Softness as Strength


As we gradually transition from winter to spring, I arise this morning in curiosity and begin to consider what I’m called to share in this week’s journal. Three words flow to the surface — softness as strength — and they will be my teacher as I listen to what they guide me to “see” and pass along our way. (It’s been evident for some time that this weekly journaling process is a sacred gift to myself as well as a sharing with you.)

As the photo above reminds me, I have been extraordinarily blessed by Susan being ushered into my life and my heart over 20 years ago. From the first time I saw her and took in her radiant beingness and joyful voice, I’ve been asked to surrender to the remarkable strength of her softness and loving.

For the first two years we were together, I was often frightened by the immense love she poured my way. I certainly didn’t grow up with this level of unconditional love, and it was very scary for me to continue opening my heart to her. As I felt very out of control, I unconsciously kept trying to run away from our intimacy. In fact, after about two years together, I was convinced we needed to break off our relationship and did so. What transpired when I did was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. Right after I broke up with Susan (and, amazingly, she just kept loving me when I did), I got on an airplane and began listening to some of her music (she has such an angelic, healing voice). I began sobbing uncontrollably and heard the following words inside: “You have no right to walk away from what we have given you. This relationship is more than you could ever imagine — you have no right.” At that moment, all the fears or doubts I had been carrying about Susan dissolved, and ever since my heart has been wholeheartedly committed to our spiritual partnership. I don’t know whether this was a voice from God, my soul, my high self, or what. All I knew at the time is that the words were true (and have indeed been born out over time), and that I was being supported in receiving the sacred gift of our long-term intimate adventure in this life.

In trying to capture my experience of Susan and the strength of her softness, years ago I wrote this brief poem:


Years ago

you spoke

to the very

center of

my being.

And I am

still catching

my breath.

Moving beyond the traditional view of softness as primarily a weakness, it occurs to me that, when allowed, softness is often like a powerful tributary that opens us to many of the richest experiences in life: surrender, compassion, relaxation, vulnerability, laughter, flowing and movement, forgiveness, etc. Years ago, Stephen Levine taught me about opening to one’s “soft belly” as a way to return to my center in response to stress. When we are in pain or walking through challenges in our life, our all-too-human tendency is to tighten the tender abdominal area of our body. Conscious, deep breathing is a natural pathway for accessing the rich experience of soft belly.

Speaking of softness and bellies, and how they can powerfully provide us with access to our intuition, I am reminded of the story of an indigenous tribe that have lived in the South Pacific for thousands of years. This tribe regularly canoes hundreds of miles from one island to another. To navigate in the canoe, their tradition is for the elder in the tribe to lie down with his soft, bare belly laying against the inside bottom of the canoe. In this way, he would “listen” carefully to the ocean currents as a way of accessing his knowing about the direction to guide the rowing of the canoe. With no horizon to guide them, the elders entered this intimate communication with the ocean to access their inner compass in support of successful navigation. It’s an amazing story about a very ancient and practical ritual, yet it reminds me of the challenge we are each faced with every day — of learning to live an awake, unrehearsed life and calibrating moment-to-moment as we go along.

With an eye towards softness and wisdom as it’s reflected in nature, here’s an entry from Henry David Thoreau’s journal on March 14th, 1860:


No sooner has the ice of Walden melted

than the wind begins to play in dark ripples

over the surface of the virgin water.

It is affecting to see nature as tender,

however old, and wearing none

of the wrinkles of age.

Ice dissolved is the next moment as

perfect water as if it had been melted

a million years. To see that which was

lately so hard and immovable

now so soft and impressible!

What if our moods could

dissolve thus completely?

It is like a flush of life to

a cheek that was dead.

During these times of powerful change, when we are all journeying into new waters, may the strength and resourcefulness of your softness guide and support you. (And, I always appreciate receiving your personal reflections in response to these journals.)

With much Loving, Gavin

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