Tolerating Vulnerability & Visibility

image credit: Alex France

Sometimes, I get really mad at personal development and heightened self-awareness. I think as a deep practitioner, you aren’t really supposed to say that, but I sometimes do.  Mostly because it feels so excruciating to really see myself. Often, it feels even more excruciating to allow myself to be seen by others. I’m not talking about the shiny, friendly, pretty parts. No, let’s shout about those and celebrate them from the rooftops. I can notice that I am uncomfortable with that kind of visibility, as well. It feels more manageable, though.

Alas, I’m not all shiny. Or friendly. Or pretty. I have some fairly quiet parts. And some mediocre parts. And some ridiculous parts. Dramatic ones, too. Some not-so-pretty ones. And some contracted parts. And some fearful ones that influence me to behave poorly or act small.

What do I do with those?

How do I celebrate them?

I don’t know.

I don’t know if they are to be celebrated, per se. It’s not the kind of thing that you throw a party for, for example. I am sure, however, that slapping them around is not particularly useful. And for that matter, neither is ignoring them, nor denying their existence.

What is it like to just let them be?

What would would it be like to let them take up the space that is theirs, neither giving them more room than they need nor shutting them out completely?

Well, it’s uncomfortable.

I can speak from my experience here. It’s the kind of discomfort that has you shift your weight from one side to another. It’s the kind of discomfort that takes your breath away, not like a sweeping vista can. No, it’s more like  the air is barely moving so that you can take up less space and be less noticeable. It’s the kind of discomfort that shifts your gaze from intense staring to a determined looking away. It’s the kind of discomfort that leaves you feeling exposed.

Over time and with Practice, I can say that the discomfort lessens, little by little.

(I’m talking millimeters here, people.)

Who knew two v-words, visibility and vulnerability, could be so much trouble?

Brené Brown did a TED talk on the power of vulnerability. I watch it every 3-4 months, for a tune-up, usually when I am feeling vulnerable, or rather, feeling resistant to feeling vulnerable. I watch it to remind me that it’s okay to let my guard down, that allowing myself to tolerate more and more visibility and vulnerability allows others to do the same. And then, from there, authentic connection has a chance.

Authentic connection is not for the faint of heart. Practicing being vulnerable and visible is not especially convenient. I think I’ve conveyed that it doesn’t feel very comfortable, most of the time. I ask myself, often, “Why do it, then?!” Why put myself through the process, the Practice, the discomfort?

I do it because it is real. Committing to a practice of being more vulnerable and visible reminds me of my humanity and all its associated frailties and strengths. I do it because it increases my capacity for empathy and compassion, and therefore, kindness—towards others and myself. I do it because it’s the kind of connection that feeds and nourishes me. It’s the kind that feels worth it. It is a long road, and I fall down many, many times. I get up again, thank goodness, always one more time than I fell.






  1. Thank you for this reflection Muki. I’ve been contemplating the practice of moving in and out of fear; and no matter, how many times and how much I practice, there is still a need to master openness and equanimity. Vulnerability can be terrifying, especially when considering what we’re supposed to do on the cushion versus off the cushion!

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