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Vulnerability, FEAR, and Sharing Our Common Humanity

“The practice of spirituality is a way of looking at a world where you're not alone.” — Rick Rubin, author of The Creative Act: A Way of Being

Not everyone enjoys author, Anne Lamott, she writes regularly now for The Washington Post.  I do.

Why?  She’s real. Unlike most of us, who are all armored up, Lamott sets down her shield, pulls off her helmet and breastplate, and courageously shows us who she really is. We read about her hurts, her anxieties, and what she desperately wants.  She vulnerably shares her failures. 

Her daring inspires me and makes me laugh and cry. A lot of the time, I know of what she speaks – she makes the mysterious human journey more understandable and enjoyable.

Here's an example for her most recent column:

As a woman of faith and cranky optimism, I am usually afraid of only a dozen or so things at any given time, which is a major improvement since childhood. I was the single most scared child on Earth in the 1950s. For instance, I was habitually afraid of being murdered while I slept, so I’d practice looking dead. Then the murderer would peek in my room and think, Hmmm, no one to kill in here; the little girl is already dead.


I don’t do that anymore (very often).


Now I am mostly afraid of my son and grandchild dying before me, beside which all other fears pale. I do worry about falling and breaking my hip. Gravity is a killer. I am, as we speak, on a long airplane flight, hearing a loud mechanical rattle, such as what a wing might make as it works itself off toward freedom. Also, I fear inheriting my mother’s Alzheimer’s, my father’s brain cancer, snakes, the election and the guy behind me coughing....


Lamott begins to speak of losses and disappointments that every older person experiences and shows how we learn to deal with setbacks.


Take this morning. Something humiliating happened to me professionally. It was not ideal, as I was nearly 3,000 miles and many days away from home.


I felt a kind of cold, vibrating sheet metal fear. It was way too early to wake my husband and close friends back in California. What to do? How to get through the morning, let alone my godforsaken life?


I cried for a moment, then fluffed up the despair with some rage and plans for revenge, which is the Christian way. This steadied me.


Then I remembered something: Deep breath! Oh, right — breathe. Get outside and look up. I dressed and raced out.

The morning’s icy blue sky told me that even though it was very, very cold, the blue was burnished by the sun and was an invitation. More warmth and light was on the way….

Age and time usually offer us the gift of learning to take ourselves a lot less seriously. We smile ruefully at ourselves more often. And laughter is the Dippity-Do of the spiritual life....

Lamott gives us permission to be vulnerable.  Popular speaker and author, Dr. Brene Brown says that Vulnerability is the glue that holds connection together and… it's all about our common humanity. According to Brene Brown, feeling vulnerable, imperfect, and afraid is human but we often hide that part of ourselves.  It’s a shame because our openness– our vulnerability, is what connects us to each other…and it makes compassion much easier.

We can walk in each other’s shoes for a bit.  It feels a bit strange at first, but then we sense it...the commonality. We may have blisters and pinches in slightly different places, but we all have them. We see ourselves reflected in each others’ stories. Some say, as does Brown, this sharing in our common humanity is the center of spirituality.

Lamott posted this on Facebook several years ago:


I am one of the most fearful people on earth, and one of the bravest. (All truth is a paradox.) My closest friends are just as afraid as I am—of humiliation, aneurysms, hair loss, losing a beloved, the threat to democracy, killing someone in the car while texting, weight gain, bad reviews, you name it (although my friends are not as obsessively afraid of snake attack as I am.) And they are so brave that it brings me to tears, over and over, even as they reel from the very worst life has to offer—lost children, savage attacks to their own health, the indignities of old age.


Yesterday a best friend lived through the 24th birthday of a child she lost in January. Tuesday an 81 year old best friend took off her clothes in front of me and slid into cool lake waters.


Anne speaks about acronyms that she and some of her friends have made up for FEAR. —False Evidence Appearing Real; Frantic Effort to Appear Recovered.


The extent to which I need to present myself as being just fine in all circumstances is the extent to which I am going to experience much more anxiety. Sometimes when I have tried most urgently to appear just fine, I have actually gotten a tic in my eye, so I stand there smiling, hail woman well met, with my eyelid flickering away....


Lamott offers one more acronym for fear – Fear Expressed Allows Relief. She goes on to express her fears, then writes that she instantly experiences relief in sharing them – saying them out loud. She encourages others to share their fears with someone safe or with the “great universal spirit.”

Thank you, Anne Lamott for your brave stories of your fears and anxieties and of being human. Stories seem to magically open us to our common humanity, but sometimes we are so angry with each other or the relationship is so ruptured, we just can't. Perhaps the situation feels fraught with psychological danger.

Here is another option. It's a modified "meditation" from the Greater Good that helps me remember another's humanity.

1.      Bring someone to mind who you don’t know very well, maybe someone who seems very distant or different from you, even someone you’re in a conflict with.

2.      And now say to yourself:

“This person has feelings, emotions, and thoughts, just like me.’

“This person has at some point in their life been sad, disappointed, angry, hurt, or confused, just like me.’ 

"This person has in their life experienced physical and emotional pain and suffering, just like me.”

“This person has experienced moments of peace, joy, and happiness, just like me.”

"This person wishes to have fulfilling relationships, just like me.”

“This person wishes to be healthy and loved, just like me.” 

3. Now if possible, send the person "good wishes." May they be well, may they be happy, may they be healthy, may they live with ease. 

5. Shift your awareness back to your breath, breathing in, breathing out. Reconnecting with your body, feeling present, alive, connected, right here, right now.

Whatever we need to do to help others feel safe (it could be sharing our own stories; being open, authentic, vulnerable – expressing our fears, longings, aching wounds, disappointments as well as our hopes, gratitudes, and joys and keeping our advice and judgments quiet); whatever we can do to recognize that we all share in this deeply mysterious human experience, opens the possibility for the pilgrimage to begin - the common humanity journey…full of humor and joy and pain and FEAR (Fear Expressed Relieves Us). It's a spiritual path. It's a relational path. It's a compassionate path. It's a courageous path. It's a comforting path. It's a healthy path... home.

And we don't have to worry about that tic in our eyelid anymore...

How might we journey together to the Good Life by vulnerably connecting with each other and recognizing our common humanity?





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