This is a repost of a guest post I wrote for Jamie Ridler last summer. When she migrated content to her new site, this piece didn’t make it, but I love it so much I want to make sure it is still somewhere. Her prompt for me was “It’s not about being tough. It’s about being tender,” and Jamie invited those of us writing to offer whatever came to us as a response, “anything goes.” You can read a bit more of the background story of the piece here.
Tender Hearted Warrior
In my practice traditions — yoga, meditation, writing, and dog — training to be a warrior is not about being tough, it’s about being tender. Being a warrior in this sense has nothing to do with war, aggression or battle. It is not about control, dominance or winning. Being a warrior is about training the mind and the heart to stay open and present, compassionate and sane, with the intention of easing suffering wherever you find it. And there is plenty of suffering and struggle available for us to work with. In my own life, I’ve directly encountered loss, death, abuse, addiction, mental illness, aggression, and various other kinds of dis-ease.
Through my yoga practice, I work to bring my mind and body together into the same moment, to be present and embodied without judgment. Through this union, I have worked with how I might balance my effort with ease, cultivating a practice that is not too loose and not too tight. What I’ve learned has followed me off my mat, into my life and the world.
Through my meditation practice, I attempt to stay in my seat, to not run away or resist. I sit with whatever emotion or thought comes, without being consumed by it, without getting hooked or running away with it, without trying to change it, working to allow it to arise and dissolve on its own. No matter what comes up, I won’t abandon myself. What I’ve learned has followed me off my cushion, into my life and the world.
Through my writing practice, I intend to show up without an agenda, to surrender to the process, to allow what might arise, to give it a voice. Through the process I discover and learn, and through the product I share what I’ve created, enter into a larger conversation, into connection. What I’ve learned has followed me off the page, into my life and the world.
These three practices supported me in the additional difficulties encountered in my practice of dog, for the harsh reality I’ve faced — I have lost two dogs to cancer in the past four years. One of these dogs, my sweet Dexter, died just three short, (and also unbearably long), days ago. These relatively short but powerful relationships have put me in direct contact with the inevitability of change, impermanence, with the fact that I am not in control of anything. This practice has touched my heart, and what I’ve learned has followed into my life and the world.
A tender hearted warrior must be willing to cut through their own confusion, to sit with their own fear and pain, to remain present no matter what arises. This is incredibly difficult because it goes against our instinct to protect ourselves. We want to keep ourselves tough because we are afraid others will try to hurt us, take advantage, do damage. We also try to stay tough because we don’t trust ourselves — how we feel, think, behave, look — we think we’ll do the wrong things and be rejected, we believe there is something fundamentally wrong with us. We want so badly to fit in, to be safe, to be loved that we will even reject ourselves. However we express it, underlying this confusion is a lack of confidence in our basic goodness – the innate nature, wise and compassionate, that is with us from the beginning, pure and complete, whole.
When you encounter life as it is, full of impermanence and change and suffering, it’s tempting to try to protect yourself by getting tough, building a fortress, hiding inside a cocoon, being hard, untouchable, removed, numb. However, through effort and attention, through practice, we can learn to befriend ourselves, engage with reality and relate directly with basic goodness. We can practice being soft and open, tender with whatever arises. We are able to stay with ourselves, with reality. We won’t freak out, try to control what’s happening, run away or numb out. With confidence in our fundamental wisdom and compassion, we are connected to our inherent power, we can be of benefit, we can help, we can ease suffering in ourselves and in the world. Yes, we will be vulnerable, at risk of being wounded, but we also in this way will know joy, experience love, encounter amazement.
It’s not about being tough. It’s about being tender. By being soft we are strong. Life is tender and terrible, beautiful and brutal – keep your heart open, kind and gentle warrior.