This is part three of a five part series on the fundamentals of compassionate consciousness. In the first entry, I wrote about how to listen to our feelings and needs. And in the second entry, I wrote about how after we embrace our own experience it becomes much easier to see and embrace the other person’s feelings and needs. After reading both of those you might be saying “it sounds like I’m going to have to be pretty vulnerable with people…” to which I say “yes.”
Many of you will have felt your stomach turn when you read my “yes”. Being vulnerable brings up feelings of fear, anxiety, discomfort because your needs for safety, acceptance, and respect may not get met. Look, I totally get it, its really nerve-racking to not know if people are going to really accept your raw feelings and needs. What if they make fun of you? What if they try to take advantage of you? These are real fears and I certainly do want you to have the safety and respect that you need to feel relaxed and at ease in the world.
But if you give these fears too much power then you begin to get defensive. You put our guard up. And when others see you with your guard up, they’re going to put their own guards up. And when everyone’s guard is up, then there’s no way to develop the intimacy and connection we all desperately want.
Let me tell a story to demonstrate this. I remember a time when I wanted to date a woman I’d been friends with for a while, but was too scared to tell her. I told myself things like “she doesn’t like me…I’m not handsome/sexy/smart/funny/wealthy/etc enough for her” and “if I tell her I like her, she’ll laugh at me”. Listening to those fears, I wouldn’t tell her how I felt about her. But that was okay because it helped me use some really effective tools. You know, like ignoring her, whenever I was talking to her I’d find an excuse to leave, and my personal favorite whenever I saw her talking to another guy “oh, he seems really sweet”. I always felt even more scared when she would respond “yeah, he is”.
Finally, one day I couldn’t take it anymore. We were having tea and I just blurted out “I really, really like you…I mean whenever you’re around my heart starts beating really fast, I feel really excited, like a puppy dog! I want to date you.”
Silence. Then some more silence. It was painstaking.
Finally she responded “oh…thank you. I really appreciate that, but I think I just want to be friends.”
Of course I felt heart broken, crushed. I felt dismayed and discouraged. The voice in my head said “See! This is why you never show your true feelings to someone, cause you can get hurt!” Painful stuff. But after a couple of minutes I noticed something. I noticed that she was still sitting across the table from me and drinking her tea. I was still sitting there and having tea with her. We were still having a wonderful conversation. And then I noticed that I didn’t feel so nervous anymore. I was able to relax because we finally both really understood one another. And the rest of the conversation was probably the most fun I had with her in a long time.
Being vulnerable doesn’t always get you what you want. Sometimes letting down your guard will result in experiencing some pain. But in the long run it helps you to relax, to feel understood and seen, to finally get the opportunity to see and understand this other person. As long as I was hiding my feelings for this woman, I was constantly wondering “but does she like me?” I would spend all this time and energy in debating small, insignificant things she said and did as whether they were a “sign” of her affection or not. And all of that went away after I got vulnerable with my own feelings. Even though I got rejected, I finally felt connected.
So while being vulnerable, and letting your guard down is scary it is often necessary to finally make the connection you need. And as long as you’re keeping your guard up the other person may feel uneasy and too scared to be vulnerable. Its like a Chinese finger trap…the trick to being free isn’t pulling further away from each other, but it is to counter-intuitively come closer to each other.
KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.