We don’t often think of vulnerability as being a powerful experience, that is to say, one in which we feel powerful. Both in definition and in experience, these are opposing forces.
Yet, over the weekend, I had an experience of my vulnerability and my power. It was terrifying, to be honest, and I can appreciate why I didn’t want to do this sooner. Who’s a dummy? Not me. I’ll stay safely over here, on *this* side of terror, thank you very much.
But, dang it, those breadcrumbs kept leading me to this door. Through various means and messages, I kept being nudged, pulled, called to this place. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, it was a full stop blow to my body in the form of excruciating hip pain. Let me explain.
Several weeks ago, my right hip began hurting out of the blue. Since the pain started after a run, I thought it was a common runner’s complaint, iliotibial (IT) band syndrome. The pain also radiated across my right flank, so I thought the piriformis muscle was also involved — again, not unexpected for a runner.
I found some relief from the pain through rolling on a foam roller, but the pain was so bad that I was taking ibuprofen. Pain has to be disrupting my sleep and healing in order for me to choose ibuprofen. But rather than improve, the pain eventually landed in my right hip flexor, at a level 8 on a scale of 10 (with 10 being worst pain imaginable).
I began to get curious about what else this pain was saying. Out of the blue, hip flexor…what else is involved, I wondered? I learned that the major animator for the hip flexor is the psoas, a deep set of muscles that attach the lumbar spine around the top of the pelvis across the front of the hip to the top of the femur. They are the only set of muscles that connect the axial skeleton (the trunk) and the appendicular skeleton (our limbs, in this case our legs).
Tight psoas and chronically flexed hip flexors (from hours and hours spent sitting, which has comprised more and more of my life in recent years) are certainly a set-up for physical pain. But even more than that, the psoas, and the hip and pelvic region in general, house our energetic power centers, as well as critical nerve pathways. Both of these can be compromised by physical stressors, like chronic sitting or or physical trauma such as surgery or an accident.
But the tissues in our body can hold the “memory” of trauma. And when a body part flares up, we might want to get curious about what else is held there.
In utero, the psoas is the very first muscle structure to develop, at the very same time as our reptilian brain. Both are connected to our most primitive, survival instincts (the ‘fight or flight’ response). Because of its upper-most attachment, the psoas has a very close relationship to the adrenal glands, so when we experience sudden stress, the psoas clenches, preparing the spine for movement (running away from danger) or for fighting. In our chronically over-stressed existence now, our psoas are tensed for action much more than we realize.
Energetically, the psoas and hips house the first, second, and third chakras. In the broadest terms, the first and second chakras (at the perineum and below the navel, respectively) relate to our most basic survival needs: safety, security, power, sex, pleasure, and money, and the third chakra (at the solar plexus) relates to identity and vitality.
Because the psoas runs through the centers that especially relate to the embodied experience of being human, it can hold the memories of trauma, or any experience that threatens our survival and vitality. Whether through the trauma itself or through the overlay of modern lifestyle stressors, the exhausted, weak and contracted psoas muscle can hold stuck emotions.
When balanced, the psoas are supple, juicy muscles that helps us to digest our experiences and support us in living our most fulfilled life. However, what I was discovering was that my psoas was not balanced, supple, or released. And now it was upping its game for my attention.
For years, I had a sense that my lower torso — the area related to my first, second, and third chakras — was just shut down. I had pelvic dysfunction and a history of surgeries there. My connection to that area as an active place of power and grounding was non-existent. It was as if the energy just bottomed out, that there was no “container” for it from my solar plexus to my root, the base of my pelvis.
What was also true for me was a lifelong, crippling lack of self-confidence, a deep insecurity in the world, and a chronic inability to generate and hold money. While these had begun to dissolve through my spiritual work and awakening over the last few years, I had a sense that there was still something left. One more skeleton in the closet of my unconscious. Some deep place that I had yet to access, that held important information for me as I expanded and transformed my power.
I found that door this weekend. And I opened it.
I am currently studying with a teacher of Yoga in an immersive teacher training program, which met over the weekend. As we went into a hip-focused pose in one of our classes, I felt sensation in my left hip, the same sensation that I’ve been feeling now for weeks. I placed my hand on the sensation, and immediately grief welled up through my heart. I began to cry.
Fortunately, we were nearing the end of class when this happened, and was able to make it through until I was alone before really allowing the grief and tears to come. I went inward and asked for a word to tell me what I needed to know. “Safe.” I affirmed that I was safe, and I felt into it more. “I am safe feeling vulnerable.” I affirmed that it was safe to feel vulnerable, and to feel others’ vulnerability, to let it move through me. “Power.” I affirmed that I am strong and powerful in my vulnerability.
I went through this process for a bit, just to feel the messages that were coming up. It wasn’t until later in the evening, at home, that I really allowed myself to deeply explore where these messages were coming from.
I went inward, and saw my first childhood home, the one I lived in for the first few years of my life. I felt myself as a toddler, and saw myself alone in the house, looking for others but no one was there. While this never happened in reality, my young parents’ marriage was ending then, and hadn’t been a solid marriage to begin with. Quite understandably, their awareness was on navigating the challenges they were going through as adults. Paying attention to their child, beyond feeding and clothing, was probably not a priority. In fact, probably the opposite was true: the cultural values of the time still sternly warned us against giving babies too much attention — that would surely lead to a spoiled child. While my physical survival was never threatened, when I felt into the experience of myself at that age, it was of being utterly alone.
Where I went this weekend was into the experience of the deepest vulnerability that we can feel as humans: that of being dependent on another for survival. As babies, we “know” ourselves to be safe not through the physical world of food and shelter, but through the emotional world of communication. When I cry, will someone respond? Will someone see me, hear me, care about me? The critical engagement of a parent and caregiver with a baby and young child is so much more than just the physical. Healthy human development is deeply dependent upon a healthy attachment with adults.
With my parents’ marriage and divorce, that may have been lacking for me. I don’t blame them — I know that they did the best they could, and I love them. But allowing myself to go into that deepest vulnerability and feel it again was essential to unlocking something that still had power over me.
It was essential for my physical healing, because that vulnerability and abandonment was stored in my tissues, and was causing me profound hip and back pain. The night following this deep journey, I was able to sleep on my sides — both sides! — without hip pain for the first time in weeks.
It was essential to excavate this in my psyche, because it was a trigger. When I felt others’ vulnerability (especially children’s vulnerability, which has increased on a psychic level in recent years), it would take me out and leave me unable to be present or serve. This unwinding allowed me to untether from the experience itself, and hold it for the gift that it is now: a place of connection and deep empathy with others.
And it was essential for claiming my power now. It’s no longer an impediment to my fullest potency. I am not afraid to feel that level of vulnerability in myself and others. It’s no longer controlling me as this unopened door, this unexamined belief. It’s no longer a puppeteer of my actions, reactions, and emotions.
I can’t tell you how powerful that is.
So the lesson here really is about the power that is given to us through our willingness to feel vulnerable. I had to access it through an unwinding of a past experience that was stored in my body and my psyche, but it applies just as strongly with the choices we make in current time.
What are we willing to risk? Where can we show up more fully, go a bit further into our vulnerability?
And what gifts are waiting for us and others when we do?
To knowing your Divine potency,