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COMPASS ROSE: THE UU SAN MATEO BLOG

The Path of VULNERABILITY

Updated: Mar 1, 2023

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, and creativity.

It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.”

—Brené Brown


During our February 26th worship service, Rev. Penny Nixon said, “Next month you’re going to be talking about vulnerability. That should be fun.” Nervous laughter rippled through the congregation, perhaps because the Path of Vulnerability, our congregational theme for the month of March, is likely to be challenging.


“This month is a tricky one for us UUs,” say the folks at Soul Matters. “We are, after all, the religion of human potential, goodness and power! … There is something deeply inspiring about viewing ourselves so capable and strong. But…[i]n pursuit of being our most powerful selves, we often fear leaning into vulnerability. It becomes a problem, the thing we need to protect ourselves from.”


We fear sharing our vulnerabilities with each other because we think no one will understand. When we become honest about the pain and fears we hide, we can see that others are doing the same thing, and many of us share the same hopes and anxieties. That allows us to recognize the importance of kindness and compassion, toward ourselves as well as others.


Recognizing hope and anxiety are two different ways of expressing vulnerability, New York City’s Rubin Museum of Art undertook a project a few years ago that asked visitors to write one thing they were anxious about and another thing they were hopeful about, the goal being connection and realizing we are not alone. Option A in this month’s Soul Matters Ministry Packet provides a link to an article that includes (in the article’s second half) the museum guests’ comments. Soul Matters suggests we use the list to identify four or five hopes we resonate with, and an equal number of things we feel anxious about; it’s okay to change some wording and perhaps add some of our own hopes and anxieties. (A word of warning: I resonated with so many of the museum guests’ comments that it was quite challenging to narrow down my choices.)


If you decide to engage in this Spiritual Exercise, your results may or may not be similar to mine, but they will undoubtedly be interesting. Here are some of the hopes and anxieties that resonated with me the most:

  • I’m hopeful because:

    • people are waking up and becoming more kind and loving, and kindness is contagious.

    • more people than ever before are engaged in the political process as well as our striving for justice and equality for all – particularly young people.

    • there is good in this world, and sometimes life is really beautiful.

    • the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice.

    • the sun rises every morning, and the days are getting longer (and warmer).

  • I’m anxious because:

    • too many people don’t listen to others, especially if they disagree.

    • there are so many things I cannot predict or control about the state of our country and our planet.

    • I am getting older, I will die, and I’m afraid of dying alone.

    • COVID and the flu are still going around; I’m afraid of catching it and getting very sick (and possibly dying from it).

    • I’m not good enough; I’m not worthy of love.

    • (I think too much!)

Once you complete this exercise, here are some questions you might want to ask yourself:

  • How does your list make you feel?

  • Are the places you’re feeling vulnerable based on your present experience, or things that happened in your past?

  • Are you keeping your hopes and anxieties secret from others?

  • Which hopes and anxieties do you want to share with someone you trust? How can you make that happen?

Another Soul Matters activity I intend to engage in this month is watching at least two (or perhaps all six) of the suggested “vulnerability movies,” the links to which are listed in the “Movies and TV” section on the last page of the Ministry Packet. Each movie explores vulnerability from a different perspective, such as vulnerability in relationships, parents and children being vulnerable with each other, and the vulnerability of dementia.


Researcher and storyteller Brené Brown spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. “Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky,” she writes, “but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy … the experiences that make us the most vulnerable.” In a truly wonderful TED Talk, Brené digs deeply into the subject of Vulnerability. Viewing this 20-minute video is worth your time, but here is a quick summary of what I learned from watching it.


Connection is what human beings are here for, says Brown. Shame happens when we fear losing connection because we think we’re not worthy (“I’m not good enough”). In her research, Brown found that people who define themselves as “worthy” have a strong sense of love and belonging because they:

  • have the courage to be imperfect;

  • are compassionate, first towards themselves and then towards others;

  • experience connection as a result of being authentic (being who you really are); and

  • fully embrace vulnerability as something that’s fundamental, something that makes them beautiful.

Living in this vulnerable world, we often numb ourselves to avoid pain, but since we cannot selectively numb, we also become numb to joy, love, happiness, and gratitude. All of that makes us feel miserable, so we compensate with addictions (e.g., eating too much, drugs and alcohol, etc.). As a society, we try to compensate by seeking certainty in the uncertain areas of life, such as politics and religion, instead of engaging vulnerably in dialogue, discussion, and compromise. Brown's suggested antidotes include:

  • becoming more vulnerable / letting ourselves be seen

  • loving wholeheartedly, even though there are no guarantees

  • practicing gratitude and joy

  • believing we are enough.

I want to engage in practices that will make me feel more vulnerable because I recognize I have built up walls to protect myself from getting hurt. Increasing my ability and willingness to be vulnerable will begin to tear down those walls and let me live more wholeheartedly – feeling loved, connected, worthy; knowing others deeply, and being known by them. The work may be challenging, but it is definitely rewarding.


So now, let’s grab a cup of tea together, allow ourselves to become vulnerable with one another, and share what’s really important to each of us. I can't think of a more loving way to get to know who you are and share who I am.



Seeking more inspiration and wisdom along The Path of VULNERABILITY?

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