I often seem to say “be gentle with yourself” when someone is going through a hard time. In those moments of strain and pain, it’s what I want for them. To release pressure and expectations they might put on themselves.
It’s easy to suggest to others. And the advice for how they might go about it is pretty free flowing too.
But when it comes to ourselves? “Be gentle”…not always so easy.
Even if I know I need to be gentle with myself, the “how” is harder to bring about. Especially during those times of strain and pain.
The Antithesis of Self-Gentleness
Perhaps it’s because, “be gentle with yourself” seems like a call to action. A response to something. We often engage with things like self-care, self-compassion, and self-kindness as stuff to do.
As such we might think of it purely at a surface level.
But this is not usually enough. Not least because of the driving message behind our self-critical voice…that WE are not enough. Or that some aspect of our life isn’t how it is “supposed to be”.
We are hard on ourselves when we experience core contradictions. That in our current state we are not good enough, happy enough, rich enough, calm enough, smart enough, attractive enough, caring enough, cool enough, assertive enough, popular enough, free enough etc.
And in order to feel whole, we need more of whatever it is that feels like it’s missing.
This Week’s Episode
In this episode of the podcast I explore the idea of naming some the contradictions we hold. This is one way to be gentle with ourselves. To do it without inner-judgement or a desire to analyse and fix. To allow space for those conflicts to make themselves known.
Examples like, “I want to stay in and I want to go out”. “I want to be alone and I want to be with you”. Or “I want to travel the world, and I want to settle down”.
A lack of personal self-gentleness often expands out of the language we use to frame collective norms and expectations. In a society that struggles with non-linear contradictions and matrix-conflicts, these kinds of statements look like problems to fix.
“You’ve got to choose one or the other”, “you can’t want both, you’ll have to decide”.
The truth is, we ALL have contradictions like this. We all carry ‘polarised’ desires that look like opposites, but in actual fact often go together. They are part of the same whole. Such contradictions might appear to be signs of fragmentation and inner separation. But rather than things to eradicate on the road to wholeness, they ARE signs of wholeness.
Only when we begin to step into and embrace the contradiction at the heart of life, do we find the messy truths of who we really are. Rather than a source of anxiety and shame, it’s actually something to enjoy, play with, and explore, with freedom and creative flow.
Be Gentle With Self, Be Gentle With Life
Gentleness is the flexibility of a willow tree. Under the weight of snow it is supple and bends, dropping the weight from its branches. Compared with the oak tree, which is strong in its ability to collect the weight of snow upon it without bending. Until…crack. It breaks and falls.
To be gentle with ourselves is to be gentle with the world outside of ourselves. One inspires the other (like the rhythm of breath). It’s a cycle and a pulse. We can hold other people, our stories, our identities, our expectations, assumptions, and judgements, like the willow tree holds snow. And with supple flexibility we can let go when our branches bend, and spring back into place once the payload drops.
“Supposed to” and “should” are the rigid, inflexible branches at the core of a certain collective story. They pile the weight of “doing-ness” onto the trees in the forest, and wonder why the floor is covered in broken boughs.
To be gentle with ourselves is to hold the world with gentleness first. It’s not the forced reaction to a life of feast or famine, boom or bust, spend or save. It’s an ongoing practice that lasts a lifetime.
Over to You
What is a contradiction you recognise in your own desire? Write it down or say it out loud. Don’t do anything else with them.
The Return to Serenity Island (The course is open and available!)