The Vulnerability of Loving

Through a rare turn of events, I was able to attend a yoga class last night with my favorite teacher in Boulder. The class started at 5:30pm, so at 5pm I gathered my things, left dinner instructions for my husband, kissed my boys goodbye, and walked into the darkening night. As I parked then walked to class, I marveled at the novelty of being out at night: the bare-leaved trees on the 29th Street Mall, where the studio is located, were adorned with winter lights; couples on first dates strolled on the idyllic promenade, the Rocky Mountains jutting up in the dark blue light behind them; young parents toting their baby from the restaurant to the car beamed at their little treasure. It had been a long time since I was out at night on my own and I felt like an alien visiting from another planet, thoroughly enjoying our earthly sights.

The class was beautiful, as always. My teacher channels wisdom throughout the class, and my body half-hears him as I breathe into the poses and allow the words to trickle in and reverberate on a non-verbal level. Sometimes a phrase will cause me to catch my breath like, “We must meet our egos with kindness, as it’s not something we can get rid of. The ego is the part of us that must travel on this earth, and because it knows that it cannot accompany us beyond the line of mortality, it holds a sadness. We must meet this sadness with compassion.” His words traveled directly to my heart where I thought first about my eight year old son and his unfiltered awareness of death, which brings with it a necessary sadness. I thought about how my husband and I have tried to meet his sadness and help him find ways of concretizing it in his body so that it can move through him without causing stagnation. I then thought about my many clients who also struggled with an awareness of death as a child, and how alone they felt as they tried to process the existential questions without a guide. I opened my heart to the pain, the tenderness, the rawness of being human, and how, especially for the highly sensitive among us, this pain and rawness is exponentially magnified.

As the class progressed and the blue evening darkened into black night, I thought about the walk from the studio to my car, which was parked at the far end of the parking lot; I noticed a jolt of fear flash through me. In my twenties, I used to go out all the time at night and have parked in all kinds of strange places. I’ve certainly felt fear in the past, but I’ve never had as much to lose as I do now: a husband who I adore beyond words and two magical sons who would be crushed if something happened to me. I have more to lose than that, of course, including a tight-knit circle of family and friends who are like family, but it’s the intimate loved ones, the children of my womb, that flashed into my fear-mind as the class came to a close.

I lied down in Sivasana and breathed into the fear. Within moments, I could feel underneath the fear into the vulnerability of loving my husband and two boys more than I ever knew possible. And with the awareness of the vulnerability, came the tears. They weren’t tears of grief; they were tears of rawness, tears that arose from knowing that loving this deeply means taking an immense risk, and that should anything happen to me or to any one of us, the others would be affected in ways I cannot possibly know. But what I do know is that it would crush us. I know that our hearts would be torn into shreds. Beyond that, I cannot go, except to hold out a thin strand of faith that somehow, some way, we would mend.

But the risk of loving… oh, it brings me to tears even now as I sit a few feet away from my sleeping angels. The risk of spinning this web of love around the four of us more deeply every day, of opening our hearts wider and wider and wider until we feel they will break from the loving. But they don’t break; they only expand. The love reaches out into worlds beyond our world and asks us to grow beyond ourselves.

And as I sit here now, I think about my clients and ecourse members who unravel into the heart of the fear and at the very center touch down into the risk of loving. The fears keep us separate from the raw and vulnerable places in our hearts. Fears are head-spaces, even when they create such uncomfortable and debilitating bodily symptoms. But there are moments, like right now, I see with crystalline clarity that all of the endless questions and statements of “Do I love him/her enough?” and “What if I’m settling?” and “What if I’m making a mistake?” and “I don’t want this” and “I’m not attracted to my partner” are elaborate and convincing defense mechanisms designed to avoid just this: the vulnerability of loving, the exquisitely painful knowledge that when we commit our hearts, we take the risk of enduring the most painful of human experiences: loss and heartbreak.

As one of my Conscious Weddings E-Course members, who has been working her tail off to kick the fear voices out of the driver’s seat, wrote yesterday (four weeks away from her wedding):

“But now – the feeling of being comfortable in my own skin, of feeling so at ease in my relationship and with A, and letting myself feel joy and happiness – comes with a heightened sense of fear that I’ve never really touched on before. It’s the fear that is talked about in the message boards, in the e-course, the articles, the blogs: the fear of loss. When I first read the posts about fear of loss I was like…yeah yeah yeah, that’s not me, I don’t fear losing anything… but now that I’m so centred and calm about my life the fear has become so real, so raw and so, so painful.

“I am not only scared of losing A and our relationship, but I’m scared of losing myself, of losing this newfound comfort and happiness, of losing this sense of peace, calm and serenity. It is so raw it’s unnerving. I am almost too scared to Inner Bond® about it because I know this touches me at the centre of my core. But I have to – I have to go right down into my gut and sit with this fear of loss, because only then will I be able to say to my inner child, “Yes, there is always a risk that we might lose something in life, including A, but I promise you that I will be able to handle it.” And only then will she be able to free herself from that fear, knowing that EVEN IF something does happen, I can handle it.

“Coupled with this fear is the knowledge that I have never let myself fully live and fully love because it means I will never have to face the pain of loss because I never allow myself to ‘have something’ in the first place. By that I mean if I don’t allow myself to be peaceful, serene, calm, joyful, happy, then I will never have to face losing it. If I never marry A and always keep a distance, then I will never face the fullness of losing him. That for me, only after doing this work have I realised, is very sad. It means I have never really fully lived because I have always kept myself back, experiencing only ‘half living’ so to speak.

“So here is the new work for me…a new stage that I will enter into…a continuation of the inner work that I’m doing as I enter into the final stages of wedding planning…”

Like so many others who find their way to my work, she had long-suffered from the intrusive thoughts that plague the anxious mind: I don’t want this. I don’t love him. I’m not attracted to him. I’m settling. Sitting at the center of intrusive thoughts is, quite simply, the fear of loss. If you could peel them away, you would cry, as I did tonight. And through the strength of the tears, you would find the courage to go on, to expose your heart and take the only risk worth taking: to love and be loved as fully and completely as if it were your last day on earth. To love without restraint. To love with joyous abandon. To set the fear-voices on a fence on the edge of the meadow of your mind and witness them while knowing that they are no longer running this show, allowing them to watch you as you run or dance or stumble into the arms of your loving partner.

23 comments to The Vulnerability of Loving

  • Betsy (blm5126)

    This post came at the most incredible time. As I was laying in my bed this morning next to my wonderful husband, I had an image. It was God and there were two paths. He said to me: “One brings light, joy, love, your husband, God, peace. The other brings pain.” I could see the two paths as clear as day. One, full of light in front of me, with my husband at the end of the path and God standing next to him. The other, dark as night with pain and fear. It didn’t even lead anywhere, just down to darkness. God said “It’s your choice.” There is such a strong part of me that doesn’t want to walk the path towards light. The thousand “what if” questions that plague my mind. And yet, I know I will walk that path. There is no real choice. I could go the other way, and God will keep offering me the choice, but in the end, the only real answer is to walk the path of light.

    • Wow, Betsy. Wow. What a powerful image that came to you this morning! Thank you for sharing it here. And, yes, this is indeed the choice: the path of love or the path of fear.

  • katg

    This post was just what I needed today. Thank You! What was written on the forum makes so much sense to me right now, that is where I am right now. I have a new fear that I do not understand and dont know where it has come from but this makes sense to me…things are going well for me now and I have moments of absolute clarity and love for me and my life and this is soon followed by fear because what if I loose it all? I am finally finding some happiness and my fear is not happy about this at all.
    As always to Sheryl and everyone here xx

    • “I am finally finding some happiness and my fear is not happy about this at all.”

      Exactly right! Fear feels threatened when it senses that its stronghold is breaking loose. And that’s the time to dive back inside and do some more work. You’re doing great, Katg. Keep going!

  • Marisa

    Wow, Sheryl, this post has been so illuminating for me, particularly your e-course member’s reflection and realization that she’s only been “half living.” So much of my 20s were only half-lived because that fear that gripped my mind, body and soul was too overwhelming to break free from. I didn’t have the words or the knowledge or even the right therapist to help me see that the hell I was living in was simply my most vulnerable self asking for love and security and that I was all I needed to provide myself with it. I don’t feel like that person in total any longer, but shadows of her creep into my consciousness now and then. This post made me realize that I still live some of my life at only 50% because I am afraid to loose (usually my life). The irony is that by living at only 50%, I am already loosing part of my life. Thanks for helping me see that, and instead of being sad about it, I am going to be proactive and feel fortunate to have found a source of illumination in your blog! :)

  • Denise

    Thank God I came across your website!

  • You’re welcome, Marisa!

  • Natasha

    Gosh, this is a breathtakingly wonderful post. Sometimes the space and freedom that is found in peaceful loving relationships can seem overwhelming. It almost seems more comfortable to curl oneself into a ball of anxiety which offers some protection from this vulnerable state for at least that is something familiar and known. It takes real courage to unfurl into that wide space of possibility. To know also that you can indeed just relax into joy and calm and indeed love itself and that you don’t need to come up with intrusive anxious thoughts as a way of armouring yourself as you voyage into the great unknown. The quest is simply to be vulnerable without any cover up at all and know that you are never alone in doing so for YOU are always there for YOU and love is the greatest reward. xo

  • Featherlight

    I love this post and everyone’s comments. It really rings so true for me. Thank you. I have been wondering recently why I have been crying more easily than I used to. And why this is often when I am feeling peace and joy – not grief. This helps explain it! Can you have tears of gratitude do you think?
    Anyway, thank you.

  • Oh, yes, tears of gratitude are some the best kind of tears!

  • Hayley

    Wow, great post. I realised awhile ago that my mind set up an emotional wall when my anxiety started. I think deep down I’m scared the anxiety will never go away and that eventually I won’t be able to handle it anymore and have to break up with my bf. And it’s that thought that we might break up thats holding me back from truly loving him. My mind is saving me from heartache. I’ve also realised that I’m living in the future and not letting myself just enjoy the present. I would love to marry my bf one day and spend the rest of my life with him. I keep picturing our wedding day though and it’s filled with anxiety, and I get thoughts like “this is all a sham”, “you don’t love him enough to do this”. We’ve only been together for a little over a year and I’m only 22. He told me he loved me after 10 months, and that’s when my anxiety started and my mind has constantly been looking into the future. I know that the future could be years away and that my feelings for him would be a lot stronger by then, and that it’s too early to even think about marriage, but I don’t know how to bring my mind back to the present, or how to get over the fear that we might not last much longer. Also, I sometimes get strong urges to tell him that I love him, but most of the time I don’t, and it’s that that makes me question whether I really do love him. How do I know when I’m ready to say it and really mean it?

  • “Also, I sometimes get strong urges to tell him that I love him, but most of the time I don’t, and it’s that that makes me question whether I really do love him. How do I know when I’m ready to say it and really mean it?”

    It’s the wounded self that questions whether you really mean it because she’s scared to take the risk of loving. The path of courage is to say it whether or not you completely mean it but trusting in the initial urge to say it. The more you say it, the more you end up trusting that you really mean it! You must move toward love by taking loving action instead of giving into the fear voice that is trying to sabotage your desire to love and protect you from the risk.

  • amore

    And it’s this part of the process, the liminal stage, where I am finding the true notions of fear based intrusive thoughts. The void, the in between stage, characterized by high vulnerability, where your mind isn’t racing, and you have a moment to breathe into the silence and cry on the breath out. When you have a sense of clarity which leads you to the realization that your partner nor your relationship is at “fault,” but that your inner child is screaming for some reassurance that it won’t get hurt and endure heartbreak. It’s a quiet stage where you realize that you noise and nonsense in your mind is a cover up to loss. That all of this is happening because you love your partner more than anything else in the world and the risk or really, the realization, that you might loss him, one far away day is overwhelming and heartbreaking. I cry and feel the pain and vulnerability of love… I don’t know if I am doing things correctly or enough, all I know is I haven’t given up and I will not give up on love.

  • Beautiful, amore.

    “but that your inner child is screaming for some reassurance that it won’t get hurt and endure heartbreak.” And it’s not even reassurance that your IC won’t get hurt or endure heartbreak (as no one can promise that) but that you can handle whatever comes your way.

  • Victoria

    This part of the process reminds me a lot of my struggles with hypochondria. For as long as I have lived, I’ve believed that something was wrong with me. I’ve spent thousands of dollars getting tested for everything under the sun. If I had a sore throat, I truly believed I had throat cancer. Finally, I sought a therapist who explained that my intrusive thoughts, panic, compulsive research on whatever disease I believed I had; they are attempts to protect and control. If I just went to enough doctors, did enough research, paid extreme attention to every single cough, itch, ache, or sneeze, I could control what happened to me.

    Engagement anxiety feels a lot like that. So it was absolute hell to go to a place where I confronted my fears and discovered that I was terrified to lose this man I love, to lose the identity I have now. I found myself crying so intensely, fearing the loss, fearing pain. But when I was done crying, I emerged clear-headed. I still felt afraid, but it was like I understood my wounded self was screaming, and instead of running from her, I comforted her.

  • Victoria: You’ve beautifully explained the underlying roots of your intrusive thoughts, whether about hypochondria or engagement anxiety. When it boils down to it, it really does come down to attempts to control and protect.

  • Brianna

    “But what I do know is that it would crush us. I know that our hearts would be torn into shreds.”

    Exactly what I thought when my anxiety started!

  • Kiyomi

    Sheryl, I love this post so much. We are all so grateful for what you have given to all of us! It has been an immense, difficult yet healing journey. I think so many of us would be living in so much fear if you did not transform/create this website. THANK YOU

  • Courtney

    I can’t believe I just came across this article… I have a very bad anxiety problem where I get it in my head that something bad is going to happen to my fiance, that somehow he is going to be taken way from me. Car accidents are at the top of my anxiety list but I just get it in my head that somehow he is going to die or something and I am never going to get to see him or speak to him again. I’ve gone into full blown panic attacks at random just thinking about it.
    Lately I’ve also been dealing with relationship anxiety. Thinking the thoughts of “What is we’re not meant to be?” “What if I don’t love him enough?” This past weekend though, my anxiety faded and I felt normal hanging out with him again. But then all day Thursday I had anxiety attacks thinking that something bad was going to happen to him and that he was going to be taken away. I cried all day. The next day my relationship anxiety came back and I’m back to all the “What ifs?”…
    Do you think it’s just a defense my brain uses?

  • Kristin

    I’m married (newly), and only in th

  • Giovanna E.

    Hi Sheryl,

    I just wanted to say that I love your work. It has helped me so much during this rough time. I feel like whenever I read your posts, I overcome my fears and understand where my nerves and anxiety come from.

    My boyfriend and I have been talking a lot about marriage lately. I think he will be proposing soon, and I already question myself about the changes that will happen. I want to ask you: while going through a change, is it normal to feel distant from your partner? Feel as if you don’t know who he is? As boyfriend/girlfriend I don’t feel very distant, but now since this change will be coming at some point, I feel like I don’t know what to expect, and I don’t know what to see him as. Could it be that I am grieving my comfortable, boyfriend/girlfriend relationship? If you could provide some insight I would be most grateful.