Gentle Strength: 5 Soft Practices for a Powerful Life
On some days, I don't want to write articles or books or blog posts, I want to write wild poetry that grows from my spine like ivy.
Some days, I just can't clean or do laundry, I can't run to the post office or go grocery shopping. I need to retreat, to press the pause button, to take a deep breath and live the kumbhaka, to rest in the nothingness of the moment when everything goes quiet.
These are the days I don't want to wear shoes, I want to feel the wooden floors underneath my feet, I want to set them free, I want to sense through my soles the hundreds of collective years of forest underneath my skin.
It's on days like these I don't drink tea, I drink flowers and leaves and plants and trees, I drink their years of growth, their patient determination. And the water in my cup isn't water, it is clouds and rain and snow flakes and glaciers – the fundament of all life – that I pour into my soul.
It's on these days I slow down enough to remember who I am, and where I have come from.
And it's on days like these I allow myself to remember the pain and hardship that I have overcome. When I remember in my bones how I am a powerful, determined and wise warrior of life. When I remember that I have been (ever so slightly) stronger than the extreme destructive forces I have battled, the people who have tried to pull me down, and the pain that once felt all-encompassing but that today only fills a small part of my life.
On these days, I like to practice what I call gentle strength. It's the core foundation of my life, my healing, and how I create impact in the world.
Gentle strength is power, without violence. It's being tough, without being harsh.
Gentle strength is practicing determinate force, without being cold, or mean or hurtful.
Gentle strength is mighty love.
It's the way a tree bends in strong wind, without breaking. It's water, always finding a new path to flow. Gentle strength is the woman walking barefoot through the forest, feeling each grain of sand under her feet, while still moving light and fast, gathering food for her tribe.
Gentle strength is saying no when you mean no, lovingly, without missing a beat. Gentle strength is taking no shit, but still keeping your heart open. Gentle strength means taking care of yourself lovingly, first, and without exception.
There are as many ways to practice gentle strength as there are people. Only you know what it means to you. However, here are a few suggestions based on my own experience with barefoot days.
Gentle Strength: 5 Fundamental Soft Practices of a Powerful Life
Taking care of your future self
It was the moment I, for the first time, handed my razor blades over to the nurse upon being admitted to hospital, that I truly understood gentle strength – and how strong you sometimes have to be to achieve it. I knew that there would come a day during my stay that the feelings would be too much to handle, and giving away my blades before entering the ward was my way of taking care of that future me.
Today, taking care of my future self often looks like prepping vegetables on a Sunday afternoon, listening to an audiobook and making sure I have healthy food ready for the week ahead. Sometimes it looks like cancelling or moving a meeting days in advance, because I know that by the time that day comes, I'll be exhausted and overwhelmed. Sometimes it looks like putting my clothes out for the next morning, or booking a massage for next Friday afternoon.
To learn to take care of your future self, a good question to start with is what do I wish right now, I had done for myself two days ago?
Engaging in rituals
Rituals is a way for me to connect with something that feels larger and deeper than myself. Although I recognise the power of performing rituals that have been passed on through generations, or sharing rituals with others in a religious context, what feels the most aligned with my soul are the rituals I have created for myself. What I love about these deeply personal rituals is that they bear the meaning that you yourself have given them, and they serve as an access point to the vast power of intuition and spirituality.
For ideas on rituals, check out 9 beautiful releasing rituals that will help you let go and How to create a regular creative or spiritual practice.
Practicing intuitive creation
Intuitive creation is another cornerstone of gentle strength. Basically, it means to engage in creative activities from a place of powerful intention and intuition. In order to fully access the power of your body, I recommend creating art – anything from writing poetry or fiction, painting, crafting and making to singing, dancing and performing – as much as possible with your hands, with bare feet and with a fluid body in movement.
For me, this looks like doing yoga and intuitive dancing before I start writing, by hand not on the computer, sometimes with my fingers dipped in paint instead of with a pencil. For you, it may be painting with your fingers, creating ceramics with your hands or singing while barefoot and in motion. You know what it will look like for you. This Pinterest board serves as my guidance and inspiration for my own practice.
Sitting with the feelings
A forth core component of practicing gentle strength is to learn how to sit with your emotions. A little heads up: this is where you really need to be strong. However, the key to master meeting, accepting and allowing your feelings is to be super gentle with yourself. I could write a whole book about how I have learned to sit with my emotions (hint: I probably will!) and yet, this isn't really something you can learn only from reading a book. Learning to sit with your feelings, gently and strongly, without looking away or engaging in unhealthy or avoidant behaviour is something you need to practice, practice, practice.
For ideas on how I do it, read this post: Healing, compassion and how to get through.
Saying gently NO
Gentle strength means saying no to everything that doesn't serve your purpose and feed your soul. Saying no in this way will require you to be firm: This world is constantly and loudly demanding our time, attention, money and compassion. Learning to say no is a way of establishing healthy and firm boundaries, and it means taking full responsibility for our lives. However, remember that you are aiming to build a little gorgeous fence, not a prison wall around yourself. This is where the gentleness comes in. Make your boundaries holy, beautiful and flexible enough for you to thrive in your own skin, but still firm enough to keep the negativity and stress at bay.