I have, at various times in my life, been described as rigid, confrontational, hardened, and jaded and all with good reason. I have been all of those things. I’m learning to be different, though, and I think I’m making progress.
Our society sends a confusing message to both men and women about what it means to be tough and how toughness is both rated and valued. There’s no doubt about the overarching message which is that toughness equals strength and softness equals weakness. I find this very interesting because being soft is much more of a challenge.
Diamond and graphite are both made solely from carbon. Graphite is soft and diamond is the hardest substance known to man. The difference lies in the way the carbon atoms bond to each other in each substance. In graphite, there are strong connections between the atoms, but there is wiggle room between the layers. In diamonds, the atoms are evenly spaced creating a rigidity that does not allow the atoms to move, thus making them very hard.
Rigidity can be very comfortable. When we’re rigid, we don’t need to think too much. We have a prescribed set of rules to follow and we follow them. When we allow for movement, for flow, we have to deal with whatever that entails, usually change, uncertainty and the feelings that arise from both.
In asana practice, one can really only strengthen and lengthen the body after they’ve learned to soften. As any seasoned yogi will tell you, one does not get into the most challenging postures through force. Surrender is key.
I used to think that to soften I had to be fundamentally different in some way. I now know that it’s not about changing who I am or about needing some quality that I don’t already possess. As with carbon, it is merely a matter of how I connect the atoms of my being. I can seek out symmetry and perfection in my connections, or I can seek strength and flexibility.
I’m choosing to be soft (or at least to try) and to see what grows.