Notes on remaining open to all of life
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A song I’ve been enjoying:
I’ve found myself going back and forth between tightening and softening lately. Tightening when I feel afraid or angry, when I’m uncertain and wishing I knew the outcome — softening when I remember I’m safe in this moment, when I lean back into the here and now, when I re-center what I need. Then the tightening comes again when something takes ahold of my nervous system (the list of what does that is endless in the current world we live in), and then softening soon follows — sometimes not as soon as I’d like… but eventually.
The tightening happens in my stomach and throat, but also in my capacity to hold nuance, to think clearly, to see beyond what I’m feeling and into what’s possible. Tightness erodes clarity. Tightness reduces expansion. Tightness broadens fear, scarcity, and the feeling of being powerless. Tightness keeps me wound in my own Small Self, forgetting entirely about everything that exists beyond the tightness.
Tightness looks like turning away from reality. It looks like worst-case-scenario, all-or-nothing thinking. It looks like “What if this doesn’t go the way I want it to?” and “I don’t think I can handle this” — like worry embodied. It looks like self-doubt and rumination, catastrophizing and smallness. It looks like forgetting about my body and only listening to my brain. It looks like imagining everything that could go wrong, or focusing on all that is already wrong.
Softening happens when my shoulders drop and my jaw loosens. Softness allows for possibility. Softness invites clarity back to the picture. Softness ignites a deep breath and a stretch of the arms. Softness creates room. Softness holds space. Softness releases what is stuck. Softness lets me be affected by life without being continuously punctured, gut-punched, pummeled by it.
Softness looks like returning to my body, to my breath, to the moment I am in. It looks like knowing there are options — knowing there are choices. It looks like “now what?”and “knowing I’m feeling this way, what might I need right now?” It looks like humanity embodied. It looks like noticing micro-changes amid stuckness. It looks like remembering we, and life, are ever-changing.
When tightness comes, which it will for all of us (over and over again), I wonder if we can relate to it in a way that makes it a little less scary. I wonder if we can notice what it might need from us, rather than seeing it as a burden or something to rid ourselves of. I wonder if we can see it as a signal, as information, as an alert to our own needs. I wonder if we can recognize it as an event instead of an identity, or something wrong with us, or proof of our limiting stories. I wonder if we can tend to it as if we deserve compassion even when we’re entirely wound up in the tightness, because we do.
And, when softening comes, I wonder if we can really allow it. I wonder if we can let softness ease some of the tenderness that results from tightening. I wonder if we can trust it — fully feel it — let it nurture us. I wonder if we can let softening be as human as suffering is. I wonder if we can slowly believe we’re capable of holding softness in a hardening world. I wonder if we can make softening part of the whole — part of the process. I wonder if we can let softening teach us how to be with ourselves and each other.
Softening isn’t always easy. It means choosing to remain open in a wounded world. It means looking at the most tender of feelings and not turning away. It means allowing ourselves to be affected by life, by our own hearts, by those around us. It means feeling what arises, feeling what we might not want to feel, feeling into the truth. Softening is anything but weak, anything but flimsy, anything but frail. It requires our bones, our guts and our whole selves, because to soften is to stop cutting ourselves off from the world and our own humanity.
Yet allowing softening gives tightness somewhere to go. It provides a release, even when the release doesn’t feel good. It invites us into the depth of what we are holding and asks us to tend to it with care and kindness. It pushes us into action when we notice something isn’t right. It makes seeing clearly more natural, which makes it harder to look away from injustice or harm. None of this is easy — but it is more human than staying tightened, staying hardened, staying closed off to all of it.
My tendency in the world we live in is to tighten and stay there. Tightening often feels safer, like I’m protecting myself from the hurt. But when I remember I can trust myself to be with the hurt — that I don’t need to protect myself from reality, from what is true — softening becomes an ally. And the tightening no longer keeps me from feeling the things I need to feel, and being with what needs me to be with it, and also inviting in all the beauty that goes away when we remain tightened, which may temporarily keep out some of the bad but also keeps out all of the good.
And, as much as it hurts sometimes, I want to be with all of life. I want to soften into what hurts and soften into ease. I want to soften into the tenderness of looking at what’s happening in the world, of fear around the upcoming election, of witnessing humanity forget about the humanness in one another. I want to soften into overcoming and moments of being overjoyed. I want to soften into grief, letting it take me where I need to go. I want to soften into my life, even when softening means letting in the hard stuff too. Because when I approach life with a soft heart instead of a tightened one, nothing gets stuck for too long. There is room. Stretching. Shifting and shaping. There is flexibility and trust, open spaces instead of hard edges. There is humanity, humbleness, help and heart. There is the whole of life.
As we approach Election Day in the United States, may you soften into a safe embrace, into a steaming bowl of soup, into a landing pad for rest, into forgiveness, into right action, into your enoughness, into a blank page, into your own tender care and compassion.
As we remain witness to unending violence and harm, to crumbling and decaying, to hatred and separation, may you soften into the people and places that hold you, into your own willingness to remember how to breathe, into walks on crunchy leaf-lined streets, or simply from one room to the next.
As we move toward what is the holiday season for many, may you soften into your self-assuredness around boundaries, into cacao after dusk, into simplicity, into darkness being a window offering you clarity rather than something that only holds what hurts.
As we process and grieve, may you soften into the image of helpers and healers slowly encircling the earth with their care, into not needing to carry it all alone, into knowing which pieces are ready to be set down, into all the tiny, momentary ways you can lighten the load in the moment you find yourself in.
As we hold heartbreak and heartache, may you soften into the salves and the balms, into spaciousness to be with it all, into rooms that hold you, into hobbies that take you away when away is where you need to be, into the company of those who love you most, into willingness, into one step in front of the other.
There is so much causing us to want to tighten right now. Sometimes, tightening may be what is needed. Yet when we can remain soft in a hard world, we become who we need. We become who others need. We become who the world needs. To be a living contrast to the hardness of society is to be a gift, a lighthouse, a reached-out hand and a reminder of hope, of possibility, of what it looks like to remain human in a world insistent on dehumanizing all of us. I can’t think of anything more solid than that.
I’m practicing softening, and softening some more, and softening again. And then forgetting, becoming tightened once more. And then remembering, letting softening loosen the hardness. Over and over. Forever.
△ My dear friend Alex Elle’s newest book, How We Heal, is out this coming Tuesday, 11/8. I’m so honored to be a small part of it, along with so many other incredible humans sharing their experiences of healing alongside Alex’s story and teachings. you can pre-order it here or find it at your favorite bookstore when it comes out this week.
△ This listen:
△ I fell in love with this oak tree yesterday:
My softened heart sees yours.
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