Dear fellow seminary students at The Chaplaincy Institute:

VULNERABILITY – Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage – Brene Brown

GOING INWARD – The outward work will never be puny if the inward work is great. – Meister Eckhart

Turning deeply inward and sharing vulnerability outwardly are my growing edges as defined by my vocational assessment review,  a process  we all undergo to reaffirm our calling to the ministry.  In a nutshell… “I would benefit from continuing to turn my focus inward for a deeper understanding of my vulnerabilities, emotions, wants and needs and to begin sharing these experiences with others and engaging in a more vulnerable and dependent position with people whom I feel safe and trusting with. It is this capacity to turn more fully in and express myself from this place of vulnerability that will provide even greater opportunities for full presence with others in their vulnerable places.”

Sound familiar? This seems to be a recurring theme amongst us in our cohort.  I have to say it pushed some buttons. My initial reaction was to feel like I need to learn psychological and emotional martial arts. In my body I felt this push and pull motion like a Tai Chi move. Then my mind immediately went on overdrive: vulnerability equals weakness. Weakness means I need defenses. Defenses means I need to protect my heart. To protect my heart means I need to shut down or disassociate. Ooooh… Then an Ah-Ha moment. The capacity to turn inward and to express my vulnerability outwardly are two sides of the same coin! I have to first know what my needs and wants are before I can share them, and by sharing I become more present with others.

I took this to my Hindu teacher…whining a little bit about going inward and being outwardly vulnerable…tears welling up in my eyes. Babaji looked at me and said, …”yes and you need to learn to be vulnerable without falling apart.” With that, he got up and left. Sitting there slightly stunned I thought, what the heck?? Where did these tears come from? Hadn’t I worked through all my emotional complexes and learned how to console my wounded inner child from the Tree of Life teachings and Spiritual Psychology?? Alas, this little hang-up around vulnerability just bit me in the ass again, so it apparently still needs attention.

Next I brought my growing edges into a ChI circle gathering. I said that I didn’t want to wrap my head around this particular genre of vulnerability; I wanted to wrap my heart around it. This is the vulnerability that breaks the heart wide open and then breathes expansiveness, light, love and calm equanimity into that space. This vulnerability is where my truth lies where I am able to uncover and discover something about myself that I may not have recognized or that perhaps I’ve been avoiding.

So to quote from Reb Zalman from Jewish with Feeling – this is what I’m asking: “Do me a favor. I’m confused. I don’t quite know what I stand for these days. I’m never sure how I come across to people, whether the message that I think I’m projecting is in fact what people really see. I want to make a change. I want to steer better. Can you tell me what kind of person you see when you look at me? Can you mirror myself back to me, give me your gentle but honest assessment of how I’m doing?”

Here are a few vulnerable issues that I’m sitting with these days:

FEAR/Trust– I started school as my money was running low. My financial situation is tenuous and I am in a place of not knowing yet how it will resolve so that I can continue to be here through 2016 modules, ordination and create right livelihood. I hold this space of not-knowing, openly asking for assistance and shifting my perspective, gratefully allowing opportunities to arise.

DOUBT/Faith – At least once each module, usually around topics involving hospital chaplaincy and CPE, I get triggered and bump up against feeling totally out of my element. I’m an artist, a photographer. How do I make this fit into ministry let alone chaplaincy?  Some have heard me say, “What the F ____ am I doing here?” Your support is always perfect. Thank you. So much of my inward reflection is around trusting that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be…and that it’s okay that not everything here is a fit for me…or maybe it is and I just don’t yet know it.

EXPECTATIONS/Self Worth – I have SO many ideas for my ministry that my mind and heart are full to overflowing. There are literally limitless possibilities of how to BE, to teach and to serve. I struggle to focus on a few, let alone ONE, suffering from analysis paralysis — because I’m not sure what is right, or best, or good enough. It was recommended that I find a mentor to help me with this focus. Our dear founder, Gina Rose, has stepped in to help me connect the dots.

DISCERNMENT/Intentions – WHY am I compelled to “teach people to see?” Yes, I heard a voice a decade ago, but is it really my destiny memo? Why isn’t it manifesting in a sustainable form? What am I not seeing? What are my blind spots, my aversions?

Then I watched a TED talk by BJ Miller, Director of the San Francisco Zen Hospice Project and it all came together. He talked about changing the experience, shifting the perspective of dying.  Which is also about shifting the perspective of living. In his talk he said that he studied Visual Art in college to learn something about how to see, because a horrific accident had left him with only one full limb, and that he couldn’t change much about what he was seeing. And then he said: “Perspective, that kind of alchemy we humans get to play with, turning anguish into a flower.”  

Breathe into that one a moment! …turning anguish into a flower…

THAT struck a chord and the tears welled up. This simple yet profound statement helps me unpack the deeper meaning of a message that came to me in my near-death experience 10 years ago– “painting, painting, painting, I just want to paint flowers.” When I pair that with “teach people to see” and the understanding from BJ’s comment, I get that my purpose in life, my mitvah, my ministry, truly is to shift perspectives –-to see beauty, meaning, wisdom, and inner divinity at whatever stage we are in life and to repair the world —tikkun olam– in some small way, turning anguish into a flower.

Each of us may use different words, but I think this is our collective destiny, and for me it starts with shifting my perspective and honoring my growing edges. In our work we must take exquisite care of ourselves and each other. If our intention is to be of service to others and the world, we must support each other and our own trust, faith and self-worth.

In closing, from Jewish with Feeling:   “Lending our eyes so a friend can better accomplish her own desires is just as precious a mitzvah as lending money or things. We are not doling out insight to the needy, but helping a friend stand squarely on her own two feet in the world.”

I hope this sharing offers you some support on your journey. I am humbly grateful for your reflections, your wisdom and your support. May our tikkun olamspeak truth, be courageous, and help turn anguish into flowers.  Thank you for bearing witness.  Namaste and Shalom.

Lisa Winston is a Seminary Student at The Chaplaincy Institute for Interfaith Studies