VULNERABILITY: THE ART OF BECOMING REAL

Lynn Demers

Vulnerability: The Art of Becoming Real

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

~ Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

     When we experience pure love, like the pure unconditional love of a child, we have a greater chance of becoming real. When we are real we don’t mind being hurt and our heart opens to reveal the beauty inside. Our wounded heart understands and accepts stormy weather; it waits, patiently and forgiving for the sun to return. Seasons come and go. Over time our hair turns grey, our skin gets wrinkled, we lose our sight and still our heart desires to remain open. The hands that were once soft and plump shrivel, lose their strength and become frail. The legs that carried us with unconditional love for so many years begin to surrender to the passage of time. The music fades to memories, the world grows silent and yet our heart remains open. Our beauty shines through the sparkle in our eyes, the soft curve of our smile, the warmth of our heart, and innocence returns. Once more, stripped down, naked, worn out, all that remains is the beauty of a heart worn open by love. This is the human journey of becoming real.

     Children have long been the subject of many poems and great works of art. They are wide-eyed, sparkling with energy; like mystical wild flowers they go off in search of a warm smile, and an opportunity to invite a little sunshine into their lives. Children forgive and forget easily. They teach us how to become better humans. They ask that we open our hearts to the warmth that nourishes their being. They reach out and touch the world to discover the mystery in everything. It’s as if they listen with their hands. They gather information through touching, tasting and squishing the earth itself. They soak up the wisdom that Mother Nature provides to nourish the roots of their being. Children have a unique perspective living closer to the ground. They are seeing things for the first time. They notice more. Children hold the key to a magical, enchanted world that can only be accessed through their eyes. Children are real; it comes naturally to them.

As a child, nature was my playground. I sensed that I was connected to everything. Every cell of my being resonated and felt alive to the shared experience of being here. My surroundings communicated with me through an unspoken language that we shared. The birds, flowers, insects and even the leaves whispered their dreams to me. My mom and dad nurtured and cared for our outdoor haven by lovingly tending the gardens and lawns that surrounded our home. They were my first connection to nature. This enchanted world was where I spent most of my waking hours. Our gardens were alive with the humming of birds and bees and butterflies. There was an abundance of flowers in every colour imaginable. The earth was warm and welcoming under my bare feet, the grass beckoned like a downy bed; come lie down, soak up the warmth of the sun. My dad was a faller of trees. He knew them like his brothers; he could tell the age of a tree simply by tapping it with the butt of his axe. I remember him walking through the door after a long, hard day at work; the fragrance of the forest walked in with him. He was as solid and strong as the giants that he fell. My dad was calm and peaceful. It was as if he absorbed the energy of those trees and it remained with him.

     Over the years I would return to these memories from my childhood days when I needed to remember the calm and peaceful place that lived inside of me. This magical world welcomed me with open arms, awakened all of my senses and allowed me to explore the depths and breadth of my imagination. I felt a part of everything. I felt safe amongst the trees on the mossy floor of the forest and I connected deeply with their familiar fragrance. It felt like home. I could sense that much of my being and aliveness sprang from the same source. This other realm became my safe haven. Surrounded by this gentle and loving energy, I was removed from the judgments of the world. I felt completely open and vulnerable in these surroundings. I was connected to everything. I felt real.

     Throughout my youth, I wasn’t able to get a sense of where or how I fitted in. I found the transition from the serenity of the enchanted world of nature to the everyday life around me difficult. I often wished that I was visible only to those who understood me. I didn’t enjoy being around people who wanted me to be someone else or expected me to be less sensitive as I didn’t know how to be any other way. I felt everything so profoundly. My feelings were hurt easily and tears embarrassed me all too often. Sensing everyone else’s emotions, as well as my own, was overwhelming. I didn’t know how to separate their emotions from mine; everything seemed to merge together. I didn’t know how to translate all of what I felt into words. This overabundance of emotions would often leave me feeling afraid and unable to speak a word. My early teen years were even more challenging. I struggled to conform to the expectations of my peers. I had to grow a thicker skin in order to survive this world of confusion and raging hormones. The world around me, my friends, myself were all confused. We had lost our sense of self.

     My formative years truly shaped and molded me into the ultimate form of my adult existence today. During my late teens to early twenties I observed that many people around me, including myself, looked like adults but we had yet to learn how to be adults. My sensitivity had offered up a wisdom beyond my years and this ability to see what others were not seeing often made me feel like an outcast. I was already different. During these years I experienced some of my first encounters with darkness. I saw how far someone could stray from their truth. I had lost my sense of self. I tried to fit in but I lost my way.

     We are drawn to what we need to learn. I needed to learn how to take care of my own needs first and that it wasn’t my responsibility, or even possible, to make someone else happy. In my mid twenties I met someone new. I felt needed in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. I believed that I could fill the void in his life if I only offered enough of myself. In the process I became even more lost. During the seven years we were together I experienced first hand what it feels like to be abandoned by the person who is supposed to protect you from harm. My vulnerability threatened the intrinsic nature of the walls that he had built to protect himself. As a child he had experienced atrocities that no child should ever have to endure. This loss of innocence and trust at such an early age left a deep wound in him that never healed. Without warning the memories that still haunted him would take over all sense of reason. He acted out some of his worse nightmares. My life became unpredictable. I experienced a deep sense of loss, a loss of innocence and trust. I was left feeling completely powerless. Everything that I had believed to be true was taken away from me. This experience deeply fractured the part of me that had been so lovingly cared for by my dad for all of my childhood years … I felt so lost. This darkness threatened my very existence. He did not have a childhood like mine. It may be that he had never even experienced the magic. My capacity for empathy had been tested, and yet, my courage never left me, even though it had become a faint whisper.

     Paradoxically, what I perceived to be my weakness through these difficult relationships became my greatest strength. I had the wisdom from some of my first experiences of being real as a child to fall back on. I remembered the warm earth and the peaceful gardens that surrounded our home. I knew what it was like to be surrounded by a loving environment. I remembered my dad and the calm and peaceful energy of the trees in the forest. It can be a long journey to get to know our true self. Both our light and our darkness are exposed along the way and we get to choose who we become. The childhood memories that were still with me were a reminder of what it felt like to have an open heart and to be vulnerable. I knew that I had a choice. This is what allowed me to survive the darkness.

     I believe that all people are born fundamentally good, but really good people can have really bad things happen to them. We all must face our challenges and some must endure more than others. Some never recover from the cycle of darkness, while others somehow transform it and become better because of it. Landing face down, hard on the ground, humbled beyond imagination, we are asked to courageously raise up our heads and begin again … and again … and again. We gain a little more understanding each time and the wound in our hearts opens a little wider. This kind of understanding comes only through direct experience.

     It is up to us to find our way back to our truth and to create a meaningful life. Even though I was deeply scarred by what I had experienced in those seven years, I had enough room in my heart to understand that some people never recover from the darkness. I learned that understanding and acceptance are a part of the journey. Through my personal experiences I found that being broken open allows us to once again see the world through innocent eyes, the eyes of compassion, and to love from a place that is even deeper. We allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to risk being hurt again and to be open to discovering a way to forgive ourselves and others. We have traveled the journey to become real. Life has tested us and torn us apart. We begin to heal the wounded heart by gathering all the tattered bits and pieces and stitching ourselves back together. The hands that were once so plump have grasped life at its very core. The legs that have carried us on this journey still stand beneath us, willing to carry our heavy burden. Having known the darkness of the world, our own darkness, we are once again able to see the light and return to innocence.

     In my early thirties I faced my worst fears. I faced the darkness that almost destroyed me. Again, I felt so lost. After a long and lonely journey of over ten years of putting myself back together, I sensed a familiar feeling. I sensed the peaceful being who had been with me since my childhood. I now understood that she (the peaceful being) had never left me. Throughout all of the challenges she believed in me. Being real, true to myself, and having the courage to remain open I earned the key to the wisdom of my heart. My heart knew that being sensitive was my gift. I grew to understand that this vulnerable part of me that I had struggled with all of these years had also sustained me through my darkest times and was my greatest gift. This soft, vulnerable heart, that I so lovingly wanted to protect from harm, was all a part of becoming real. Being vulnerable and surrendering to life itself, even the darkness and the pain, is our challenge. Life shapes and molds us, revealing the beauty of the experience of being fully alive one heartbeat at a time. Letting go. Becoming more. This is the paradox of life.

     In my mid-forties I felt a stirring in my soul, a gentle calling. It was something familiar and yet intangible. Like a tug from the core of my being, I felt challenged to explore this feeling in order to fully grasp its meaning. This was the beginning of another journey, a journey to discover a deeper part of me. The part of me that had been sitting “in quiet meditation” while I integrated the learning of the formative years was stirring … The Sleeping Monk was awakening.

     From my earliest childhood memories it seemed that I was in touch with something that others might not sense. Being vulnerable is what allowed me to access this deeper truth. Being sensitive was my gift. I understood my purpose was to give a physical form to this invisible force. This was my gift and a way of sharing my voice. This invisible force is what encouraged me to sculpt The Sleeping Monk.

     When I wrote the poem “Carved in Stone: The Sleeping Monk,” I didn’t fully comprehend the path that I was on and where it had been leading me back to. Over twenty years had passed since I had faced my worst fears. This journey had delivered me to a place where I was finally able to understand what it is like to be this sensitive to the world around you. It brought me back to the place where I was able to see the beauty in everything, back to looking through the eyes of an innocent child. I had learned that beneath the darkness, beneath the layers of protection, lies the beauty of being real, the “gem” inside. Through sculpting, I was able to give form to this understanding and to connect with others from the place where we are all the same. I wrote this poem five years after sculpting The Sleeping Monk. The poem is a reflection on how, bit by bit, we expose our inner beauty as we become real and let go of what is no longer serving us.

Carved in Stone: “The Sleeping Monk”

     The stone sits peacefully on the bench in quiet meditation. Heavy with wisdom, offered up, from the earth itself. Solid, yielding, prepared to return to source. A gentle reminder as we chip away at the walls, surrender, expose the gem inside.

     Will the essence be revealed? In what form? Take away what isn’t, expose what is. No need to try too hard, another silent offering. Allow the stone to carve itself, listen for what matters, keep it simple. The beauty lies within.

     Mallet-tapping chisel, ready to begin. Find the rhythm to the soul. Chip away the layers, stories fall to the ground, the journey unknown. The stone patient and forgiving, a vessel for the heart.

     The eyes, windows to the soul. Observe the shape that is felt more than seen. Intuitive whisper describes the line to the windows of the life within.

     A heart beats softly. The sound of silence. The stone sits peacefully on the bench.

Lynn Demers 2010

     I created the sculpture of The Sleeping Monk, Jikan, in 2005, at a time when a series of traumatic events reminded me that I must continue to do the work. The sculpting process helped me find my way back to my calm centre. It enabled me to find peace in the middle of chaotic times. Like The Sleeping Monk in my poem, “chipping away the layers,” I had to chip away the walls and surrender to life itself, to the unknown journey.

     Sculpture is like a second language for me, another way to express my feelings. I am grateful for this gift that offers the ability to share through my art what I have learned through personal experiences. Through sculpting I am able to find a way to describe something that I cannot grasp in my hands or see with my eyes, to offer a shape to the invisible. Like the hands of a child, my hands were able to access a deeper truth. The form created by them spoke a language that was universal. These unspoken words touched hearts and connected souls to the vulnerable place inside of them that was like The Sleeping Monk in my poem. “Allow the stone to carve itself, listen for what matters, keep it simple.” Transformation occurs when we step out of the way and allow this creative energy to shape us. This is where the layers that we held on to so closely begin to fall away and our vulnerability is exposed. We are becoming real.

     Through the sculpting process this journey through the darkness and back to the light taught me how to embrace my vulnerability as a means of connecting with others. We get to create the work of art that fully embodies who we are. We choose the parts that we wish to keep and transform or release the other parts that are no longer serving us. As life happens, bit-by-bit, we chip away at the walls and surrender to becoming real. When we resist accepting what is, we experience hurt. Our vulnerable parts struggle and begin to hold back. When we hurt we add on layers to protect our vulnerable core. Like The Sleeping Monk, we must tap away the layers that are no longer serving us and surrender to our peaceful centre.

     When we are unable to see beyond the darkness, our experiences begin to shape and mold us. When we hang on to the layers, we risk waking up to the realization that we have been living a false life. Unable to see our truth, we become our challenges and struggles, bundled up in them, we create a false sense of safety. The truth is that by hanging on to them we cease to evolve. Bit by bit our layers grow into a heavy burden. We feel tired and stressed out, and life becomes a struggle. With little desire to expose our heart to more pain we hold back our vulnerable parts. We create a persona that is separate from our true being. This persona longs to be loved and accepted. Our challenge is to become aware that this persona has been created by us. We need to connect with this part of ourselves from a place of unconditional love — from the place of vulnerability that we all share.

     Life is deeply challenging but on the other side of pain there is freedom. At times we fall and struggle to get back up on our feet. When we finally do, we come to the realization that we know ourselves better than we did before. In some mysterious way, this breaking our heart open reveals a whole new world of possibilities. When we align with our truth we become more resonant. Being resonant we begin attracting more of what we want in our lives. These possibilities can show up in miraculous ways. In 2005, when I had created the group of sculptures to find peace in the middle of chaotic times, not only did I discover an inner peace, but I was connected with a source of peace that was far greater than I could have ever imagined. An art collector purchased the group of sculptures that I had created along with The Sleeping Monk, Jikan. Through this encounter I was offered the opportunity to meet The Dalai Lama and to present him with a gift of one of my sculptures. Through being vulnerable I opened up to receiving this gift. I had surrendered.

     I believe that we are born with an inner compass, a resonant guide. We must surrender to this inner compass, to listen with our whole person: our body, our mind and our spirit. As a sculptor, I listen carefully for resonance while I am creating a work of art. Resonance is how I feel my way forward, it offers up a sense of direction. It determines each tap of the mallet on the chisel, where I place the chisel, and how hard I strike the mallet. It is the guide that allows the creation of the work of art to flow through me. Being resonant means stepping out of the way and allowing energy to move through us, to guide our way. It means being open to not knowing in order to create space for endless possibilities.

     This inner compass, my resonant guide, skillfully manoeuvered me in the direction of my mentor Jayne Warrilow, a resonance expert and recognized thought leader in the global coaching community. I was invited to join “The Resonance Project,” a global community dedicated to awakening resonance. It was as if The Sleeping Monk who had been sitting peacefully on the bench reawakened, sat up and looked around realizing that he had more work to do. Once again, it was time to pick up the mallet and chisel and tap away the layers, to be vulnerable and to become real. This time, I was not alone. I was with a group of kindred spirits who were willing to be vulnerable and to tap away their layers in order to expose the gem inside each one of them. Together we have set off on the journey of becoming real.

     I had connected with a timeworn question that lived in the hearts of others who had walked this path long before me. Who am I and why am I here? These are radical questions, “radical” in the real sense of “connecting to the root” or “from the root.” Over the course of our first year with The Resonance Project, I was encouraged to look deeper, to get to the root of my being — to expose more of me. I discovered that being radical was a difficult and yet necessary part of me becoming real. I had to go back to my childhood and reconnect with my roots, my family and the landscape where that little girl first experienced being real, in touch with the warm earth and the mossy floor of the forest. I had to experience being that little girl again and to look with compassion and curiosity at the part of me that had been hidden away under the layers I had created to conform to the expectations of others. I had to be vulnerable and risk exposing my sensitivity to reach the root of my being.

     Being radical … resonating with our truth … this is how we become real. Sculpt and shape your work of art. Expose the gem inside. Listen for what matters; keep it simple. The beauty lies within. Find the rhythm to the soul, chip away the layers. A heart beats softly.