Being Gentle on Oneself. But How Gentle is too Gentle?

I recently talked with a dear friend who reminded me, again, of the slowness and soft-ear needed towards oneself. Especially in difficult times.

In short, my friend has a daughter with serious, ongoing health complications. My friend is constantly care-giving and lives in a constant state of stress. Over the years she has regularly looked for support via therapy, acupuncture, running…

When I talked to her last night she told me of her radical acceptance routine – to do nothing. To do nothing to change how she is feeling. She allowed herself to do only that which was absolutely essential. During this time whispery voices inside her told her that she was bad for doing nothing. She observed them and continued doing nothing.

After three weeks she felt a little movement.
Something in her was rested enough, ready to wiggle a bit.

I felt an overall sense of peace as she shared her story. There was some kind of truth that resonated with me.

Then I remembered questions I used to have a lot, and occasionally still have:
But, for myself, how soft is too soft?
I will never learn, grow if I do not challenge myself! No?
Am I being lazy or avoidant, or do I really need to rest?

I think of the future-humans in the animation movie Wall-E. They built a world in which they never had to strain, floating about in their soft, space-age massage chairs. – A story that strikes fear in my heart because of how much it reminds me of the U.S. suburbia i was raised in, the drive-thrus connected by shopping plazas, movie theaters and olive gardens; It strikes fear in my heart because I feel it reach towards me with it’s familiar sticky, numbing, pleasure-button, too-much-candy fingers.

And I hear voices from other aspects of my culture, telling me that if I don’t strive and excel I am not worth talking to – various choirs of voices pointing at me, telling me whatever I am exactly in this moment should be different.

Most days, if those sorts of thoughts come, I remember to breath. To feel how it feels to breath.

I feel like we each are a unique pile of dna, childhood and present environment – such that, what is just right for one person, physio-emotional-mentally speaking, is too much for another, or too little for someone else.

This means, we can’t precisely gauge what is right for ourselves based on what works for another. Nor does someone else know for certain that what works for themselves will work for you.

When we are having a hard time we can try to support ourselves in different ways. We can try gently holding ourselves. We can try saying ‘hello’. Or shaking. We can try breathwork, or dancing, or walking in nature, or … we can actively do nothing.

Then – after a little while – listen: how does this feel? Does this feel right?

The whispery voices might come and tell you you’re bad. Then you ask yourself again, you feel for these questions: does this feel right? What I’m doing right now.

When you ask yourself these questions with a tender ear, you might start to notice that there may be the whispery voices, or the list of thoughts that start spinning out of control, racing to find a solution to your predicament, the best route out of where you are right now.

And, there is often, also, some other source of knowledge in yourself. – Keep an ear out for what feels vital and calming at the same time. Ask that part, is this right for me, right now?

If you’re not sure of the response, you might remain still and keep listening. Or check again in an hour. Or tomorrow.

Just try something and listen. Your version of doing may just be “doing nothing.” A lot of action happens during resting; it is cultural framing that considers “resting” to be doing “nothing.” Bears hibernate 7 ½ months every year.

“Researchers used to believe that microbes going dormant was an oddity peculiar to a few select species. Now, they are finding it’s more the rule than the exception. New work in some of the harshest environments around the world is finding that many microbes that find themselves in undesirable conditions choose to go dormant and wait for circumstances more to their liking. The trait may help explain how biodiversity within an ecosystem can recover from a crisis.” – – Quanta Magazine

postscript: While my friend used the term radical acceptance, I’ve seen what I consider similar ideas of non-action-other-than-allow-and-observe from several different sources, various cultures.

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