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Day 171 - Tenderness

A friend of mine said a few days ago that he was practicing tenderness instead of kindness or compassion. His rationale was that his head was too involved with the ideas of kindness or compassion. That somehow he has these mental ideas about kindness and compassion that interfere with him experiencing them on a more intimate level. I didn’t know I felt that way too until he said it.

This got me thinking...why? Why did I feel that way? Why were the concepts of kindness and compassion so intellectual to me? I have studied them and practiced their application for years. And that is part of it but not “it”. I think that kindness is something that I give to you - it is a one way street. You can still be a complete ass. There is no intimacy exchanged. I am kind, you are free to be whatever you are. I think it is the same with compassion. I can feel for you, visit your suffering as my own, but there is no real exchange between us. You don’t even have to know that I feel that way towards you.

Tenderness is something different all together. For me, tenderness implies delicacy for both people involved in the exchange. Tenderness on the person being provided the tenderness and tenderness toward the person providing it. It is such a subtle shift that I would have missed the nuance had he not brought it to my attention.

I believe that the idea of compassion is between equals. True compassion requires that we place ourselves in the other person’s place. Exchange us for them. The daily practice involves us getting in touch with our own feelings of pain, joy, fear, isolation, grief, anger, etc. Compassionate action requires that we are able to first fully experience our own pain and suffering lest we will never be able to see it and experience it in others. It isn't pity, pity, for me, is not a relationship between equals. Pity is something we give to those unfortunate others...

Tenderness takes compassion one step further I think. Tenderness requires a willingness to alter your action. To behave differently, tenderly to the other being. Tenderness implies a sensitivity to pain. A gentleness. Compassion implies more of a concern for the suffering or misfortune of others. For me, compassionate practice occurs on the shores of your own being while tenderness requires a gentle outreach.

Perhaps it seems strange right now to be advocating outreach in a time when we all literally need to stay apart in order to survive. But I don’t think the outreach, the tenderness has to be in person. Tenderness can be accomplished in the physical world with a touch, hug, stroke, holding of hands, lifting up, but it can also be done virtually. For me, it all starts with gentleness. It is a reigning in of this drive within me. This part of me that pushes and pushes. The part with the agenda and the ideas and the perspective. Tenderness requires a pulling back from all of that and coming at the world in this entirely new manner. Gently.

Perhaps we can all take a little advice from Mr. Otis Redding:

But it's all so easy

All you got to do is try

Try a little tenderness

Compassion, Kindness & Tenderness. Perhaps if we all practice them together they can become the trifecta of outreach to each other as we all struggle to find our way through the pervasive fear right now. For me, tenderness is slowly down and pulling back all with the intention of softening the space in front of me. A reigning of the hard charging energy that propels my life. In this mindful pulling back, I let the space between us open softly, gently, carefully. Then loving kindness enters first and allows for there to be a connection that is honored and experienced. We can just try, try a little tenderness.

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