The late, great Muhammad Ali
For many years I have talked in therapy room about the “the pebble in your shoe”. I will come back to that later.
More recently Muhammad Ali died and left an incredible legacy behind him. Barack Obama captured it when he said that his legacy shows that Ali the activist fought outside the ring for what was right as well as in it. He supported Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela and, indeed, he lived up to the adage htat there is never a wrong time to do the right thing.
Ali transcended sport. He risked much in his stance against conscription to the US army and opposition to America’s involvement in the Vietnam war. One of his biggest legacy is how he fought prejudice and inequality.
However, as a health care professional, I find it’s how he lived his life with Parkinson’s that was so remarkable.
He developed Parkinson’s in 1984, aged 42, thanks to the brain injuries associated with boxing. The fast talking fighter who ‘floats like a butterfly, stings like a breeze’ was reduced to silence, a trembling man as he lit the Olympic flame in Atlanta 1996 and was the flag bearer in the 2012 London Olympics.
He had a dignity in the presence of this chronic, debilitating and transforming illness. Essentially his biggest challenge in his life was encountered outside of the boxing ring.
He didn’t go invisible with his chronic condition. Unlike many people with chronic illness, and there are many, he did not retreat into the shadows. Muhammad Ali showed us the path of vulnerability and acceptance.
Vulnerability & Acceptance
Vulnerability and acceptance are two key areas in life that we all have to work on. In life, vulnerability is often seen as a negative.
This can be an issue for the person who openly cries when upset. Take Joan, who I meet recently. She was recounting a frequent situation in her relationship.
“I want to talk to my partner, I really need to tell him he is upsetting me. I cry when I try to give him this message and instead he sabotages me with “there you go, you are crying again”.
We worked on how you can give a message while being upset.
“Even though I am upset and crying, what I am saying is important, you need to do A, B and C.”
This is a key skill if your vulnerability is being used against you.
Most of us have vulnerabilities — in fact I believe we all have.
In true relationships, we open up and let others know our vulnerabilities as this is a big part of the connecting and bonding process.
A tension exists between this vulnerability and how we are taught to show the opposite; namely to become guarded and immune to the slings and arrows of life. Could it be that how we approach vulnerability is an unhelpful mindset? Could we be setting ourselves and our children up for even bigger falls?
Vulnerability is part of the human experience. Many times we look for it in others and deny it within ourselves. Our vulnerabilities amplify our hurts, heartbreaks and setbacks. Yet, if we didn’t have these experiences, where are we with experiencing the joys and happiness of life?
That is the paradox: to be our ‘real selves’, vulnerability is part of our human experience and that is also our strength.
Embracing vulnerability is what Mohammad Ali taught us — how you can be both strong and vulnerable. Embracing vulnerability rather than fighting against it allows for those with emotional struggles to tackle their difficulties in a different way.
Stephen Russel, the author noted that “vulnerability is the only authentic state. Being vulnerable means being open, for wounding, but also for pleasure. Being open to the wounds of life means also being open to the bounty and beauty”.
Five Reasons why Embracing Vulnerability Matters
Embracing vulnerability makes you more authentic and truthful with yourself and others.
Embracing vulnerability takes you out of the safe comfort zone into that space when magic happens — hence our growth is deeper.
Embracing vulnerability allows you to connect on a more authentic level with yourself and others. This bonding enhances connection and relationships as it allows us to love deeper.
Embracing vulnerability enhances your romantic and sexual relationships are you are more emotionally available.
Embracing vulnerability moves you from ‘human doing’ to ‘human being’ thereby promoting your wellbeing.
Oh, and back to that pebble in our shoe — could that be our vulnerability? To be honest, I would look at it carefully, as it might be something that you can work on, in fact it might not be vulnerability!
For many that stone in the shoe is not a person’s vulnerability! It’s something people too often hold onto; hurt, depression, anxiety, grudges etc. Its toxic stuff.
Another challenge for us is to ditch these stones or toxicity. These stones can act as defence mechanism that impedes our growth and ensure our emotional wounds never heal. Therapists rightly say that before we remove a defence we need to replace it with healthier actions. The challenge for all of is to identify our true vulnerabilities. Mohammad Ali said: “It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe”.
Wisdom. I like that.
Dr Eddie Murphy runs a psychological and counselling service in Portarlington, Co Laois. If you are organising a speaker or training for school, community, voluntary, sporting or work groups, call Dr Eddie on 087 1302899 or go to www.facebook.com/ dr.eddie.murphy.psychologist. Dr. Eddie Murphy provides Online CBT to Stop Depression and Stop Anxiety at. www.stratushealthcare.ie/mental-wellbeing