Being Mindful to Diverse Responses In Shared Spaces
Vulnerability is an incredibly powerful tool for connection – to oneself, to our Truth, and to each other.
As with all powerful concepts, we must treat human vulnerability with incredible respect and responsibility.
Being a Unity minister and regularly in Unity circles, I have often felt uncomfortable with the immediate expectation of vulnerability. People would ask wildly in-depth (sometimes downright out-of-pocket) questions about my life after having just met me. The expectation was for me to spill my guts because that’s what Unity people do?
I am someone who waits a bit to share — sometimes not sharing at all if I do not feel ready to share a deeper piece of my heart.
Each person deserves the time and safety to be ready to share what we think, how we feel, and who we are.
What is vulnerability?
A conversation about this topic would be at a loss without citing the work of Dr. Brené Brown, renowned author and research professor at the University of Houston. Most people by now recognize Brown’s southern lilt from her TED talks on shame. She has spent 20+ years studying courage, vulnerability, and empathy. In her book, Daring Greatly, she defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” Her research uncovered two powerful, integrated takeaways:
Vulnerability is at the core of shame, fear, and the struggle for worthiness. Yet, vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, creativity, and belonging.
In order to find the latter, we must face the former.
Yet we won’t or can’t face it if we don’t feel safe enough to share who we are, only when we are ready.
Overwhelming Emotions, Differing Needs
In my second spiritual education week at Unity Village, I took a “Healing and Wholeness” class. The course included five days of intense questioning, examination, experimenting, and wondering about what healing is, what wholeness is, and what that meant for each of us as students. On top of this was three other classes of late nights, too much information, and a lot of stress from the beginnings of my deconstruction process.
On the final day of the Healing and Wholeness class, we walked up to the top of the Unity Tower. We stood in a circle, taking turns going into the circle and stating affirmations.
The affirmations were echoed back to us — not only in voice by our classmates, but also by echoes of the tower.
For many, this was an incredibly powerful experience of Truth, wrapping up a great class.
For me, I was not feeling it. It was a rough week for me, deeply challenging a lot of my own imbedded beliefs from my upbringing in Unity. I was overwhelmed and mentally fried from the week, desperately wanting to go home and decompress from the week.
Holding Space for No
When it was my turn to step into the center of the circle, I said “no, thank you.” I did not feel ready to affirm anything.
Many classmates encouraged me to step in, but I just wanted to get down from the tower, wrap up, and go home.
“Oh come on, you’ll regret it if you don’t do it.”
I said even more clearly, “No, thank you. I am happy just holding space for this experience.”
A classmate next to me then physically pushed me into the center of the circle. They betrayed my boundaries.
I absolutely shut down, affirming nothing. In that moment, I lost trust in my “no” being respected in a classroom setting. I lost faith that in a spiritual community, not just my thoughts, but even my by bodily autonomy would be safe.
It has taken years to gain that back. I have made consent a tenant of my spiritual mission.
Vulnerability, With Patience and Boundaries
In my opinion, a trauma dumping version of spiritual New Thought is worth phasing out — or the very least worth examining. Why do we expect others to be vulnerable right off the bat? Does it moves us forward? What is the best way to support each other building and living a spiritual life with boundaries? YES, boundaries can and should be part of our spiritual lives!
Being queer, there can be an expectation of having a “coming out story.” And an expectation of sharing who you are, how you identify, and who you love with anyone you meet. But that doesn’t have to be the case. It’s OK to wait, be silent, to hold yourself still until you are ready.
It’s OK to test the water of who and what is surrounding you. There are not always avenues of safety for coming out or feeling ready to shout that from the rooftops. Heck, I’m not even there yet.
You are the only one who knows when you are ready to share the vulnerable, sacred pieces of your Truth.
Folx With Faith supports those spaces where you choose when and how to share your story. It supports the evolution of your story.
All of you is loved and supported here, regardless of how much we know of your story. There will never be an expectation of vulnerability to share before you’re ready. You will be the one to know when your time is right to bless the world with your Truth.
For when you are ready, our hope is that there will always be a spot for you at the table and a listening ear to hear your story.
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Rev. Lily Sandberg (she/her/ella) grew up in Unity, believing wholeheartedly in humanity’s sacred worth and our messiness. This dichotomy of each of us being fully human and fully divine inspired her to pursue a BA in Religious Studies and Sociology from the University of New Mexico. Ordained from UWSI in 2022, she continues to pursue ministry focused on deep care of individuals, family systems, and communities. This has inspired her next educational pursuit into medical chaplaincy, beginning Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) in 2024. She regularly guest speaks for Unity communities, as well as consults ministries in spreading their message through social media.