By Stephen Ruppenthal
One day this past winter, I decided to take in a talk on the Buddhist mother of compassion, Kuan Yin. Interested people, and not only women, flooded out the doors of the bookstore where it was being held. I asked myself, why do other talks barely fill the room while this one has a line flowing out onto the street? A good guess might be that people are sick of living in a world in which masculine aggressiveness and control have run roughshod over more feminine qualities like love, patience, or a feeling for healing and harmony. I believe many more people wish that qualities like gentleness, tenderness, patience, receptiveness, closeness to nature, and the readiness to forgive were more valued in our world. Let’s start right now with five ways all of us, men and women alike, can honor and cultivate the qualities of our feminine side.
(1) Celebrate human being over human doing: To get ahead today, even to keep pace, is hard. All of us want comfortable, secure lives and some recognition, and that takes hard striving. But it becomes all too easy to identify with what we accomplish (or don’t) and forget who we are. During your workday or even around the home, take breaks of a few minutes and breathe in deeply. Note mentally what feelings you have then, and sometime before bed, spend a few minutes writing them down. This log will, over the months, mirror a different person than the one who works and strives, and your friends and family will be grateful for the attention you pay to this important inner part of yourself.
(2) Take a minute to listen and absorb: When someone gets angry or says something nasty, instead of letting those ready words roll off your tongue, draw in a deep breath. “A soft answer turns away wrath,” says the Bible. Give yourself time before you speak. Even those few seconds may open out your awareness to see that the antagonistic person probably is having a bad day himself, and you just happened to be there to vent on. Listening patiently to their feelings will help you see that wounded, frightened part of them, lashing out. It will also give you inner permission to tell them freely of how hurtful their words feel to you. All this means you have not received their anger; instead, you have politely but resolutely delivered it back to them with an intelligent evaluation. Such patient listening may also let a greater truth in, that because you supported the best in them, you will be more patient with your own defects.
(3) Nourish the feeling of connection, to the emotional parts of yourself and to others: Unless we are Jesus or the Mother Teresa, the world rewards us more for what we can get done than for what we are. With a hard job and not much time to hang loose, it’s all too easy to feel very alone. Whether it’s hard days at work or unending trials with the kids, there may be little left in us that can feel and reach out. History may not chronicle how deeply we related to our partner or made quality time for our family, but relating to others is the true wealth of life, ours and everyone else’s. Relationships put you in touch with deep, tender parts of yourself, which otherwise none of us might ever know.
(4) Honor and value your soft and vulnerable side: When we make a mistake or foul up, it’s easy either to cover it over (and feel bad about ourselves) or to rise up in defensiveness. If instead we say, “I’m so sorry I took all you did for granted and didn’t thank you,” we own up to our failure, and something remarkable happens: we can still feel good about ourselves even when we know we have blown it. The most enduring self-esteem comes to us not when we seem perfect, but when we hold and honor all parts, including our weaknesses, within ourselves. Compassionate understanding, both of our flaws and those of our loved ones, keeps us deliciously and attractively human.
(5) Return to your true nature: We have an important choice in this life. We can give all our attention to what’s nagging to get done, putting time with our partner and family second; or we can honor tenderly the emotional and relational richness that is our birthright, the precious connection to the rich, deeper parts of ourselves and others. Even if society doesn’t reward how much we loved and how hard we tried to be gentle with those tender parts, honor them and love them. In the words of Lao Tsu, you will have “returned at last to what most have lost,” the forgotten gifts of what we were before society incorrectly molded us to prize what pays. Your family and friends will thank you, and I believe the world will silently thank you, too, as you become a force for healing and love.
Dr. Stephen Ruppenthal is the author of The Path of Direct Awakening: Passages for Meditation.. He is also the co-author of Eknath Easwaran’s edition of The Dhammapada and the author of Keats and Zen. He has taught meditation and courses on Han Shan at UC Berkeley and San Francisco State University. Dr. Ruppenthal is an international workshop leader in passage meditation and in courses for those looking for end of life spiritual care and for the spiritual step component of twelve step programs. Visit Stephen’s work at www.directawakenings.com.