The Practice of Softening.

To all of you who commented about your associations with the word soft: THANK YOU. A lot of them resonated with me, and so whenever I feel negative about the word soft, I’m using those as affirmations.

It’s funny how things work, once you start noticing something: you can’t really go back to how you were doing it before.

You guys, I tense up a LOT. I’d say in 80% of my interactions with my family, I tighten up in response to something… or even in anticipation to something. I harden up when my workouts get challenging. I can feel the tension creep when I’m scrolling through instagram and facebook feeds. And even when I’m by myself, just thinking, sometimes I tighten up, too.

And when I say I’m tight, yes, it means I’m tense in my body… but it also affects my inner landscape. When I’m tight, emotionally, I am clipped and distant and angry and resentful. I can tolerate only certain levels of feelings when I’m like this before it becomes Too Much and overloads. Then I yell to get it out or withdraw completely to avoid feeling, period.

I can’t believe I never saw this before now. It’s so prevalent in my day to day life, but I never saw it before.

Crazy. Just crazy.

Over the past year, I have spent a lot of time working on the mental aspect of triathlon and marathon training – really being okay with fatigue and discomfort. In the past, whenever I feel crappy during a race or training, I have panicked. And I give up on the race and walk. And then beat myself up for it.

Part of that being okay with discomfort has been, basically, allowing it to happen. Instead of fighting it, I’ve tried to relax into it whenever it’s hard. Which, I suppose, looking at it now, is a way of softening.

So my practice right now is to notice when I’m tight – and apply that same “relax” mentality to it. Relax my body, for starters. And then I ask myself, what would happen if I just allow what’s going on to happen?

Which, I know, sounds ridiculous. What would happen if I let reality… just happen? Seriously, I’m a control freak enough that I don’t actually let stuff happen?


My default is to fight. To DO something to make it different.

And I have to give myself permission to let something just be.

So my thoughts go like this. Whenever I recognize I’m tensing up – I’m tight in my body or my words are clipped or I feel like running away from whatever situation I’m in – I do a little experiment. I ask myself, Where can I soften here?

And then I try and soften – just a little. It’s much easier to relax my body, which is how I start. I take a deep breath and soften where I’m feeling tension. And then I ask myself the question – what would happen if I just accepted that this is happening and don’t actually DO anything about it?

It’s helping. This weekend I navigated myself out of completely overreacting (and then making it worse) a situation with my husband. It was a small issue, but being able to see it unfolding and then make a different CHOICE in the situation was incredibly freeing.

(A side note: How COOL is it that you can actually CHOOSE a way to react? For so many years, I didn’t realize this was possible. I just thought reactions were, well, reactions, and I thought anyone who said different was either lying or in denial. But with awareness, you DO have some measure of control over how you react. Crazy.)

I have a lot of hope that the practice of softening is really going to have a positive impact in my life.

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3 Responses to The Practice of Softening.

  1. Ana says:

    Oh wow, again, I could’ve totally written this (except the marathon/triathlon part). I am always tensing up. Whenever I stop to notice, my shoulders are up by my ears, but there is also an internal tightening, in my chest. The imagery of “loosening” when in an interaction with my family REALLY speaks to me. “Where can I soften here?”—I can SEE it happening in my mind. I think I can actually do this. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Deathstar says:

    I love this! Very Buddhist of you. You’re recognizing the inherent nature of your present moment.

  3. Justine says:

    Precisely the sort of thing my yoga teacher would say to me, if I was making it back to yoga at all! Beautifully put, and inspiring. Thanks for writing this.

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