight. And through the strength of the tears, you would find the courage to go on, to expose your heart and take the only risk worth taking: to love and be loved as fully and completely as if it were your last day on earth. To love without restraint. To love with joyous abandon. To set the fear-voices on a fence on the edge of the meadow of your mind and witness them while knowing that they are no longer running this show, allowing them to watch you as you run or dance or stumble into the arms of your loving partner.
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Fun and joy exist between two people when the energy is clear and flowing between them. Clear energy is the result of open, spiritually-connected hearts. Likewise, intimacy and passion in committed relationships are the result of clear, heart-centered energy. The words "I love you" mean nothing without the clear spiritual energy of the open heart.
By Dr. Margaret Paul