Vulnerability seems to be getting a lot of attention lately. Why are people advocating it? I’ll suggest one reason, which is that practicing vulnerability can draw us toward recognizing our deepest truths and, through accepting them, realizing that our vulnerabilities are guides to what we can offer the world.
This is becoming increasingly true for me. As I continue to encounter autoimmune illness, it reminds me to care for myself in deeper ways. My endeavor to heal autoimmunity also opens a path of insight into the human relationship to the natural world. Just as autoimmune disease in an individual person is a situation of the self attacking the self, I believe that we can understand the ecological problems we have created as a situation of the self attacking the self.
Although many cultures have forgotten it, our human lives are so deeply entwined with the Earth and its ecosystems that they can be understood as our larger Self: our bodies have evolved over millennia from the same elements that compose air, soil, water, plants, and other animals beside ourselves. We wholly depend on the air, soil, water, plants, and other animals that inhabit this planet with us: we breathe with them and eat them; we share the same water; their presence in the form of tiny soil micro-organisms allows our food to grow. If we are being our best selves, we tend to air, soil, water, plants, and other animals—we live in aware relationship with them.
Thus, when we ignorantly or carelessly pollute this air and water on which we depend, and which partly compose our own bodies, it is as though we are living in a deranged relationship of autoimmunity with the natural world. When we hurt the soil via chemical agriculture, it is as though we are living in a relationship of autoimmunity with the minerals and micro-organisms that create our food. When we endanger the well-being of animals of any kind, be they wasp or toad, butterfly or rhinoceros, it is as though we are living in a misguided relationship of autoimmunity with our own siblings. Native Americans and other indigenous peoples believe that ‘we are related because we are created.’ Whether you believe that we evolved with other animals or were created with them, or both, I believe they are our brothers and sisters. Hurting them ultimately is an act of hurting ourselves, our family, our extended Self.
To come back to human autoimmune disease, many healthcare providers and patients are discovering ways to alleviate or heal it. I think of the work of Dr. Terry Wahls, Donna Eden, Sarah Ballantyne, Ph.D., Martha Beck, Danielle Walker, and many others. The strategies typically involve attentive self-care, allowing emergence of one’s true self and callings, alleviation of stress, healing the body’s energy system, and dietary changes. Fundamentally, healing autoimmune disease involves honoring the self in all its forms, from soul to body.
I hold a vision that not only can people struggling with autoimmunity heal themselves, but that in a much larger way, in this century we will heal our misguided autoimmune attack on the Earth. Seeing the Earth and all its inhabitants as extensions of us, as our relations, as our larger Self, inspires the tender care, the respect, and the restorative actions that are needed to resolve our deep environmental problems.
I will be writing more on this topic. For now, I invite you to experiment with being open to seeing the natural world—ecosystems, plants, animals, the whole Earth—as your larger Self. If that feels right to you, then what caring actions can develop from that view? If it makes you feel vulnerable, can you find a larger truth within that feeling? I would love to hear your comments.