shield of vulnerability?

Octopuses, Deer flies, and Human beingness

I picked up the book, the one that had filled my heart with wonder at the intelligence and sentience of the other beings with whom we share this planet, and with whom we share aspects of a vast and ungraspable divine light….or bits of a higher intelligence… or remnant sparks of the big bang… whatever you will. Its words spoke to me of the hubris of our human condition, believing as we are that it is we who contain the one and only image.
I dove into the book, as I dove into the tent perhaps, for shelter, from the nagging voices that in the background buzz about, and the harsher ones that bellow about, making of me a hopeless and despairing lump of clay.
‘Let your vulnerability be your shield’, my friend had said. What does that even mean? So many nuances to that invitation. How to let down one’s defenses, the very ones we think are protecting us when in truth they may be keeping out the very thing we need – authentic human being, unknowing and imperfect and communal.
In a conversation with my daughter, later, we dove into the acceptance of one another’s ways – each so vastly different than the other’s- though we too come from the same body, the same elements swirling within our human frames. Letting down the guard of knowing what was right and true, we temporarily dropped the veil that keeps us from seeing simply, through eyes of love.
The author of the book speaks too of how her study of those creatures – so very different than we humans – and her growing intimacy with them, makes her want to get inside their skin, understand how it truly is to be who and how they are. She comes face to face with the reality, over and again, that we can never fully grasp the internal experience of another – human or other.
My daughter told the story of how Mr Rogers died questioning whether he was good enough. I wonder if that perhaps is the one thing all humans have in common, this striving to know that we are loved as we are. Somehow, I don’t expect that the other-than-human creatures in this phenomenal world are plagued with that broad smudge upon their lives.
Inside my tent, there is just a thin screen between me and the outer world. Is this a shield of vulnerability? Certainly it won’t protect me from the violent thunderstorms that can rise in a flash of lightning to roar across this landscape, but I can watch the treetops sway above me from this vantage point, feel the resilient strength of their dancing. I can awaken from my sleep to gaze upon the fullness of the moon, reflecting the light in her own way as she traces her graceful arc from head to foot across the hazy summer night sky. I can fill myself with wonder at their ways, which are not my own.
But this night, as I dove into my tent for escape from those nagging voices that swarmed and buzzed about my head, biting at me with their incessant jaws and drawing blood, I picked up that book and swatted at them one by one until their own blood adorned the cover of my book. I too can be a cold-blooded killer (hmmm, does an insect have cold blood? was the blood smeared upon my book my own that they had stolen from me? is that justification? does it matter?) The irony that I was using a book about the sentience of other beings as a weapon with which to kill was not lost on me even as I pummeled away.
On my drive to this beloved place, I had listened to the read-aloud short story, Stone Mattress, by Margaret Atwood. The main character also pummeled to death one who had so many years ago stolen her life’s blood in a vicious date rape of her 14 year old vulnerable self, altering the course of her life story’s trajectory forever. It was a ‘killing me softly with her song’ moment for me, hearing her words ‘singing my whole life’. I understand what it is like to be inside that particular human skin with not even a thin screen to protect you from the onslaught.
The nagging voices in my own head about my own smudge, which often feels more like being coated in sludge, rise up seasonally like this to haunt my sleep. Human shame is like that. Even when put upon us by another (which, let’s face it, is almost always the case at the beginning of the cycle) it is nearly impossible to fully cast off. The ways our hearts react to that initial smearing of our innate worth, add layer upon layer to that shame, like the layers of soil laid down within the heavy stone the story’s protagonist finally used to pummel the skull of her predator. Believing the lie of our unworthiness, of our soiled selves, of our un-lovability, we live as if we are, all the while desparately seeking someone to silence those internalized voices of disgrace.
Reading the pages of my own life story, I tear out the pages, seeking at last to destroy that which haunts me, only to retrieve them once again from the trash.
Eight deerfly murders later, I lie back to read again from my book. In it, the human beings in charge of the aquarium, despite their efforts to save the life of a captive octopus, inadvertently cause her demise. They are filled with deep remorse at their failure. Sometimes shame is like that too. Try as we might to do good, to love purely, to not pass along the wound, we fail. The conversation with my daughter is a case for that point.
Several hours later, I open the tent door a crack to stealth out for a pee. About one hundred and fifty seven mosquitos lie in wait. The ones who don’t hit my bare skin as I squat follow me back into the tent. The book comes back out again.
Perhaps it will just be like this from time to time, this seasonal cycle. However, the Octopus that the aquarium adopts after the unfortunate death, they name Karma. Not fate, karma is the choice to act differently, to learn, to grow in wisdom and compassion. Self compassion included.
Is self compassion, then, the shield of vulnerability my friend invites me to pull over myself? Wear that as a mantle in place of the cloak of shame. Like the screen of my tent, a thin enough membrane to allow me to breathe deeply and reverentially of the beauty of those who surround me, a thin enough shield to allow love to more fully enter, to flow both in and out, without needing to be rigid, or right, or true, or the one and only, or sinner, or savior, or saint, or merely good enough, but human in all of its vulnerable and unknowable incarnate wonder. 

Like the arching structure of my tent, perhaps overarching veil of self-compassion is much stronger than it seems, strong enough to withstand these occasional storms.

Deer Fly.jpg

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