Being vulnerable, or putting my belly to the sky

As the Bonnie Raitt song goes, “I can’t make you love me if you don’t / You can’t make your heart feel something it won’t.” I am guessing hundreds of thousands of people have sang this song, envisioning an unrequited love or an ex-boyfriend. For me, this song conjures up an image of Lulu.

Lulu is a 10-year-old Scottish terrier that belongs to my neighbors and long-time family friends.  As a kid, I would oftentimes run over after school and try pet her, much to the chagrin of my dog Tess. Notice that I used the word “try.” Lulu did not like me. She would run away and hide.

Otto the dog 2,5years Scottish Terrier
A Lulu look-alike.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a person who is not particularly fond of children or cats, dogs are my “thing.” Seeing Lulu continually rebuff me was disheartening and frustrating; watching her cower in my presence was just plain sad. What was I to do? How could I make her like me?

This pattern continued until this year’s fall break, when I decided that I had had enough. Her owner, an outdoors-man, told me that I should show submission. It seemed simple enough, so I did. I got down on all fours and rolled over onto my back. I resembled a ridiculous version of a dead cockroach.

It worked.

After a while, Lulu made her way over to me and sniffed my neck. That was all it took. I got up, and she came to me. She let me pet her, rub her belly and scratch behind her ears. It was miraculous. After knowing this dog her entire life and continually forcing my friendship upon her, all I had to do was look like an idiot on a living room floor in Kearney, Nebraska.

Turns out, rolling over and exposing one’s throat and stomach is a universal sign of submission in the animal kingdom. (At least that is what I can determine from Jodi Piccoult books and internet experts.) By showing that the least protected parts of their bodies are open, left exposed to danger, an animal demonstrates that they are lesser and that they are at the mercy of the the dominant animal. It works for dogs, wolves, lions and tigers and, apparently, humans who are desperate for a certain lap dog to love them.

Submission in animals is all about showing humility and meekness. In humans, we call that “being vulnerable.”

Does anybody truly enjoy being vulnerable? The term itself comes from the Latin word vulnus, “to wound.” It means “to be susceptible to physical, mental or emotional attack or harm.” Sounds like a bad thing, right? Wrong.

This weekend, I went on a retreat called “Encounter.” On it, we were encouraged to be vulnerable and open with ourselves and others. It was scary. Peeling away layers and being completely honest with yourself is like being naked, only no amount of averted eyes can make things less awkward (unless you are a nudist and enjoy being naked in front of others.)

My small group from the Encounter retreat. Photo courtesy Rachel Marlowe
My small group from the Encounter retreat. Photo courtesy Rachel Marlow.

It sounds crazy, but the entire weekend, I kept thinking about my Lulu experiment, and it pushed me to fully immerse myself in the experience.

By stripping down, I felt reinvigorated. It was like discovering my asterisks, but on a grander and more spiritual scale. Being vulnerable and open was refreshing, like seeing the girl who always wears too much eyeliner fresh-faced.  As someone said this weekend, being vulnerable is “when you are most beautiful.”

I am so glad I got the chance to be a part of this experience. I am going to attempt to be more open and vulnerable in my relationships with the world. If that means that I have to roll over on my back and expose my belly to the sky, I will do it.

Prepare for many dead cockroach moments.

Has being vulnerable ever affected your life? Is it scary to you? Do you have any “Lulu moments?”

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3 thoughts on “Being vulnerable, or putting my belly to the sky

  1. lucasdnovotny November 5, 2013 / 2:49 PM

    Amanda! This is great! Happy to have this shared experience. Your words are beautiful–thanks for sharing!

  2. Janbran February 7, 2014 / 7:53 PM

    RIP Dear Lulu 1-30-14—-Here’s to being vulnerable–and lessons from dogs. Suppose she is hanging with Tess???

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