The Softer Side / by Michelle Cowan

I've been listening to meditation CDs again… Therefore, my mind is full of compelling—and sometimes questionable—statements. For instance: "Soften all the places that are rigid within you."

All of them? I want to go all soft? Really? I don't know. Does that sound like balance?

That's a question for me to answer personally, over time. Honestly, I wouldn't mind being completely gentle and quiet with myself for a while. I'm tired, my colon is still sensitive from an infection six weeks ago, my ear is only now healing from its own infection (thank you swimming pool!), I decided to take up strength training again (ouchy for the muscles), and I'm going through major work/life changes. The list could go on.

I want to put myself to bed, pat my forehead, and leave my body suspended beyond space and time. When I was really sick, I started setting boundaries to accomplish just this. I set an earlier time to get ready for bed. I removed some old commitments and tasks from my plate. It seemed that illness had wrested me from the hard-driving mentality I have historically operated under.

Lately, however, I find myself veering back into old patterns, and it affects how I deal with food. When I'm tired, I want to eat more. I don't always do it, but I often find myself eating more than I sense that my body needs. If I lack comfort in any area of life, I tend to try to get it through food. And I want this pattern to stop.

Food is my simple comfort, but I know other, simple ways to comfort myself. Zoning out isn't completely negative. I can play mindless games of solitaire, read a novel, listen to a radio program. I can even meditate, call someone, take a walk, or do some chores.

However, notice one thing: I only now arrive at sleep. Sleep. Why don't I go to sleep? Why do I insist on staying up and journaling so that I can figure out why I feel so out of sorts? I already know why I feel out of sorts. I'm tired. And sleep is the only cure, yet I keep pushing it away.  At night, I fear grieving the day.  I fear leaving it and all the possibilities it contained (and that I did not attain) behind.

Sleep is gentle.

But I'm a go-getter. I'm driven. I can accomplish more than the average human. I can push myself to the limit and bounce back. I can make it. I am called to achieve greatness.

Those are lies (or at the very least, untruths) I tell myself. What good is greatness if I'm too tired to enjoy it? 

I know countless individuals who struggle with sleep, who struggle with being gentle with themselves. When it gets late, instead of simply going to bed, I spend time mentally kicking myself for not going to bed sooner. When I do that, I'm wasting time. I already know the appropriate course of action, and I can choose to replay old tapes or to act on my own wisdom.

It's time to recognize that getting enough sleep, resting, pampering myself, and allowing myself to be a less-than-productive human being is necessary. I may rail against the idea of softening all the rigid places within me, but when I do, my colon feels better, I fall to sleep easily, I feel in step with others and calm as I go through my day. When I'm gentler with myself, I'm gentler with others.

I'm still mulling over the idea of completely letting go of rigidity. A little part of me insists that there are times in life when I need to push. Sometimes, it's necessary to go beyond my feelings and intellect, or to briefly don a hard shield of protection. That's what the little voice is saying. But does that voice know the truth? Have I ever really let go of all rigidity? If I never have, how can I say that it won't work?

In any case, for me, now is all about balance. I am living in the moment and trying to incorporate a practice of gentleness in my thoughts and actions—toward myself and others. Perhaps the more softness I acquire, the more I will realize how defeating rigidity really is. 

I'm sure I'll have more insightful answers once I've gotten a solid eight hours of sleep.