“Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.”
― Brené Brown
Sometimes performing is easy, relaxed, fulfilling and natural. Sometimes it is exhausting, impossible and forced. The question for me in either instance is if I am allowing myself to be vulnerable, and if I am remembering gratitude. I have learned from years of “performing” that if I can, for the most part, the essence of what I foster creatively will come through and move people. That does not mean that I will cease to be silly or cease to be uncomfortable. What it means is that if I do not open the more tender parts of myself, something will stagnate and not translate to the audience. You can call that ‘Something’ whatever you want (i.e. Spirit, the void, creative mojo, God, Allah, Yahweh, the uni-VERSE, etc. etc.). Whatever you choose to call it, a porous-ness is required for that breath to enter and then be expelled.
This is not just true in performing. In the last few years Jemal Wade and I have both been through challenging and painful work; I went through brain surgery and had to re-learn most of my language skills (and could not see for a while), his brother died suddenly, my father passed away, I broke my collar bone in a mountain biking accident, etc. With these there have been emotional struggles and trauma that touch upon a delicate place that demands a choice: shame or vulnerability. I am the kind of person who is hardheaded and proud (much to my own chagrin) and I have chosen a path of paradox by working with creative mediums that force me to be confused and tender in order for something beautiful to be born. These personal life struggles hit the same nerves. In our bedroom we have a poster from the Bread and Puppet Theater that has the following statement written on the bottom of it:
THAT SIMPLE LIGHT MAY RISE FROM COMPLICATED DARKNESS
We are all at least a little bit messy, are we not? We are all at least slightly complicated and full of polarities. We are all either judging others or ourselves or both. What I have experienced with performing and with the work of life’s painful places is that if I choose vulnerability over shame, anger, and any of the other knee-jerk emotional responses, then that very thing occurs; simple light rises from my own complicated darkness. Vulnerability is an acknowledgement of imperfection and ultimately it is true bravery. Bravery that exists without vulnerability is not bravery. With each of the challenges I have been given I had the option to shut down. Sometimes I did. If I did, I realized very rapidly that I had not just shut down the ugly parts…I had also shut down the tender beauty.
I am choosing to share this personal ramble because I have known many people who have experienced their own versions of this. Also, I have been able to come back to a place of vulnerability in large part because I have been surrounded with absolutely amazing friends, fans, and family. With every struggle I have known, arms, ears, and hearts have opened to me fully and gracefully and have allowed me to return to openness. Like E.E. Cummings so wonderfully (and, yes, seductively) said:
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skillfully, mysteriously)her first rose
Gratitude and vulnerability are paired for me for this reason. We are wealthy little atoms in an ever-expanding universe. We are tiny, delicate, breakable, and full.
Doing this fundraising campaign for the albums we are working on demands grateful vulnerability. Why? Because we are putting forward work that we are proud of and that we can’t release without monetary contributions. Doing a campaign is like saying publically, “Does my work have any worth? Do I have any worth? If so, please show me by giving me your money”. Crazy, no? …Absolutely. Necessary?…..Absolutely. That is why each day we have the choice of shame for asking or vulnerability and gratitude for all that we already have in our lives and all that we have been given. We are beginning and ending our days through the campaign with invocations and voicing our gratitude; even listing the things we have to be grateful for. This is completely awesome. I am trying to remind myself anytime I am cranky to list five things I am grateful for that are occurring in that moment. It can be a quick list. So right now, I want to take a moment to list 5 things…. are you ready? Here goes…
1. I am grateful for this cup of tea that I can enjoy on my back-porch with the first traces of fall entering my lungs.
2. I am grateful for Kaleb (my baby) laughing in the background.
3. I am grateful for the sunlight.
4. I am grateful to BE.
5. I am grateful to the person who has read my words, my struggle, my pride, and who may have their own to share.
Also, here is a wonderful TED talk about vulnerability by Brene Brown: