Monday, November 2, 2009

The Gift of Vulnerability

A former student of mine recently wrote to me about an abusive relationship she found herself in after graduation. She described the familiar cycle of isolation, emotional manipulation, and physical abuse that resulted in a loss of self. I remember this student as sassy, intelligent, outgoing, and funny. So it broke my heart to hear of the pain she endured.

It is a familiarly painful story that I hear from many women. The loss of self she describes echoes my own story of addiction, which served as a self-destructive “coping mechanism” for a period of my past. In my case, it was a way to silence the self-denigrating voice of judgment that had grown too powerful. In her case, the abusive partner’s version of reality distorted her own.

Though our experiences were different, this former student and I had some commonalities. We were both passionate about feminism, social justice, and women’s empowerment. We both had a solid network of friends. We both had voices of wisdom deep inside us warning us the situations we were in were dangerous for our well-being. And yet, the destructive situations snuck up on us and took their toll nevertheless.

However, those deeper seeds of wisdom and self-honoring eventually prevailed, helping us pull out of the situations and getting us back on our feet (with the help of loved ones, of course). She tells me that it was her feminism and what she learned in her Women’s Studies courses that gave her the strength to leave and rebuild her sense of self. For me, it was this same grounding combined with the self-honoring lessons of yoga.

In yoga, we recognize that those experiences that are the most painful for us are also often the ones that provide the deepest and most profound life lessons. As we are pulled into the darkest depths of the painful situations, we discover our inner strength, capacity, and insight. These experiences are not our “flaws” or “failures,” but rather the textures that allow for the deepest growth. When we emerge on the other side of it, we can reclaim our lives with a joy and peace that we could not have imagined. The legacy of our own pain can help us become more compassionate for ourselves and others.

For me, the combination of yoga and feminism provided the tools to foster a self-honoring voice of wisdom. My former student is still finding her own path and discovering the tools that will work for her. But for both of us, we discovered that life will, at times, take us under. When that happens, rather than sinking, we have the opportunity to delve into the rich vulnerabilities of our own hearts. The gifts we find may surprise us.