Vulnerability as a Spiritual Discipline

By Nkechi Deanna Njaka, Msc.

PHOTO: DANIEL N. JOHNSON

PHOTO: DANIEL N. JOHNSON

My work with vulnerability is a spiritual practice.

To write this piece, I had to keep asking myself the question: when do I feel the most vulnerable? Then: why do I feel the most vulnerable when I talk about my desires, when I talk about loss, when I talk about  my intimate relationships? I can tell a good story, sure. But when you ask me how I feel about the story, I get nausea, my chest tightens, my stomach hurts, and I want to run away—and far.

OWNING OUR STORY CAN BE HARD BUT NOT NEARLY AS DIFFICULT AS SPENDING OUR LIVES RUNNING FROM IT. EMBRACING OUR VULNERABILITIES IS RISKY BUT NOT NEARLY AS DANGEROUS AS GIVING UP ON LOVE AND BELONGING AND JOY—THE EXPERIENCES THAT MAKE US THE MOST VULNERABLE. ONLY WHEN WE ARE BRAVE ENOUGH TO EXPLORE THE DARKNESS WILL WE DISCOVER THE INFINITE POWER OF OUR LIGHT.
—Brené Brown

It would then appear that it is totally normal and human to feel the most vulnerable in my pursuits of something I desire, love or from which I receive joy. When I reflect a bit more, I discover that this is because I don’t always feel worthy. Often, I fear that if I am worthy, and I achieve or receive love, then it will most certainly be taken away from me. It's almost as though I feel the most vulnerable wanting, desiring, praying, wishing, hoping, having faith and believing. 

"DESIRE DISAPPEARS AS YOU BECOME MORE AND MORE AWARE. WHEN AWARENESS IS ONE HUNDRED PERCENT, THERE IS NO DESIRE AT ALL."
—Osho

This is the spiritual work.

LOVE
Just like anyone else, I want love. A deep, thick, encompassing love. It’s what I ache and long for. Urgh—just typing that feels naked. I also want to be loved in this same fashion. Any time I get close, I have the desire to flee or disappear. My entire being screams, “Am I worthy? Can I receive this? Is this too much?”

I've experienced a couple romantic losses of love last year. And to my surprise, when I look back on these situations, the hurt didn’t come from the rejection or feeling alone. It was almost as though the loss made it that much more clear of what I was after; what I was longing for. It was the expression of my desire that made me feel totally naked and totally exposed. My desire became the thing I wanted to hide from the most.

So, I did a little hiding—in the sense that I went inward. I made space to love myself, my time and my freedom. I didn’t obsess over it; I did a ton of self love instead. I got my favorite treatments (massage, flotation meditation, acupuncture). I made extra time to practice yoga, meditate, journal and making food. I also took one other important step: I cleared my space. I moved things around in my apartment and got rid of things taking up space. This is a ritual I do in order to make space for love by physically keeping my living space open. 

"IF YOU LOVE YOURSELF, YOU LOVE OTHERS.  IN RELATIONSHIP WITH OTHERS, IT IS ONLY YOU MIRRORED." 
—Osho

Again, this is the spiritual work.

BELONGING
All I really want and all I ever really wanted is to feel seen, to be heard and to be known. Maybe it stems from family of origin or having siblings (in my case two sisters and being placed in the middle). Today, I feel this vulnerability in my friend groups or in professional settings. That thing called #fomo? That is our sense of belonging talking loudly.

Osho says something very wonderful about this. 

"BE LIKE AN ALONE PEAK HIGH IN THE SKY. WHY SHOULD YOU HANKER TO BELONG? YOU ARE NOT A THING! THINGS BELONG!" 
—OSHO

Knowing this doesn’t stop the feelings of wanting to belong. I am being totally, completely, radically honest, when I say that I struggle with belonging every day. I can’t stand when people are upset with me. I get jealous of things I want to be included in. I sometimes even make myself wrong for not being an extrovert. As I write this, I have to remind myself that all of this is human. There is a shift that can be made from belonging to connection. That awareness is the work. It has been my work.

JOY+ADMIRATION
Not too long ago, I went to my most favorite place on the Central Coast—it happens to be my favorite place in the world. I had it planned to be there with my best friend who traveled across the country to be there. I also invited a man who I admire to share the experience with us.

As it turns out, the person I adore was unable to join us and ended up going the following day, and so we missed each other completely. It wasn't that I was regretful that I didn't have experience with him. Instead, I was more ashamed by my desire to want to share the experience with him, longing and aching for intimacy, connection, and a shared experience. 

This realization gave me pause when I returned from my adventure. It actually doesn't make any sense. Why do I have any shame or any negative feeling at all about the desire to spend the time with someone who I admire, someone who I think is total magic, someone who is such a dream and a person who adds value to my life?

LOVE IS NOT SOMETHING WE GIVE OR GET; IT IS SOMETHING THAT WE NURTURE AND GROW, A CONNECTION THAT CAN ONLY BE CULTIVATED BETWEEN TWO PEOPLE WHEN IT EXISTS WITHIN EACH ONE OF THEM—WE CAN ONLY LOVE OTHERS AS MUCH AS WE LOVE OURSELVES.
—Brené Brown

I am totally aware that I am completely deserving of love, connection and joy. It makes total sense that I would want to spend time with a magical human in a magical place. Does that make me needy (even though I felt needy)?  No. It makes me human. And yet I felt so fucking vulnerable.

WE CULTIVATE LOVE WHEN WE ALLOW OUR MOST VULNERABLE AND POWERFUL SELVES TO BE DEEPLY SEEN AND KNOWN, AND WHEN WE HONOR THE SPIRITUAL CONNECTION THAT GROWS FROM THAT OFFERING WITH TRUST, RESPECT, KINDNESS AND AFFECTION.
—Brené Brown

I believe that love is a form of creative expression and that everything I love requires me to be vulnerable. It is a practice, and I am constantly am working in this, through this. 

That is the spiritual work. 


Nkechi Njaka is the founder of NDN Integrated Lifestyle Studio where she curates lifestyle and wellness content for brands and individuals. She attended Scripps College in Claremont, CA where she majored in neuroscience and dance and went on to complete an MSc in Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh. When not involved in NDN projects, you can find Nkechi teaching Mindful Movement or Mindful Style classes + workshops, taking a yoga or modern dance class or choreographing independent work. She creates, curates, coaches and collaborates in San Francisco, California.