It was during a quick stop at the grocery store on our way home from work that I ran into him - a friend from the seminary and an alumnus of our counselling program. We hadn't connected in a while so it was nice to catch up and it wasn't long before our conversation drifted toward the nature of his work. He shared with me something that has since stuck; that during one of his finer therapy moments he suggested to his client that it might be time to "make friends with vulnerability". I got the sense that - for a therapist - such an astute obersvation is akin to my pulling off a brilliant takedown, executed with Yipian finesse where time stops and the legends of history appear in ghostly visage to congratulate you. That is, until normal time resumes and you're left standing in the afterglow.
That day I arm-barred the brown belt in class.
Make friends with vulnerability.
There's cognitive dissonance with such a statement for a guy like me. The whole notion is an anathema to martial artists who spend our lives training away vulnerability in the hopes that we might - someday - never use our skills. That said, one doesn't have to be a martial artist to appreciate the deep, unsettling reality of human vulnerability: that is, its inevitability. Everyone has their way of handling it; I pretend to have surrendered but in reality I've just eeked out an uneasy peace so long as it leads to something better in the latter - greatness in the form of achievement (black belt, Ph D.) or an anticipation of something-other-than-my-current-frailty in the coming Kingdom.
So why do we struggle with vulnerability? Why do we fight it and say things like "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" as if - somehow - we have a choice in the matter this side of the Garden? Where is it written that greatness is the better way when, in the end, all of us are dust? For Paul the answer parallels Zen principles in actually being glad for it (2 Cor 13:9). Christ befriended his vulnerability "to the point of death" (Phil 2:8b). I have thoughts on this matter, but to be honest this is just a blog post so I'll leave the matter for you to wrestle with. Have you, like Paul and Christ, made friends with your vulnerability?
As for me... I'm beginning to understand (perhaps as a result of my cease-fire) that vulnerability is not something to "push through" (as though it were those last moments of sparring and some reward were awaiting me on the other side) as much as it is space to inhabit. To make friends with vulnerability is to learn to abide, to get comfortable with frailty. And honestly? The more you do the more something wonderful happens...