Vulnerability Is Just A Place To Be In
I took a day off from vulnerability.
I’m usually found in a space of vulnerability. I like it that way. Vulnerability is authentic. It is free of the narcissism of oppression olympics and the manipulation of emotional blackmail. Vulnerability is a rigorous quest into who you are, under the defenses & projections. I feel most creative, most inspired when I’m vulnerable. I don’t mean as an artist only; this was true even during the time I inhabited a world of spreadsheets. As I get older, traumas stack up. I have learnt that the world is cruel to the vulnerable. But I have also learnt that living vulnerably is the easier way in the long run. All dues come calling eventually and lies, escapes, shallowness crush a person worse than debt.
Like we clean our bodies & our spaces daily, staying vulnerable requires us to clean our emotions daily. Process what is hurting and heal it. Identify projected emotions and let them go. Seek out things we are clinging to because they lie in our comfort zone. Clean away nostalgia before it becomes a past trap. Refresh old habits, always asking if they serve value or have just become empty ritual (don’t we do this with our toothbrushes periodically?). Staying vulnerable is constant effort, one that we owe ourselves.
Thus vulnerability is hard work and exhausting. It jostles so much with shame which is a lifelong battle of purging. Even if I’m a gardener carrying a peace flower, I’m traversing a warzone of unprocessed feelings. If I won’t bear arms, I need to stop and replenish periodically. That’s what I did on the day. It started with a morning of acidity so bad I couldn’t sleep. And acidity is my surest spiral into old traumas. I could not stop the train of memories from 2020 & 2021. All the terror I had suppressed because I had to be strong for other people, all their lashing out that embedded in me, everything burst up. It’s like being a green living person in a world of smokers, addicts, litterers and polluters. People will not process their traumas, face their emotions, embrace their fears and that means they spew it out onto whoever has to take it. It’s a crime against life and true to their self-hate, a suicide pact for humanity. How can vulnerability survive in a martial world that sees it as threat?
Staying vulnerable is not a passive state of lying wounded & broken. It is a conscious act with a zillion daily tasks of cleaning, healing, celebration & upkeep. All for your self. It really is the truest form of self-care. I took a day off from the sociable, pretty welcome end of my vulnerability where I express interest in other people, invite in confidences, show nurturing & appreciation. And I spent the day in the mess within, degrouting my residual pains and my sore stomach. Letting myself not smile or be cheerful. Luckily for me, nobody called or texted but if they had, I’d have let them go unanswered at that moment. I was better the next day; I even slept well that night.
I remember Rudyard Kipling talking about being abused by a childhood nanny. “That experience” he said, “drained me of any capacity for real, personal hate for the rest of my days”. This essay however, also highlights that his hatred filtered through in the form of over-exaggeration of the negative in other things. What grows in a warzone that has not been tended to, long after the bloodshed is over? Only rot and ruin.
Paromita Vohra talks about an early experience of getting trolled. Her interviews are laced with sharp witticisms and controversial opinions as much as gentle acceptance of human nature and mischievous, almost childlike mirth. It seems as though deep wounds dwell next to cherished memories and old pain jostles with exciting new ideas refusing to be curbed. This kind of imperfect nuance is not to be found in those who haven’t dwelt in the world of vulnerability for a very long time. Fortresses are lockdowns for the heart. They may keep out the deadly; they also keep out life.
Vulnerable people make the other person vulnerable too. We become magnetic force fields drawing other people in, in ways they can’t realise or fathom. Many people I’ve known do not like vulnerability (or perhaps, quite fairly, they don’t like to be pulled into it without notice). Being vulnerable is as a magic spell that draws everyone into its space, strips away their illusions and entices them into dancing naked with their shame-free selves. But the force field is tenuous & fragile. Vulnerability after all, is but an invitation and it takes reciprocation to keep it fertile and powerful. If the other person is not willing or able to do be vulnerable too, the spell breaks and leaves the center sitting with unprocessed garbage.
It seems that staying vulnerable necessarily involves clearing away things that don’t belong to us like other people’s projections. There’s no question of fairness in this. Some people are not as clean about their emotional wellbeing and their messes spill over into anyone encountering them. Vulnerability is scary to many people and their most common defense is to hurt others before they get hurt. We all decimate ourselves with posturing. Underneath the bluster is always a much tinier person than there could have been because that person’s whole identity is fear.
A commitment to vulnerability doesn’t mean letting abuse or exploitation continue. It does mean taking responsibility to clear away the damage these cause us. This may lead us to the wisdom of boundaries. Boundaries are not defense mechanisms, keeping people who may hurt us away. They’re ways to keep from being damaged by others, while staying vulnerable.
My day off from vulnerability brought me those insights. And yesterday, I took a day off from sharing that vulnerability with the world. I spent the day keeping the world’s chatter at bay. In today’s times, that means locking off my website, turning my socials private and setting my phone on silent. It doesn’t mean stepping away from these realities of my life. I don’t do escapes. It was a relief. I am not overwhelmed by my life. I’m excessively cluttered by the intrusions, the many consent violations of other people, enabled by social media and fully powered by Indian patriarchy & society. I do not have the means to completely cut these away but even setting it all at a metaphorical distance where the ravening of beasts is down to a dull roar…is good.
Vulnerability is just a place you visit some times. Maybe like me, you like to build a nest there. But even home birds can take vacations some time.