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What's Soft is Strong

Written by Lynne

"Water is fluid, soft and yielding. But water will wear away rock which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.”- Lao Tzu

If I’m remembering right, I first came upon this quote in the e-mail signatures of one of my friends from college. She was “into” this sort of thing and so it at first made me smile as being part of her quirky personality. The quote stayed with me, though, and the more that I thought about the relationship between the rock and the water, the more it started to mean to me and the more I really wanted to believe it. I have often felt pulled between wanting to be both soft and strong and worrying that one would have to come at the expense of the other. One of my core beliefs that seems to inform a lot of my ongoing efforts at achieving wellness centers around being soft. Softness, in this sense, takes a lot of forms, all of which reflect some sort of deficit. My thoughts tell me that I’m not strong enough, that I’m not productive enough, that I’m not brave enough. A worry that comes up often is that I’m too sensitive for this world and that I need to be more thoughtful about having my guard up because I’m not built to understand the rules that everyone else seems to be playing by.

Reflecting on this new year and the things that I wanted for myself, I found myself thinking a lot about fear. I often find myself thinking that I need to hold on to these core beliefs about my softness in order to succeed and keep moving forward. My fear of being too soft, I think, keeps me from falling into failure, or from being caught off guard by a world that is not set up for sensitive souls like me. Fear, though, cannot co-exist in its entirety with love. And this is true in the inverse as well. Fear, like the rock, uses its strength and force to block love’s path. Love, like the water, wears away at fear, should it be allowed to flow. This dichotomy between love and fear feels particularly poignant, as I write these reflections down in the days following the insurrection at the capitol—the violent culmination of years of rhetoric based in fear.

Fear is such a powerful motivator. It persuades us to act against our own best interest; moves us to act as barriers against our own fulfillment by telling us that we must always remain on the defense. It convinces us that we cannot stand to see ourselves in the other; cannot stand to lose our privilege, our comfort, or our defenses, because this would mean being vulnerable. Vulnerability provides a chance to consider ourselves as we truly are and brings with it the risk that we might find ourselves lacking. I have found myself wondering, what if fear is making my path to success and fulfillment much more narrow, instead of keeping me committed to walking forward on it? I am left reflecting on how I might use this year to commit to finding ways to let love flow more freely--to trust myself more wholly--rather than working to commit more rigidly to fear-based strategies that block the flow of this love. What might it look like if I was to love my body enough to let it tell me when it needs to move and when it needs to rest, instead of forcing movement in the name of “health?” How might my relationships grow if I loved my support system enough to trust them to help me carry my load, instead of shielding them from it out of my “love” for them? How might my accomplishments feel more joyful and authentic if I believed in my process instead of tying my value to my productivity? I wonder, what might change for me this year if I was to work on believing in the truth of the words above; to trust that I am strong because of, rather than in spite of, my softness.

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