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Friday, January 29, 2016

The Practice of...

Cultivating Gentleness

It's the hard things that break, soft things don't break. It was an epiphany I had today and I just wonder why it took me so very, very long to see it! You can waste so many years of your life trying to become something hard in order not to break; but it's the soft things that can't break! The hard things are the ones that shatter into a million pieces.”
C. JoyBell C.

The floor of my house is littered with gutless dog toys. Liza loves her soft play things—ducks and hedgehogs and skunks. Unfortunately, Gidget, who comes here several days a week for doggie-day-care, loves them too. Gidget's singular mission is to rip them open and pull out that squeaky thing inside. Then she systematically pulls every last scrap of fur off them and all the stuffing out. We call Gidget, who weighs about seven pounds, “Cacamoto: The Destroyer of Worlds.” Having her toys stripped and hollow, however, does not make Liza love them less. When she gets excited about something (usually involving food) she snatches one up and flings it into the air, “Alleluia!” When we head to bed at night, she gathers up a couple of them to bring along. Gutless critters are her comrades.

There's a metaphor in there somewhere. Soft hearts do break, I'm sorry to say, but their breaking is the opening needed to allow love to pour out and light to pour in. It seems to me that we put too great a value on hardness. We associate soft with feminine, and feminine with weak, and weak with cowardice. Here is an insight from Leo Rosten (Captain Newman, M.D.): “I learned that it is the weak who are cruel, and that gentleness is to be expected only from the strong.” That has been my experience, too. Gentle people are generally more secure in themselves, and thus have less need to put others down, or lord-it-over anyone.

Charlotte Bronte pointed out the strength of gentleness in Jane Eyre: “Oh! That Gentleness! How far more potent is it than force!” Gentleness is a characteristic that would indeed fall into the feminine sphere, in men as well as women. It is a product of Eros, love. However, anyone who has encountered a bear with cubs, or, for that matter, any mammal with a baby, knows there is no more ferocious force on earth than the protective feminine. She's not one to take lightly (or turn your back on).

In these days of too much hardness, we would do well to cultivate the softer side of life. Gentleness toward ourselves leads to gentleness toward others, and that, in turn, leads to a changed heart. Here's a poem by Sanober Khan to that effect:

Whatever you do,
be gentle with yourself.
You don't just live in this world,
or your home
or your skin.
You also live
in someone's eyes.”

In the Spirit,

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