The Goddess of Vulnerability: Bherunda Nitya
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If you look up at the moon on the fourth night from now, you’ll see a beautiful crescent shape. If it’s close enough to the horizon, it’s often a sweet hazy golden color. The goddess of this night of the moon is called Bherunda Nitya. Her skin is shimmering, and but for her brilliant smile, she is naked.
It’s unusual for a goddess like this one to be naked. She may appear very vulnerable, but Bherunda also has more weapons than any of the other moon phase goddesses, including a sword, a discus, a thunderbolt, a bow and arrow, and a shield called the kavacha that works like a protective spell.
In our intimate relationships, many of us want to prevent our partners from seeing our tender places. We want to feel in control, project our best selves, and look good doing it, so sometimes we prefer taking up arms to showing our lover who we really are. It doesn’t work, though: if you’re going to feel anything, you’re going to be vulnerable. “Vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings,” researcher Brené Brown explains in her book Daring Greatly, “To feel is to be vulnerable.”
We often associate vulnerability with weakness, and we’ll do all kinds of emotional backflips to avoid it. We get angry, we shut down, we run away, or blame the other person. We think these tactics protect us, but they can actually make us more likely to get hurt. We can end up pushing away the very people we are trying to connect to, or not even realize how deeply we feel about something until it’s already lost. “Weakness often stems from a lack of vulnerability--when we don't acknowledge how and where we're tender, we're more at risk of being hurt,” Brown writes.
Healthy vulnerability is vital in relationships, but it has to start with your relationship with yourself. You have to be willing to feel in the first place to know where your tender places are. Sometimes they are right behind the weapon you just picked up. For example, anger can give us a sense of temporary empowerment to get up and fight, and sometimes that’s legitimately what we need to do. More often, though, it’s an inhibitory emotion--it’s trying to protect us from feeling a more complex emotion like shame, grief, or simply our own emotional nakedness.
Anger is a lot easier than feeling those scarier emotions, let alone communicating them to the other. Part of the reason vulnerability can feel so scary is because we legitimately don’t know if the other will hear us, hug us, or get freaked out and grab their own personal arsenal of weapons.
Being willing to stand in your own vulnerability, however, is its own form of protection. You know where you stand, how you feel, and what you need, and the other person’s reaction doesn’t change that. In a way, this is what creates your kavacha, Bherunda’s magical shield made of the words she needs to remind her that she’s safe. Plus, in my experience, there is nothing more disarming than honest emotion. You could both simply drop your weapons.
With her brilliant, golden smile, Bherunda encourages us to be brave and be willing to find power in our own nakedness. “Truth and courage aren't always comfortable,” Brown writes, “but they're never weakness.” Opening yourself to the one you love might be scary, but you might find a real sweetness on the other side. Then, perhaps, you can get the other kind of naked.