“Nothing is so strong as gentleness. Nothing is so gentle as real strength.” ~ Ralph W. Sockman
I had to learn the hard way, ironically.
Given where I came from and what I had to endure as a small child, and the rough edges of schooling and society I grew up in, it is only natural that gentleness would be considered a weakness, a way of being that in no way could serve and protect me. I’m not the only one.
If raised in an environment of consistent gentle affection and care then this becomes how we understand love and life to be; it becomes our learned experience and it improves the likelihood that we recreate that experience in our future relationships, including our relationship with the planet. But when our upbringing is fraught with tension, shouting, abuse and neglect then that defines our worldview, our sense of deservedness, what to expect in and from love. We grow up unconsciously assuming that love is a slap on the face, constant scoldings, stern looks, regular arguments and tension. And we recreate this version of history, this definition of love, again and again in our relationships with others, and the planet. It’s what we expect underneath the conscious mind. We know no different. It is our normal. And so we seek it on some level, we draw it to us.
Compound this further with an important understanding I stated in a previous article on education: when we are children, small is BIG when it comes to the way our caregivers treat us and how our environment affects us. It just seems so perfectly acceptable to give a child a cold fierce look, to yell at them, to regularly correct and push them, and still for some, to hit them. But for that small vulnerable child those moments can feel soul crushing, like sledgehammer blows of anger and shame that ostensibly appear harmless but cause a child to feel deeply hurt and flawed.
Given how much we unnecessarily push children, and how much fear, anger, aggressiveness, tension and low self-worth pervade Western culture, the trauma, disconnect and general negativity small children endure is sadly and vastly normalized. Parents co-habitating with little emotional connection or intelligence, the ritualistic six o’clock news blaring suffering and nonsense, violent video games, feeding our children tortured animal products, using iPads to sooth kids, forcing little ones to sit for hours on end on hard seats at school, has all become routine and entrenches us further in the spell of deep confusion and quiet despair; in living without gentleness.
* * *
“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” ~ L.R. Knost
The ubiquitousness of the “cruel and heartless world” hits our fragile nervous systems so hard as children that there is no choice but to shut down our gentle, wide-eyed, spontaneous, unbridled, dreaming, beaming childlike self in order to cope. Less and less is there room for our pure loving nature, for the passive part of us who is content floating in wonder, fluent in receptivity, moving lightly in spirals, living unapologetically entranced by the moment, in conversations only the soul can hear.
It is no longer safe to be gentle like a falling snowflake dissolving on your thirsty tongue, or as light as the whispery feathers of a hummingbird. There is no longer wisdom in being as delicate as a budding flower or as tender as the doting mother whose love for her baby is utterly ineffable. Gradually we harden, and even become cynical towards gentleness. Of course we must—gentleness has let us down. It could not hold up against the might of fierce reserve, bombast, drive, aggressiveness thrust at us. And with a majority populous abiding by this mandate it was hard to believe why we should conduct ourselves otherwise—a populous that believes its kids should be “toughened up” to “work hard” and “fit into” a “cruel world” where they will need to “fight” in order to “survive” and “make it” because there is “only so much” and its “only getting harder”.
How can a child’s immanent gentle trusting essence withstand that?
Yet, this has become our children’s experience only because we live it and thus teach it. The world out there has become our inner world. Outer harshness engenders inner harshness, narrowing and sharpening our senses, wiring our nervous systems to fight, freeze and flight, numbing our emotions, and causing the health of our bodies and the planet to suffer. Ways to disprove our burgeoning worldview of the cruel and heartless world are slim. Our friends complain and gossip more than praise and celebrate. Our workplaces are rife with drama. And our politicians only let us down. There is no reason to believe that we can trust gentleness and let it lead the way.
Yet, at some point, some brave soul must choose to no longer buy into this old tired story. But this can only be done by learning how to be gentle with one’s self, by taking the quantum leap to become intimate with an unknown world that can only be lived through one’s gentle, childlike presence. This can only happen by beginning one’s healing journey, by removing the history of unprocessed pain and sorrow trapped in the body, our steely exterior that separates us from our gentle self and the gentleness of life. Each time we unlayer our armor we break the spell a little bit more that life has to be hard work and that we must live protected, ready for battle.
* * *
I learned the hard way. My ailing body could no longer withstand the burden of carrying the heavy sword I needed as a child to protect myself. Bit by bit my organs, limbs, eyes, ears, throat, heart all started breaking down until I hit rock bottom and I knew I had to drop the sword and live undefended. That was the gift of the pain—it forced my tight tired grip open, and I became open to life.
It was time to trust my gentle spirit to lead, to trust that I no longer had to attack, defend and push my way through life as I had been conditioned to, but rather to have faith in life to show the way. It was time to stop guarding myself from others, and instead to trust my open heart as I did when very young. It was time to stop defining love through tension and arguments, but through gentle touch and tender words.
Finally, it was okay to be soft, gentle, and in this relaxed and receptive state life could more easily find me. This, I remembered, was life’s longing—for us to relax enough, to soften enough to fall gently into its loving arms and let ourselves be led.
My heart beat closer to the heartbeat of life, my senses opened to newfound beauty and wonder, life’s whispers, its rhythms found me more than they ever had, reverberating throughout my body. I could sit more comfortably in silence without needing to change a single thing. Heartbreaking rawness filled me with joy, but also with unexpected grief, the grief of my family, of the world, of the hidden struggles, the silent crying behind the strong fronts of the masses who suppress their gentle nature in the name of “productivity”, “success”, of “getting on with life”, to live in the perceived “cruel and heartless world”. I grieved, and still grieve, for the children who have no choice but to lose their immanent joy, their gentle spirit, because their caretakers and society at large have lost faith in their own gentle nature and the gentleness of life, and see no other way.
* * *
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” ~ Lao Tzu
There is another way, a gentler more loving way.
It doesn’t have to be like this any more. What we call “reality” is an old dying story worth deeply questioning, and ultimately leaving or transforming.
We came into this world gentle and must now, for the sake of our health and that of our children and planet, return to the raw open beauty we were born as, return to our true nature as gentle beings.
* * *
- Place a picture of yourself when you were a young child somewhere where you can see it daily. Let it remind you of your essential nature, as one who is innately gentle, loving and open. Imagine that this beautiful vulnerable childlike energy still resides in you, and ask yourself regularly how you can nourish it, what it needs from you.
- Look for ways you can be more gentle on children. How can you be more patient in the classroom, more kind at home, more supportive of their playful desires, less attached to your agendas of what you deem best? Remind yourself that engaging and preserving their gentle nature, including their wonder and openness, must be made more important that pushing them towards academic achievements.
- List any beliefs you may have that challenge gentle living. Chances are they are things you heard when a child. They may include: I have to work hard; I have to do it alone; It’s bad to put myself first; I shouldn’t be silly; Work first, play second. Begin to pay close attention to the stories you make up in your mind about how life has to be. Without conscious awareness, these stories are passed down to children; our inner voice becomes theirs.
- Treat yourself to self-care through massages, regular bubble baths, spending time with warm-hearted friends, reading nourishing books, going to bed early, and saying No when you’d normally say Yes. Surround yourself with those things that feed your soul and allow you to be gentle with yourself.
* * *
Check out Vince’s book: Let the Fire Burn ~ Nurturing the Creative Spirit of Children, A Children’s Book for Adults