Life has needed a lot lately in the way of soft spaces—space for a whole lot of trying, a whole lot of unknowing, and a whole lot of blah. It has needed the kindness of a good friend who has reorganized my perceived boundaries of grace. And in her abundant kindness I am finally learning how to be kind to myself.
She makes me relax, feel as though I don’t have to try as hard, as though it really is ok. All of it. All of life. All of me. She creates big, beautiful spaces for messy, imperfect things. She’s ok with days that just happen without being awesome. She’s ok with things being what they are, whether they end up deep, rich, and beautiful or just another turn around a confusing planet. She’s more ok with dissatisfaction, pointlessness, unknowing, or the sense of those things than others I have met. She makes it ok to not know, to not want to know, to take your own good time getting somewhere.
If I’m being a pig head, or a killjoy or entirely self-indulgent in the worst kind of ways, I get the sense that she’s ok with that. She’s not going to immediately remind me of how selfish and unhelpful those things are. If I want to sit in mud a little while, she gets it. She might even sit down there for a while with me. Or at least sit on the bank and smile at me. But she won’t be yelling. Or wielding a stick. Or immediately pointing to the most effective ways of getting out, which I don’t really care about in those moments. She’s not so interested in getting me somewhere, just letting me be where I am. I guess she figures I’m plenty capable of getting myself places, and if I’m here, then there’s a reason—a reason why I need to be there for a while. And she’s not afraid of me taking the time to do so.
The truth is, the more people treat me this way—allow me to be where I am—the sooner I get over my need to be there. But the more people try to tell me about the better places I need to be and helpfully offer me exit strategies, the more dogmatic I become in my reasons why my current situation is necessary—the longer I need to be there to work out the validation or understanding or whatever it is the bog is about. I sit down in the bog and cross my arms and feel frustrated and resentful because while I know I need to get out, I first need to understand why I’m here, and I can only understand that when I’m given the kindest, deepest expressions of mud-grace.
Usually, I’m the person most aware of the uselessness of where I am. Usually I’m the first person to be sitting on the bank, lecturing my heart and soul about their stupidity and giving the bootstrap speech. I am the first to withhold grace and I need the kindness of others to give me permission to be kind to myself. When others don’t sit on the bank and yell instructions, then I don’t feel like I have to either. It disarms the shame and strain and negativity that has completely originated from myself. And that changes everything.
When others put down the rule books and the yard sticks and the stones, the important thing happens—I get down in the bog with myself. I leave the banks of blame and self-disappointment, I stop leading the posse of critics, and I get down in the present, in the mire, in whatever it is. I am with myself, with my own soul, with my own experiences, listening to my heart like I would listen to a friend. And sometimes it is my own acceptance, my own compassion, that I am needing more than anybody else’s.
So much changes when I’m not longer on my own back. God it’s hard to do anything or go anywhere when you’re constantly trying to both condemn and justify yourself all at once! It’s hard to help yourself move along into new, better places when you won’t hear yourself out—listen to the things your own heart needs to say without judging it. You must slowly, with grace, take those first steps together. The steps will get brighter and sturdier with time. But you have to stand up first—uncross a leg, prop up on an elbow, wiggle an ankle or two. And it helps if you don’t have internal, berating voices that are 63 yards ahead, shouting back instructions.
I didn’t realize how many of those voices were mine until I discovered that nobody else was yelling at me. I was surrounded by so much kindness, so much of that mud-grace, and yet I still felt condemned and judged and, worst of all, so disappointing. And that’s when I realized I had been leading that rowdy bunch for years, disguising it with the perceived agreement of everyone else around me. Turns out they don’t agree, they don’t feel the same way. They actually think I’m doing rather fabulously. I am alone in my condemnation, and perhaps, perhaps I don’t need to be.
I used to think of myself as a reluctant, distracted, obstinate dog on a leash that I was pulling along, trying to get me somewhere. I used to think that it would take harsh things to move me forwards—something poking at my back, snapping the lazy, awful out of me. It’s not true. It’s not true! And I don’t have to be that harsh, poky thing towards myself. It has taken a great deal of very overt kindness for me to get this straightened out. And it still does. It still takes insane, embarrassing levels of reassurance. The miracle is that it’s there—that I keep turning around and finding it and tearing up, and quieting the voices.
And I am continually, experientially, coming to believe that hearts were designed to move when they know that they are loved, that they are ok. And when we find these soft spaces, we will know how to get up and move towards them.