Daring Greatly, a book by Brene Brown, invites us to embrace human vulnerability as "the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity." (p. 34).
For her, vulnerability is not weakness, it's the human condition. Uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure are inescapable. We do, however, have choice about how we respond to vulnerability. We can engage authentically and wholeheartedly with life – or not. We can show up or shut down; we can hide or be seen; we can invest – hearts all in – or we can protect and defend.
Midway through Daring Greatly, I was struck by this conclusion from Brene's research: "Joy is probably the most difficult emotion to really feel." (pp. 117-8). We mistrust joy. Anticipating its passing, awaiting the other shoe to drop, protecting ourselves from letdown, doubting our worthiness of such blessing – we numb our joy and resist our vulnerability to it.
According to Brene, strategies for minimizing vulnerability to joy range along a continuum from rehearsing tragedy to perpetual disappointment. "Some of us … scramble to the bleakest, worst-case scenario when joy rears its vulnerable head, while others never even see joy, preferring to stay in an unmoving state of perpetual disappointment … It's easier to live disappointed than it is to feel disappointed. It feels more vulnerable to dip in and out of disappointment than to just set up camp there. You sacrifice joy, but you suffer less pain." (p. 121). Thus, we choose a steady diet of low-grade disappointment over the ups and downs of engaged, wholehearted living.
Softening to joy – breathing through the vulnerability we feel in its presence, gently stretching our capacity for its fullness – is a spiritual path to wholeheartedness. Brene recommends such "leaning into joy" and the regular practice of gratitude as antidotes to old habits of "foreboding joy." (p. 123)
Gratitude's the attitude. How good can we stand it?