Vulnerability is also openness to what the world offers. Presence.

the best words

In August, I decided that I planned to focus on myself for about six months, to counteract my tendency to jump into a relationship when someone comes along, and to enjoy my life without the complications of – as I noted in my last entry – making two lives work together.


Explaining Rousseau’s Social Contract over pizza makes me feel like I’m a student again! Or maybe a fresh-faced professor?

And as I told this to my friend Ryan Oelke, he waved his hands, stopped me, and asked me to clarify. Was I really saying I was going to withdraw from the world, push away what came along, and avoid life’s challenges?

The answer is no; I clarified that my intention wasn’t to pull away from the world but rather to work with my habit of jumping into situations too early, to remain present with my moments, to allow events and relationships in my life to unfold rather than be pushed along prematurely.

Ryan summarized it well – “All this stuff we’re talking about – it all comes down to presence.” My six-month plan isn’t about putting on blinders to the world or rejecting out of hand any possible romance; it’s about being aware of my tendencies, about opening space for new ways of relating to people, about practicing patience in every aspect of my life. In other words – my “plan” is all about remaining present & aware.

And while the specifics of my situation ask me to state my goal in more specific, concrete terms, I should remain aware of the power of words to shape our actions and remember the intention of the goal: presence.

When I returned home from my visit with Ryan and his friends, I sent the following text to another friend of mine (after a short back and forth):

Vulnerability is also openness to what the world offers. Presence.

People guard their vulnerable places. And in many ways, rightly so. When our past experience shows us that certain things hurt us, the most compassionate action is to protect ourselves from those things.

When we speak about vulnerability, we’re talking about our most sensitive points, our most raw and unprotected places. We can’t help but feel protective when we use words like ‘vulnerable’ and ‘raw’ to describe them.

Buddhism makes a lot of distinctions based on the connections between the terms we use. In anger there is also discernment; in confusion there is also possibility.

And so vulnerability is also openness to the world that surrounds us; openness is all about being present.

Choosing the best words for a concept makes a huge difference in its impact. Vulnerable places need to be protected and fortified; openness isn’t always the best policy — should anyone suffer the things they know from experience will wound them? But presence… presence simply describes being here in the current moment, not resisting it based on predictions or fears, seeing it with all the wisdom of our previous experiences and making our decisions naturally – without brash judgment or paralyzing overanalysis.

Gurus and teachers have come up with a lot of terms for presence over the years. Showing up. Being here now. They each work for different people. Presence might mean nothing to you, but showing up might inspire you to greet every moment with all your wisdom and compassion, to be fully where you are.

So as I embark on my six-month journey, I’m keeping in mind the intention of my action, paying close attention to how carefully both the goal and the underlying reasons must be described – specific actions chosen to address the area of most of my difficulty with remaining presence – patience – and intentions carefully outlined to remind me to remain open to experience, not to close off from it.

And that’s a real danger when my goal is “staying single and focusing on myself for at least six months.” It’d be quite easy to push people away, hold them at arms’ length, or to keep my distance if I only paid attention to the literal goal. But do we learn anything about how to relate to people in the absence of interaction? Am I challenging myself to learn patience if my reaction is to extinguish romance (and other relationships) even before they begin?


So I use my intention to remind me to walk that edge, the blurry line, to get out and experience life, to enjoy the people – new and old – in my life.

Look closely at your goals and their underlying intentions. Explore, play with the words you use to describe them. What are your best words?

Mila (Jacob Stetser)

Mila is a writer, photographer, poet & technologist.

He shares here his thoughts on Buddhism, living compassionately, social media, building community,
& anything else that interests him.

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  1. I probably have something to say about this, but I probably need to think more about it.