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Varanasi, India.

Photo and words from Don: Because I’m so frequently out of my comfort zone, this nomadic life has provided a great incentive to become less emotionally defended. While travelling we’re constantly faced with the need to find our way in unfamiliar surroundings. At times this has led to discord between us. We always need to reach agreement and through what was at times hard experience we discovered that the quickest way of achieving consensus was for both of us to cop to the truth of our situation without being defensive about it.

I sometimes experience the process of becoming less emotionally defended as a letting go of a physical armoring, a crumbling away of the walls that I erected stone by stone and brick by brick during my childhood and early adult life to protect what I had always thought of as my very vulnerable and easily wounded inner self. This process of letting go can leave me feeling vulnerable for a while afterwards, but it has also resulted in me gradually becoming less defended. Sometimes a deep sigh will arise spontaneously as another piece of old armoring crumbles. The process is not unpleasant, just a bit scary at times.

It has taken me years to understand that being undefended is a whole hell of a lot safer than being highly defended. Being highly defended meant in my mind that I had to be perfect so that people couldn’t hurt me. What I didn’t realize in my defended state was two things: 1) that incredible effort was required to try to appear perfect so that people wouldn’t criticize me, because the smallest threat or challenge to my fragile self-esteem had to be met with fierce resistance, and 2) that I was completely inauthentic in my way of being with myself and of course, with others. I had no insight into my own behaviour or into the behaviour of others towards me. That still doesn’t quite capture the degree of isolation I felt from others and from myself: being so defended that no part of me felt vulnerable meant that there was absolutely no possibility of having an authentic heart connection with anyone. I thought that this was the only way I could feel safe, whereas in fact being that way left me vulnerable to the smallest act of thoughtlessness or harshness on the part of someone else.

It’s taken me the last thirty years to get to a place in myself where I feel safe enough to be authentic, to let myself feel vulnerable and to love openheartedly. I don’t feel a need to be right all the time any more. I can say that I’m sorry and really mean it when I realize that I’ve said or done something to upset someone else. I don’t care that it’s taken so long to get here, I just feel blessed that it has happened at all.

All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted.
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.