The Art of Vulnerability

I know it’s a false dichotomy, but there are times I find the whole art-science framework a decent shorthand.  You know… the idea that you can learn the science of a task, but that there is a point of mastery goes beyond knowing and following a process into a freer realm of expression.

For instance, some of the skaters in the most recent Olympics demonstrated great technical prowess. But then there were the skaters whose performances were technically solid, but somehow transcended the mechanics of blades on ice. Those “artistic merit” points aren’t just about choosing good music and designing a costume. There is an art to engaging the judges and the audience that requires combining a choreographed plan with nuanced response and improvisation in the moment.

Part of the work we do in CPE is about interpersonal dynamics – interacting with classmates, looking for patterns of interactions in the encounters they describe with patients and families, being willing to call each other out on the gaps and growth areas we notice. It’s been interesting to watch (even as I participate) each person navigate this process.

I remember hearing a man diagnosed on the autism spectrum describe learning how to interact appropriately with people, even practicing particular facial expressions and keeping a notebook about what worked and what didn’t.  Sometimes our group’s conversations feel like a similar exercise in identifying the things that keep us from connecting well with others in the group or among the families among whom we minister.

There are some clear technical dos and don’ts that help with connecting well with others – like being aware of body language, facial expressions, laughter and language that deflects. And there are definitely tips for questions and responses that help one listen more deeply. But there also seems to be an art to opening up and becoming vulnerable.

There is a trust that transcends quid pro quo conversations and an ease with oneself that goes beyond self-awareness toward deep acceptance of one’s own messiness.  Conversations become beautiful, direct expressions of humanness and empathy.

As a person of faith, I experience those moments in light of grace. More specifically in receiving grace – accepting that I am loved not because I deserve it but because I simply am a treasured creation of the God of Love. I need not brag about my sin, but I need not be ashamed. I am who I am- scars, wounds, pain, ugliness, hope, joy and beauty all mingled inside this odd bag of skin and bones. I can be open, free, and vulnerable.

On those days when I start placing my identity in my talents or skills, in my job title or responsibilities, my progress toward goals, my apearance or in my exhausting to-do lists, those days I forget those things have no currency in God’s economy, I become guarded.  I begin to listen so that I can one-up, press my agenda or prove that I am right. I erect walls that make it impossible for others to see me.

Getting beyond the basics – on the ice, on canvas, and in relationships – takes time.  And practice.  But oh, how beautiful and powerful vulnerability can be.

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