gentleness

Posted on August 4, 2009

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“Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength”.

(St. Francis de Sales)

“‘Love doesn’t mean doing extraordinary or heroic things. It means knowing how to do ordinary things with tenderness.’ Tenderness and gentleness characterize the life and work of Jean Vanier as well as L’Arche movement. Vanier observes that ‘community is made of the gentle concern that people show each other every day. It is made up of the small gestures, of services and sacrifices which say ‘I love you’ and I am happy to be with you.’ It is letting the other go in front of you, not trying to prove that you are in the right in a discussion; it is taking the small burdens from the other.’” (The Politics of Gentleness)

Gentleness in our culture is infused with the idea of weakness. Aggressiveness is what makes a person “successful” in America. It never occurred to me that gentleness goes hand in hand with strength.

The human spirit is full of seeming contradictions. What we do with these contradictions define who we are. Some people see the world in black and white and seem to have no choice but to embrace one side of themselves and disregard anything contradictory. But why nullify a part of ourselves just because it doesn’t seem to make sense? This is very difficult with Western thought that is always striving to compartmentalize, separate, categorize, and label things. Eastern thinking tends to embrace contradictions, recognizing the mystery of the human spirit, and reconciling and integrating apparent contradictions into a life of paradox.

In the book, Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, warriorship is taught as a way of life. A warrior lives a life of fearlessness only if the person lives a life that is fully aware and fully present. The characteristic at the core of warriorship is gentleness; which comes from tenderness.

“Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness. It comes from letting the world (touch) your heart, your raw and beautiful heart. You are willing to open up, without resistance or shyness, and face the world. You are willing to share your heart with others.”

“In the Shambhala tradition, discovering fearlessness comes from working with the softness of the human heart.” “When a human being first gives birth to the tender heart of warriorship… You no longer need to feel shy or embarrassed about being gentle. In fact, your softness begins to become passionate. You would like to extend yourself to others and communicate with them. When tenderness evolves in that direction, then you can truly appreciate the world around you. Sense perceptions become very interesting things. You are so tender and open already that you cannot help opening yourself to what takes place all around you … You begin to feel comfortable being a gentle and decent person.”

Gentleness is a part of the human experience that seems to have gotten lost in America’s individualistic, materialistic, success-driven culture. The good news is that gentleness and tenderness is there, embedded in the heart of every human being. And with the intentional work of nurturing the self, we can each become integrated and whole, embracing apparent contradictions, living the paradox inherent in humanity.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:23

Let your gentleness be evident to all. Philippians 4:5

Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Colossians 3:12

Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.  1Timothy 6:11

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