Things I heard growing up... You need to study HARD. You need to be TOUGH. You need to learn how to CLENCH your fists and BUCKLE UP. What I didn't hear... You need to be SOFT. GENTLENESS is important. Keep it LIGHT. Our relationship to "softness" is deeply entrenched in our familial and cultural practices. The language of softness is oftentimes missing in the way we express ourselves, what is happening in our bodies, and how we are relating with each other.
But what would happen if we invite "softening" in our lives and in our daily practices? Yesterday in a mentoring session (as part of my work as mentor for Vision 20/20), I invited my Buddygroup to think of:
"What are they holding on too tightly that they can invite some softening?"
This prompt led us to very interesting discussions on areas in our lives that need softening:
Attending to our Inner critic
The inner chatter that we often hear as we take a break, pause or pivot in life can oftentimes be challenging. The questions and judgments swirling in our head can be:
Is what I'm doing enough?
Why am I not being productive?
How come I haven't been as successful?
I am so lazy.
I am not worthy.
I am doing what others expect from me.
I don't belong.
When you find yourself with such heavy inner critic talks, I invite you to explore these conversations with some softening.
What would be made possible as we learn to soften on the "shoulds" and "must haves" that we impose on ourselves and others?
Which of these judgments would you like to explore and look at with a softened glaze? with a softened heart? with a softened hand? 2. Navigating conflict and tension Conflict and tension immediately positions us in a stance of hardness. We are used to braving ourselves up for what might lie ahead and sometimes putting on the shield to protect us from what might be confrontational situations. These are all valid responses to protect us and keep us safe. Yet, we don't have to go in our lives always activated, always tensed, or always hyper vigilant.
There are periods in our lives where we need to know when to let our guards down and when to relax the nervous system. In places and relationships where conflict and tension are high, it is important for us to also find refuge in other relationships and other spaces where we can relax and restore ourselves.
What would be made possible as we learn to notice the tense parts in our bodies, our work, dealings with others, in our communities, and especially in our relationships?
What would be made possible if we can tend to these tense parts with softness? 3. Facing crossroads There are moments in our lives where we hit a crossroad and we are tasked to re-examine our lives. These are the moments where we take stock of what is going on inside and outside of us. Moments where we re-evaluate how we want to show up and what we want to pursue. in life.
Intentionally exploring when to persevere, when to pause, when to pivot or when to pull the plug on relationships, work, and activities that are not serving you is very crucial not just for yourself, but also for the those around you. This is not about judging one's self as a failure. Rather, it's an act of harvesting- bringing in the strengths, insights and learnings to the new phase.
What would be made possible as we learn to invite more softness in the way we do things, engage with others, pursue our purpose, and attend to crossroads with softness? 4. Showing up as leaders A dear friend of mine Richard Bartlett asked me recently, "where do you draw your sovereignty from?" His question made me ponder about myself, my leadership and my agency. The images that came in my mind surprised and fascinated me. Rather than images of when I was working as a centre director for street kids or the different activitst-social work that I did or doing, what came up in my mind as I was reflecting on these questions were:
How I served my mother in my early twenties when she was dying from metastatic breast cancer
How I navigated my own journey with breast cancer at the age of 37
How I parent and the amazing 2 teenagers that we have
All 3 images, were periods of care and tending. Moments where in the face of hardships, tenderness and softness were invited in. I realised that I drew power from the ways in which I show up with care, connection, contribution, and community, and this is where my personal leadership is based from. These are the ways in which I reclaim my power, and where a lot of softness are needed. In our Buddygroup session, one mentioned how challenging the status quo is important for her and even though there is an activist stance in this, there is also a side that is softening. The side that is softening were her tightly held beliefs around who takes leadership in changing the status quo (the leaders need to take a stand) and her role in this (I am capable to share my stance and encourage others to do things differently from a place of gentleness). This is where she reclaimed her agency and the power to show up with her gentle self.
What would be made possible when we show up, advocate for ourselves and others (including the more than human), and lead with softness?
How would personal leadership look like, feel like, sound like from this place of softness?
I am curious to know what comes alive for you after reading this piece. Where in your body are you finding softness, tenderness?
And lastly, here is a heartfelt poem that came out on this topic of softening: THE SOFTENING The edges were the hands glide smoothly The cusping and holding with tenderness Feeling the contours of the cup, of hands held in love of passionate kisses of hearts fused with the desire to change to transform to bridge the old with the new There is softness there in the gazing of what's possible looking at the horizons with care softening our bodies as we grieve what was lost letting the tears flow letting our muscles relax letting our nervous system find new pathways for healing There is softness there in the murmuring of longings allowing the beating of our hearts and what we love to drive us in our work in our dreams in the spaces of refuge that we create for ourselves and for others
WHAT ELSE IS BREWING?
Join the next REFUGIA learning session on Designing Healing-Centered Spaces (May 16). You can read more about this event that I am facilitating here.
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