Characteristics of an age of tenderness
“As soon as you’re born they make you feel small,
by giving you no time instead of it all,
till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all,”
Working Class Hero – John Lennon
The tragic words of John Lennon are sadly true for many, but for many others their parents pour loving attention into them in the days after their birth. It is an attention full of the elixir of new life. And it enlivens us. The first months of living as babies outside our mother’s womb, lay a foundation in our subconscious. This foundation is a fertile promise, for a future of holistic fulfilment. But the experience of many has trapped them with a perplexing confusion. That imprinted promise of freedom and joy is in irksome discord with their layers of experience, under which it is hiding and too many have had it betrayed. We live in a world where racism, intolerance, greed, xenophobia, terrorism, ethnic cleansing and economic rationalism which panders to the pocket of the already rich undermine the ‘promise’. Many live with the daily stress of government corruption, child slavery and pornography, paedophilia, the scourge of drug and alcohol addiction, bullying, teasing and initiations. Individuals who learn about their human rights, live conflicted by social groups of exclusion, rejection or betrayal. But, …
Hidden within the subconscious of humanity
is a hope.
to unleash an awareness
to which they can then,
commit their life.
It is in the loving moments of positive birth experiences that we find our most abiding image of tenderness. As we cradle our new born in our strong and gentle arms, all our hopes and dreams bubble into a concoction of tenderness and wonder. In such moments there is the potential to incorporate reason into a humane understanding and way of living. This tenderness humanises reason and is the pinnacle of its potential. Of course reason is a necessary tool and we must use it appropriately. But, forgiveness, intuition and tenderness will humanise the cold facts that reason seeks. It is a holistic attitude that enhances the quality of a person’s life. In it there is respect for difference in cultures, perspectives and knowledge. There is a respect for the dignity of individuals in the context of their lives. And, there is respect for our fragility and vulnerability, our natural fears and insecurities.
But, as the saying goes, ‘It takes two to tango’. We need others to dance the dance of interconnected relationship with us. A one way flow of such humanity, will only empty the reservoir, leaving a parched heart, a disillusioned mind and a warped perspective. When there are interdependent relationships then mutual support depends on the trust developed between the people. The give and take of trustworthy individuals opens the gates of our inner defences, for we will know that not only are we accepted for who we are, but we are supported in who we are becoming. Give acceptance, and receive it back. Give support and receive it back. Such is the interdependence through which intelligence can create a conducive environment of cooperation and friendship which celebrates fragility and vulnerability.
Tenderness is active. It caresses and loosens. It unknots and affirms.
Tenderness affirms the fragility of life. It nurtures and nourishes.
Tenderness is flexible and harmonious. It is strength, in an ocean of vulnerability.
Tenderness is assertive. It affirms values and the wisdom of growth.
Tenderness is personal. It opens our defences to face our inherent softness.
Tenderness sprouts, grows and blooms compassion and love.
Tenderness evokes creativity. It accesses the unexpected.
Tenderness is decisive. It is vision without blemish.
Tenderness consults patiently. It responds from consensus.
Tenderness is practical. It chooses actions, which respond to needs.
Tenderness informs our struggle with mortality, maturing it into a glowing presence of acceptance.
Tenderness liberates the past into the present. It balms the pain of betrayal while dancing in the esteem of accomplishment.
Tenderness unifies the present, with a holistic and hopeful acceptance of the future.
Tenderness is reflective rather than reactive. It evolves intuitions that work.
It’s vision is broad. It includes what it can. It levels barriers. It designs optimum futures. Its structures complement and are benign.
Tenderness is the height of reason.
Tenderness is wisdom.
Tenderness is beauty.
It is individual people, with specific agendas or not, who are the thinkers, choosers and agents of change. Tenderness, with the right timing, can touch the hardest, open the damaged and speak to the conniving. It has the potential to unite the hearts of many with clarity and purpose.
Vulnerability, Resilience and Change
Something in us is drawn to be vulnerable even in the face of our survival instincts. We know we are fragile and tiny in the face of the vast universe and violent forces of nature. Why then do we have the impulse to be vulnerable when being vulnerable is potentially dangerous, leading to all kinds of manipulation and exploitation? Human beings seek softness, gentleness and tenderness. There is an impulse to let go and totally relax. We seek the attitude of being free from the need to survive. It appears to be a contradiction. So what then is it that seeks the resonance and resolution of letting go our inner defence into vulnerability?
Could it be that showing vulnerability along with resilience sends a message that we are not a threat to others? This attitude is a message that we are open to support from others – vulnerable, but not dependent on them – resilience.
Resilience is a message that we can look after our self and being able to look after our self makes us valuable to the group as contributors to resource provision. Resilience is about independence and self support. Our competence and care imply that we can be supportive and helpful. Thus we become attractive as a companion and an ally.
Think of a moment that you remember being totally vulnerable. One of my favourite memories is being with family and friends beside my favourite rock pools in the mountains of Cape Town at Bains Kloof. The golden colour of the water, the white smooth rocks, the swaying green trees and reeds, the blue sky under baking sun. I can say that I have been happy in ways that are unique there. All my defences are down in the texture of the fresh alive soft mountain water, as it flows in and over my body after plunging into the dark brown and golden pool, with water crashing, rushing and cascading as I give myself fully to the dolphin stroke of ‘butterfly’ with every fibre of my being. Vulnerability allows me to relax into creativity and playfulness. I am open to receive the moment fully, totally relaxed. Is this what makes vulnerability attractive – the experience of being totally open to receive replenishment of Self with what might be termed the ‘primal energy of nature’? This renewal draws out deep joy from the cells of our body. And as the cells rejoice in their bounty, the feeling seeps into wellbeing across every organ and alive part of the Self.
Body language, facial expressions and tones of voice tell others, we are relaxed, we are friends, we are allies, we are safe, we are creative. Empathy reveals this for we can’t be both dangerous and vulnerable at the same time. We send the message that we want access to others in case we need help and we want to be helpful. Opening ourself and being vulnerable, says we are not a threat and this message, combined with the message of our resilience and creativity, conveys that we are genuinely trustworthy. And being trustworthy could be one of the deepest gifts we can offer to another – for to share the openness of being vulnerable together, to risk deeply together, appears to lead to one of the greatest freedoms we can have while alive in our body.
We are safe people since we read as vulnerable and we are useful to the group because we are resilient. This is a big challenge, because these two appear to contradict each other. Either we can be vulnerable or we can be resilient. What I am suggesting here though is that it is not an ‘either or’ approach, rather is it an ‘and with’ approach. I am suggesting that it is possible for a person to have understanding and awareness which knows when to focus on vulnerability and when to focus on resilience. In this person, both qualities reside ready to be applied depending on the situation. It is a non-competitive attitude, ready and driven by the circumstance, which invites appropriate response.
When people live this ‘and with’ reality, they can form extremely close connections, for, together they let down subconscious and subtle defences, the hardly noticeable tightness in our muscles. Could it be that this is exactly what this precise understanding and way of being is designed to do?
I am intrigued by taking the flow of this image further, for I notice that many people are drawn even deeper into their vulnerability. Many long for the softness, the tenderness, as if it feeds their inner being. There is something that is sweet about this place of tenderness that we call our heart. If we follow this process down to our essence, we peel off layer after layer and what is left is consciousness, whole, like a drop of liquid in a green fern waterfall. The drop as if it is Soul. Take the Souldrop to the ‘Ocean’, which itself is one, very large drop. Here is a final challenge to vulnerability. Souldrop, as if called by it’s essence, recognises itself in the vast Ocean. It hears water rich in sound, it sees water rich in movement and colour, animals and plants, it breathes water rich in oxygen. The individual Souldrop feels its vulnerability in the mysterious surface of it’s shape. Having shape implies having a membrane like a cell, yet this Souldrop is pure consciousness and has no membrane to give it it’s shape, only a bare surface open to the world. Is there an anticipation and a longing for touch? The magnetism of the Ocean, pulls from the very essence of the drop. Yet the drop holds back, afraid of the moment of touch, for to be touched by the Ocean is the most vulnerable moment for the Souldrop. Touch the Ocean with the Souldrop and it will immediately lose its identity, blip, gone, forever to be merged with its source. The Souldrop becomes the Ocean.
What a strange idea. So profound and pure and simple too. Could it be that our deepest being, our consciousness is on a journey to this mystical place? The evolve the Self journey is compatible with this idea and in practise it works, for each time we peel a protective layer to lay bare our vulnerability, we feel a sense of freedom from burden, from fear of losing, from insecurity and we grow trust in the organic process of life. Are you thinking – such idealism is for the simple minded? Maybe it is, yet the process is the very journey that consciousness is on as it evolves the Self. Whether this final merging is real, only the individual who experiences it can know, for it is not something that a conscious being could explain to anyone.
For those of us who are less layered and encrusted, we already include many aspects of our vast potential in our lives. These people respond to uncertainty, relativity and interconnectedness with open channels of quality communication. These people remain in touch with the inherent promise we experienced at our birth and during our early years. The inherent promise given to us by those that were tender. Those who loved us. Only the individual can know how much of their open idealism remains intact. Ask yourself, in what ways is the promise of your birth part of today? One of the keys to exploring this promise is to access the sensitive and vulnerable person within each of us.
Exploring Vulnerability and Change
Locate and seek out the personal tenderness in your heart – practise it, understand it. Nobody can show you how, yet the learning experience can be found day to day. Being creative, we can allow tenderness into the moments of our life. Find the awareness in the child part of self. Assert this child self. It is a conscious step of affirmation. As we grow into adults and parents, many of us lose this precious and fragile child Self. How much access do you have to the qualities of awareness characterised by the child – openness, investigation, enthusiasm, discovery, wonder, exploration – ADVENTURE?
“Stop Day Dreaming!” Most of us are familiar with this instruction from our childhood and youth. So why do almost every one of us day dream? I invite you now to do it, for a minute or five. Take a moment from this reading and switch into a Day Dream. You can do it by taking a deep breath and finding something that attracts your attention, preferably at a distance, like a tree swaying in the sunlit breeze. Stare at it, breathe deeply. Relax. Let your eyes go into the Zone! The Day Dream….
How was that? Did it work for you? If you feel a sense of openness in your chest and stomach and a peacefulness, then you got it. When my children were young and I noticed them in the Day Dream space, I would gently say, “Stay where you are. I see you are in the Day Dream Meditation space. Relax. Stay attentive. Notice what you see. Notice what you hear. Notice your breath and allow yourself to be in Day Dream Meditation for as long as it feels right. Breathe …”
The Day Dream is nature’s way of offering us replenishment and renewal. It is a place which is totally open and reflective. It accesses the lava substratum of our nature. It is a place of being vulnerable. Access to this vulnerable space, replenishes our spirit. But since it is a blind spot to most of us, few see it as something valuable for it appears to be disrespectful to others as we disengage from the environment. As a result we put ourselves down and undermine others and our children, for being a Day Dreamer, believing they are better served by always being engaged with critical awareness and the practical intelligence of their pre-frontal cortex. After a walk, a swim, a sporting match, cleaning the house, playing music, singing, making love, even a study session, or surprisingly enough, while having a cigarette, we often find ourselves in the after-glow, the peaceful space of Day Dream Meditation replenishment. I invite you to practise your Day Dream Meditation, as it is your opportunity to awaken into your core nature of vulnerability, explore it and experience being renewed in a safe and healthy way.
Supportive families and educational settings, help us integrate the challenges of adulthood and parenthood into a unified whole which includes accessing the playfulness of our ‘child nature’. Losing access to the child part of Self, leaves our subconscious grieving. Many of the problems in relationships are linked to suppression of our ‘child’. Many of us have been ‘educated’ to devalue our playful vulnerability, so as to be a ‘real’ grown up man or woman. Of course we need to shoulder our responsibilities with the complexity of thought necessary to function in our contemporary culture. Unfortunately many have tried to cast their child-self into oblivion, for in the hustle and bustle of growing up, it tends to get isolated on an island of unfathomable mystery. But, no matter how much attention we apportion to strengthening our control and dominion over our life, we never escape our insecurity. We are pursued in the shadows of every moment by the reality of our vulnerability.
We are fragile beings in many respects. I call this a fundamental of impermanence. This fundamental of impermanence is not only underpinned by our mortality, but it is of the essence of every moment. For change, however imperceptible is a basic unalterable rule of the universe. And change makes us fragile beings, forever vulnerable to having to face the unexpected. Without a well integrated child self, we are fragmented and cannot realise our potential as autonomous, authentic, free and sovereign individuals.
The past is embedded within memory. The future is a set of plans, expectations and mental imaginings. The past can enslave us with nostalgia and regrets, or, it can liberate us with a tender and empowered acceptance of the present. The future can delude us with unrealisable desires, or, it can shape a tender and determined sense of steering our boat on the river of our life. Then the present moment is rich with relevant action and Life. Then we live in an age of tenderness – vulnerable, resilient, flexible, creative, present and free.