How Vulnerability Destroyed My Reputation.
“Run from what’s comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious. I have tried prudent planning long enough. From now on I’ll be mad.” ~ Rumi
Standing beside my dear friend as she paid for her medical marijuana in the local pot store, Rumi’s words came crashing in on me the way an asteroid careened from billions of light years away, passed through untold galaxies, and landed squarely on Earth, taking out the dinosaurs and altering the course of evolution.
Wham! I was struck by a wave of love right there in the pot store. Although I’m not one to hide my feelings, on this day, that wave took me under, and it was all I could do to keep my shit together, drag my disheveled self to the car before a deluge of tears rained down.
Hearing this tale, you’d be right to question if I was high. But ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll tell you I’m not a pot-smoker.
In hindsight, I believe the event was a combination of the permeable nature of the plant medicine, giving me some kind of contact high, coupled with the synchronicity of life circumstances, all falling into cosmic alignment to shatter my illusion of comfort, safety, and reputation.
Who’s to say, but there in that rural pot store, I was struck mad with love. Tears flowed for days. I was in a puddle of ruin.
Rumi is quoted often, and I’m among those who do the quoting. Still, he speaks in a twilight language, and although I’ve believed I understand his words, and indeed take solace in them, as I turn 60 next month, my discovery is that all my understandings have been a bit like winning the booby prize, as Werner Erhard once said.
While I’ve been busy quoting Rumi on this and that, I’ve unwittingly been playing with fire, and have become a fugitive from the law of averages. One day soon, all my ruminating on Rumi would catch up with me, and I was going to have to experience what he meant.
Life will inevitably drop us to our knees in a puddle or heap of ruin, and if we’re one of the lucky ones, and if the fall doesn’t take us out, our need for comfort, reputation, and demands for safety will be destroyed, and love will be all that remains.
This past winter, a dear friend was suffering from nervous system issues after a total knee replacement surgery. I was living in the East in coastal Maine, and she and her husband on their organic farm along a glacial river in the Pacific Northwest.
As we’d talk on the phone regularly, I noticed she was growing despondent and worried after her surgery, weepier, and not her usual clear-headed, can-do, Earth-mama self. She was no longer driving a car or working on her farm.
She had to use a walker, managing pain with dangerous pharmaceutical meds, completely unlike her, and having to navigate the rabbit warren that is the medical establishment as she chased the pain from one test and dead-end diagnoses to another, and she and her husband sounded angry, confused and sleep deprived.
They asked for my help.
I wasn’t myself at the time either. I’d spent the previous eight months in a job that was a prestigious gig in an ultra comfy, beautiful living situation, and also weirdly high-stress. My nerves were a hot mess, and my soul was screaming at me, “Destroy your reputation!”
I gave in to my inner demand and resigned from my job without the prospect of a new one, then called my friends and said, “I’m on my way.”
As soon as I was able to pack a suitcase for two to three weeks tops, I booked a flight, and left Maine and my husband at the airport.
When I boarded that plane, I was officially a nomad, with no forwarding address, and no plan other than to help friends.
That was four months ago.
“… Broken dishes, broken parts,
Streets are filled with broken hearts
Broken words never meant to be spoken,
Everything is broken.” ~ Bob Dylan
When a job I enthusiastically took on ended in disappointment and broken words (never meant to be spoken), there was no deep meaning or explanation other than life is messy, and breaking up is hard to do.
If a knee breaks down, and a replacement seems the wisest choice at the time, but that choice doesn’t follow an expected outcome, spiraling into shame, hurling blame, or asking Why only adds to the suffering.
Vulnerable good company
To meet my friends in the middle of where they were at, I had to meet the genuine pain and fear, and in the absence of any clear diagnosis, the uncertainty of what or why this was happening.
The circumstance forced me to be a witness, stay present to what is real, not imagined, and not try to fix anything or anyone and be good company.
And this required that I feel the discomfort of not having a solution or a guarantee that everything will work out fine for any of us.
There have been doctor’s visits, researching symptoms and remedies, discovering the medicine of CBD, talking, laughing, crying, napping, playing music (lots of music), dancing, reading, gardening, eating organic food, the river running through it, and did I mention crying?
Who knew that helping friends navigate the real stuff of life, at a time when I had no other plans and no longer too busy, would serve to dismantle another layer of my reputation and self-importance, and force me into real vulnerability?
The badass Brené Brown defines vulnerability as “… uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure… it sounds like truth and feels like courage… is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity.”
In this process, I found her words so instructive, and that vulnerability is the only doorway to our most profound human connections — connections that shape the human beings we are to become.
Everything is broken.
None of us know if life’s blows will leave us permanently damaged or disabled, or if any one of these will lead to our unplanned end.
What we can know for sure, however, is that when things break (because that’s the nature of ‘things’), it fucks with our plans, we might not get better, our heart will break a little each time, and maybe… just maybe… our heart will break open, and never close.
My friends and I had our hearts open, no reputation to uphold, living with things we feared, all our prudent planning no longer armor shielding us from becoming mad with love, smack dab in the messy middle of all the broken things.
Tarini Bauliya is the author of Saved from Enlightenment: The Memoir of an Unlikely Devotee. She is also a nomadic copywriter, and yoga/movement instructor living on an organic farm in the Pacific Northwest. You can find her at What She Said.