Power and Vulnerability

From Vulnerability, Power and the Healing Relationship by John Wellwood

If we say that someone is vulnerable, this usually means that he or she is weak, overly sensitive and easily hurt. But it’s important to distinguish our basic human vulnerability from the fragility of the ego identity, that brittle shell we construct around our soft, receptive core where the world flows into us. Feeling essentially tender at heart, we usually hide our vulnerability behind a façade or mask that puts distance between ourselves and the world. But the shell we construct is fragile and always susceptible to being punctured, if not demolished ( in moments of world collapse). Other people can usually see through our facades and death or some other vicissitude will eventually break through this shell. Continually having to maintain and patch up our shell leaves us fragile and defensive – and this is the vulnerability that we usually associate in our culture with weakness. In fact, that kind of brittleness is weak; continually having to be on guard is a position of weakness.

Learning to accept and relate to our vulnerability, by contrast, is a source of real inner power and strength. Fake power of the macho kind – which is really a form of control, tightness and tension – has no real strength in it. As an attempt to have power over, it is top heavy and forever in danger of being toppled. Trying to maintain control in this way keeps us highly vulnerable in the fragile ego sense. Since life constantly challenges our attempts to control it, the amount of energy we put into guarding and defending only drains our strength away.

The power that comes from relaxing into the open ground of being and making friends with the rawness and vulnerability we find there is more grounded and real. This kind of strength is powerful in the way that water is. Water is the softest element, in that anything can penetrate it; it shapes itself to any mould and follows any contour. And yet, as the Tao Te Ching points out, nothing surpasses it for wearing down what is hard and tough. The way that leads from basic vulnerability to genuine power lies through gentleness and Loving-Kindness, which help soothe the panic that surrounds our vulnerability…..

Meditation teaches us to be spacious, kind and gentle through letting our world collapse and discovering that this does not kill us but makes us stronger. Through facing our raw edges, we can become more compassionate with others and can better help them to accept their vulnerability as well. In the Buddhist perspective, our basic vulnerability is the seed of enlightenment already present within us. It is said that when we let this tender heart fully ripen and develop, it becomes a powerful force that can cut through all the inner barriers we have constructed. In its fully developed form tender heart becomes transformed into awakened heart, bodhichitta.