The other day, I was passing through one of those quaint East Village gardens on a sunny afternoon and paused at a small patch of wildflowers that seemed especially happy about the warm weather. These flowers were about 10 inches tall, bright yellow, and literally quivering with life energy, or so it seemed.
I was struck by their audacity! So small and vulnerable were these flowers, and yet so boldly splayed open, giving of their beauty. A dark thought entered my mind: “I could so easily stomp on these flowers and end their life,” which made their bounty and beauty all that more admirable! They seemed not to care of their fate; unconcerned with me and my evil scheme, unprotected and open, they gave of themselves abundantly and without reservation, in full bloom, even in the face of annihilation. They weren’t just vulnerable; they were powerful.
In that moment, it occurred to me that we humans ought to take a lesson from these insignificant, beautiful and fearless flowers.
Most grown-ups I know and work with in my clinical practice struggle enormously with fears of either being “too much” or being “too vulnerable.” So many of us, sadly, grow up to squelch our own powerful life force and instead become self-protective. We think we’re keeping ourselves “safe” by building up ways to avoid vulnerability or tamp down our natural abundance and beauty, but we’re actually imprisoning ourselves in a fortress of our own making. We follow rules and do as we’re taught.
But, just as a blade of grass or a dandelion will bust through a crack in the pavement to grow towards the light, so too does our life energy eventually bust through our defenses. That’s when most people come into therapy: when defenses stop working in the same, effective way to keep us from the knowledge that there is far more to us than meets the eye. We think the energy of life and the momentum of change is a problem, but we fail to realize that it’s the way we’ve tried to stop the flow of life that is actually causing our symptoms.
Life is unstoppable. We fool ourselves into believing the illusion of our strategies in exchange for a feeling of safety. In the meantime, we limit our abundant expression of beauty or creativity because we fear vulnerability, forgetting that we’re already vulnerable, whether we acknowledge it or not.
Put another way, ignoring the elephant in the room does not mean the elephant doesn’t exist.
We are vulnerable beings that have the potential to bloom and grow into our most beautiful selves, just like those little yellow wildflowers, if only we could learn to tolerate the intensity of our own life energy coursing through us. Take a minute to really spend time with another life form, a flower, a plant, and notice how alive it is. Notice how the branch of a tree extends into space, or how the leaves on that branch quiver with energy. A dead tree or flower withers and wilts.
It is life energy that enlivens the natural world and enlivens us humans, as we are a part of the natural world, too. Being alive and being aware of the power of our life force is definitely intense. But keeping ourselves in the dark is perhaps worse.
As Marianne Williamson wrote, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”
If you knew that a giant was going to come along in the next hour and stomp on you, extinguishing your life, would you curl up and hide? Or would you extend yourself, put your neck on the line, to offer your life and beauty in your final minutes? Either way, life as you know it is going to end. Why not choose to offer beauty and abundance while you can, rather than hide and cover over?
Letting ourselves be authentically seen and known is such a big part of human development throughout the lifespan. I think we spend the first half of our lives learning to cover over all the parts of ourselves we think are unacceptable or undesirable, and if we’re lucky, we spend the 2nd half of our lives learning to remove the armor so we can shine bright in all our glory.
Power is not about squelching life or controlling that which cannot be controlled. Real power comes from owning our vulnerability and living fully anyway.
I invite you to think about your own life and the ways you pave over the fertile ground that holds the seed of your potential. I invite you to give yourself permission to experience just a bit more today the intense feeling that comes when we open ourselves to the truth of our existence, our power and our vulnerability. I invite you to challenge your need to stay “safe” by playing small and question whether you’re really safe, or if you’re simply comforting yourself with the illusion of safety? I invite you to believe in your own beauty and abundance and like those little yellow wildflowers, to offer it to the world, vulnerability be damned.