Sunday, September 22, 2013

Make nice

Flags at half mast to honor and remember the people who died in the mass shooting at the U.S. Navy yard last week. This was taken at Union Station in DC.

It's instinctual to admire those among us who are tough, strong, fierce. We look up to those who can leap over tall buildings in a single bound. We love our superheroes in every one of life's arenas. We buy in, at a primal level, to the idea of survival of the fittest. Even med school is a kind of hazing, the way they work those people around the clock, to weed out the weak among them, I guess. Because working 24 hour shifts has nothing to do with being a healer. It's only about being a bad ass. Even doctors are supposed to be bad asses. So weird.

It's my belief that the natural, instinctual longing to be safe (the reason we admire strength and toughness) has chipped away at our belief in the value of gentleness.

  1. 1.
    (of a person) mild in temperament or behavior; kind or tender.
    "he was a gentle, sensitive man"
  2. 2.
    moderate in action, effect, or degree; not harsh or severe.
    "a little gentle persuasion"
    synonyms:lightsoft More

  1. 1.
    make or become gentle; calm or pacify.
    "Cobb's tone gentled a little"

Mildness is not well rewarded in our society, is it? They say, When things get tough, the tough get going. OK. But, though in a street fight it's best to be the strongest and toughest, being a tough guy does not always bring out the best facets of humanity, right? Cultivating gentleness, on the other hand, helps bring out the best in us when we aren't in a street fight. Please remember, most of the time, we are not engaged in battle. Our actual lives are not like the movies. Must we always be hard and tough? That's no way to live happily, if you ask me. C'mon.

Fortunately, there are many tried and true paths that help us cultivate gentleness. All of these practices involve settling down and becoming, in one way or another, contemplative. Meditation, yoga, the martial arts, and community service are examples of practices that help us develop gentleness.

There are little things you can do to become more gentle. For instance, think about the times of day when you feel most fragile, maybe first thing in the morning. Many people are a little raw, fresh out of sleep. For them, spending a few minutes stretching or breathing, snuggling or quietly remembering dreams before leaping into the fray of their busy lives helps launch the day with gentleness. That old saying, she woke up on the wrong side of the bed, sometimes refers to the harsh way many people start their days. Startled awake by an obnoxious alarm clock, they immediately jump into the shower, gulp coffee and worst of all, turn on the news. Who can feel relaxed and refreshed, ready to face the day, after an assault like that? Yikes.

Of course there are those who bounce out of bed at 5:00 a.m., chipper and good to go. For those folks, evening might be a time when some gentle, quiet moments would be kinder than sitting in a noisy bar, bellowing over the grinding beat of dance music.

Do you have an afternoon slump period? You aren't the only one. That's why people sit down for tea or take a nap. Even stepping outside to breathe some fresh air for a few minutes is a practice of self compassion, a gentle way to take care of yourself, to remind yourself that in addition to being a bad ass, you're also a creature of flesh and blood. Even small moments of self compassion help us embody and remember how to be kind not only to ourselves.

In some ways, we take very good care of ourselves. But being a bad ass is not the best course of action in most circumstances. We are a very emotional species. We need kindness, we need tenderness, from ourselves and each other. It's every bit as important as exercise "boot camps," harsh detox diets and personal trainers, believe me.

May your mind be spacious and your heart be soft and kind.


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