Vulnerability. It’s everything about the way I practice, teach, and live Yoga. Brene Brown, author, shame researcher, and one of my biggest inspirations in life, defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Her work informs nearly every aspect of the way I live my life, both on and off the mat. Freedom Yoga is a highly creative inwardly guided practice based on deep inner listening, courage, and self-trust. We listen for and become sensitive to feeling divine guidance, life direction, insights, revelations and then dare to actually do what we’re guided to do, on the mat, which eventually translates into our daily lives. Being creative – that is, allowing Creation to flow through me in all that I do – is everything for me.
Turns out that according to Brene’s research, vulnerability is the very birthplace of creativity. Not more study, more asana, more rules, but the ability “Let go and let God,” as it were. If I want to be changed, to grow, to feel my inseparable unity with Spirit, and truly live a guided from within life, flowing along on the river of Divine Creativity, then I’ve got to be willing to embrace uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. In short, I’ve got to let myself be seen.
That’s scary as hell. This means that I have to be willing to let go of my white-knuckle death grip of control and let the never-before-seen newness in. It means that I must be brave enough to let go of comparison and what other people think so that I can speak my truth, speak my worth, and tell my story with a wide open heart. When I’m in the teaching role, it means I must courageously stand in the exposing spotlight of sharing my teaching insights that feel out there on leading edge for me, even if I know others might not agree with them. If I want creativity to flow through me and not just regurgitate the past (as Krishnamurti said), then I can’t just watch others inspire me from the bravery of their vulnerability, and continue to sit on the back row of complacency, hoping to blend in and not be seen.
Interestingly, and much to my surprise, one of the places I have been able to cultivate vulnerability and letting myself be seen has been my church. For several years now, I’ve been a member of an incredible African-American church. I love everything about it. Spirit flows through everything about our church, from the way we sing without sheet music, to the freedom to dance and clap (refreshingly, never on the one), to the way people are guided to stand up and share their experiences, to the exuberant and heartfelt emotional praise that occurs every Sunday.
Most every single church experience of my past included zero vulnerability. There was an order of service from which there was never any deviation and the choir practiced to excruciating detail such there would be no mistakes. All of the possibilities for vulnerability were starched and pressed right out of there. Now, my church experience is a fluid sea of spiritual creativity, where what exactly will happen is always uncertain, but is always moving and deeply profound and exactly what everyone needed. Sunday after Sunday, the healing vulnerability continues to wash through the desert of my soul and nourish me beyond belief.
Though the church was the most welcoming church I had ever experienced, it took me a very long time to finally join the church. The level of vulnerability, being seen, and simply not ever blending in was very intense for me. For so long, I felt like an outsider, being the only white person there. I was so afraid I’d do something wrong or be disrespectful in an unknown way, that I held back quite a lot. Finally, I got brave enough to join the choir and sing the type of music that truly feeds me, spiritually. Of course, my spot is smack in the center of the choir stand. Since everything is so Spirit led here, often we will sing different songs than we rehearsed or sing them in different ways than we rehearsed. This was terrifying for me! What if people saw me –of course they can see me – up there not knowing the words, looking like a total idiot?
Finally, I started to feel less and less self-conscious up there, more me. If I don’t know the song, it’s fine and I jump in when I can. I’ve really learned how to relax in the not knowing and in the uncertainty. After some time, I began to wonder, “Oh wow, wouldn’t it be something to lead those songs,” I thought. “To be able to be in a place where I could let go and improvise and riff like the song leaders do…wow…that would be amazing.”
Well, two weeks ago, the music director asked me if I’d be willing to lead a song called “Lord, I Know I’ve Been Changed.” We were doing some old spirituals for black history month. Apparently everyone knows this song and has grown up with it…except me, of course. I told her I’d give it a try, without too much thought over what that entailed. When you lead a song, you go up to the micropohone – yes, the mic – all by yourself, to sing parts of the song, all by yourself. At rehearsal, I was sweating bullets, but managed to quasi-sing my verses. Then…we got to the holding pattern of the choir, over which the leader is expected to riff extemporaneously. Eek!!! I couldn’t think of anything to sing, to say, to do except to feel the need to crawl into a hole and disappear. “I’m so sorry, I can’t do it,” I said. “You’re going to have to find someone else for Sunday, I just can’t do it. I’m going to lose sleep and be a nervous wreck.”
I felt relief. Driving home, I was thinking, “It’s good to know when to say no. Whew. Yeah, someone else will do it and I can just stay safe and blend in.” Vulnerability problem averted!
Two days later my pastor texted me an image with the word “Godfidence” and said “Let God use you on Sunday.” Oh man, I thought I was through with that. I thought about it, pondered, and decided I would give it a go on Sunday.
Sunday came and, of course I didn’t know it in advance, but my song was first. So, I stepped up to the mic with no idea whatsoever about what was going to happen. “Let God use you, “ said the text said. So, as the music was playing, I basically talked to the congregation and told them what I’m writing here in this blog about vulnerability. I talked about how scared I was and how hard it is for me to be seen. Then I closed my eyes, really let go, and launched into those lovely, slow and slidey old-school spiritual tones and words:
“Lord, I know I’ve been changed. The angels in Heaven done signed my name. If you don’t believe that I’ve been redeemed, follow me down to that old Jordan Stream. Stepped in the water and the water was so cold. It chilled my body but not my soul.”
I could feel myself being changed with every note. Something took over me and I don’t even remember what happened, really. The riffing part came and I riffed! Lord have mercy, talk about being seen!! But, somehow, I did it. It felt amazing. It felt like a baptism, like something monumental had occurred. I really do feel massively changed.
And I can’t wait to do it again. But not anytime too soon.