Packing Away Vulnerability

  Göran Schmidt (The Royal Armoury)

Göran Schmidt (The Royal Armoury)

“I’m just worried I won’t have everything ready before we leave,” I said.

“Is there anything I can help you with to relieve some stress?” asked Jenna.

“I don’t need any help right now, but thank you. I will start by writing down everything I need to pack,” I texted back.

As I made my packing list for my Appalachian vacation two weeks ago, I wondered to myself, “Why is packing so stressful? It’ll only take an hour.” Then I remembered how I used to pack when I was younger. I was ultra prepared. Extra batteries, Band-Aids, pocketknife, paper clips, earplugs; I included everything for any situation and it felt good.

“Maybe preparedness was a hobby, especially for things I couldn’t buy on my own,” I thought to myself. Even still, what was I preparing for? Then it clicked. I was worried about being vulnerable, about being caught unprepared, and I believed that obsessively preparing would protect me. “This belief is still with me,” I thought. “I’m battling possibility of being hurt – and that’s a battle I cannot win.”

I’m amazed by the many ways we try to limit our vulnerability. We plan out every aspect of our future. We vow never to love again after we’re hurt. We avoid restaurants that made us sick. We pack extra paperclips. When we get injured, our bodies grow scar tissue that is stronger and more resilient to prevent another injury in the same place. We do the same with emotional injuries. But because scar tissue isn’t as sensitive as what we’re born with, we risk becoming numb to all feeling and connection.

Honestly, no amount of preparation can guarantee we won’t be hurt. Even if we could eliminate all vulnerability, life wouldn’t be any fun. If we were covered in scar tissue, we would be numb to taste and touch. Music would become a garbled mess of sound and cake would taste like cardboard. Life itself would become dead.

The beauty is that we can control how our bodies form scar tissue. In the same way a surgeon carefully repairs a wound, we can remove old scar tissue, and allow ourselves to feel once again. Without this mindfulness however, we will continue to be ruled by our body’s efforts to protect itself.

Packing became much more easy once I realized that I could never be fully prepared for every situation. During my vacation I noticed that, in order to create fulfilling memories, you must continue to surrender to the unknown, at the risk of staying in your hotel throughout the entire stay. Only when we surrender to the possibility of being hurt do we really enjoy life.