Our old friend Vulnerability

11 November, 2020

The other day at MyST, a group of us were reflecting upon our work with complex difficulties amongst complex systems. And it got us thinking about the nature of complexity. A few characteristics of complexity came to mind immediately; many moving parts, interacting in multiple ways, and highly unpredictable. In complex situations, it is impossible to chart a course from A to B. As soon as you’ve set off from A, B has shifted, and C, D and E, that you weren’t even thinking were in the frame originally, jump into the picture and change everything.

So what does it take to work with complexity? Well, how long have you got? But certainly, we must surrender control. Instead we have to hold our ideas loosely; ‘don’t get married to your hypothesis’ as systemic psychotherapists say. We must remain alert, be open to new information, allow ourselves to be moved and give up old ideas. We must be agile and adapt continuously.

Of course, this way of working doesn’t provide much of the solid ground of certainty and ‘being right’ that feels so wonderfully reassuring. No, this way of working makes us feel vulnerable. It makes us acknowledge that life always isn’t predictable and sure. And that being so, we are vulnerable to what we least expect to happen happening, whether or not we are ready for it, want it, or know how to deal with it. This can feel very raw indeed.

But funnily enough, after the shock of experiencing vulnerability, when we are returned to it time and time again, we begin to find that it is a fruitful place. It is so very open, and as such, it is a generative, creative, very alive place. It is both as fragile and as reliable as our next breath. It is raw living, with honesty and acceptance of whatever is truly happening.  In this sense, vulnerability can become a very dear friend. But friend or not, vulnerability can sometimes be frightening to say the least. So how can we bear it? Our MyST group discussion generated some ideas from our experience. Maybe they will be useful to you too.

  • We ground ourselves in habits of healthy living so that we are in good shape to meet the experience of vulnerability. Habits like good sleep, diet, exercise, meditation, taking breaks and resting, watching out for too much reliance on everyday state-shifting substances like coffee, alcohol and sugar.
  • We attend to processing our emotional experience. Whilst defending ourselves with an avoidance of emotion might be a helpful for a short while to weather a crisis, it’s well proven now that those who continue to avoid emotional processing forever pay a price with their health.
  • We connect with a sense of feeling part of something bigger than ourselves. We re-member ourselves as not alone.
  • We privilege maintaining a secure base amongst ourselves as a team. For us, that experience of safety in the group involves feeling wanted, feeling valued, feeling we wouldn’t be blamed but would be understood in our mistakes and limitations, and we would helped to learn and improve.

With these kinds of things in place in our working lives, we can contemplate truly befriending our vulnerability. And bearing this, we can stick with what life brings. Every time we breathe in what has to come, and every time we breathe out what has to go, over and over, billions of vulnerable breaths, we are living the complexity of life to the full.

Jen & Jael

A Gwent Partnership Board Service