Have you ever heard the phrase “they don’t suffer fools lightly”? Growing up, it was one of the phrases I heard spoken about me by family and teachers and I grew to regard it as one of my strengths. It became part of the character that I believed to be intrinsically me. As I went into the world and started to work, I knew myself to be someone who didn’t suffer fools lightly. I’m not sure I thought very much about what it meant. I guess it fitted within the perfectionist bracket; someone who didn’t have time for less than 100%. Yet it’s true meaning is much darker.
“Be impatient or intolerant towards people one regards as foolish or unintelligent. “ Oxford Dictionaries
“Blunt and direct in speech & behaviour.” Cambridge Dictionary
I didn’t have to look up these definitions. As my mindfulness practice grew, so did my awareness.
Awareness of my thoughts.
Awareness of how I reacted.
Awareness of how my reactions impacted others.
I realised this story I’d been telling myself was not one of my strengths at all. What did it say about me to be intolerant of those who didn’t match ‘my’ expectations? What did my reactions do to other people? Did any of this improve my life in any way? I realised it was time to change my story. As a new mother, my softer side emerged and a growing empathy for those who thought differently to me. I read and I contemplated. I realised that being soft, was not the same as being weak. In fact, we can be strong AND soft. But what does it mean to be soft?
For me, to be soft means to be open minded. When I’m exposed to people who do things differently to me, I’m not judgemental. I’m not attached to a specific outcome. When my loved ones make mistakes, I try not to let them fall against my sharp edges. Instead, I offer gentle support and encouragement. Like an elastic band, their pressure stretches against my soft strength, rather than breaking my brittle coating.
Am I perfect? No. Do I sometimes return to old habits? Yes. But when I do, I try to be soft with myself. I don’t break or berate myself. I feel the stretch and the resistance and then I come back to practicing new habits. I admit my imperfection. For to be soft, is also to be strong. To bend with the wind and withstand the storm.
“Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.” – Lao Tzu
And this is how I feel. Strong and centered. Better able to withstand the unpredictability of life.
And so, my affirmation this week is “I am soft, yet strong”.
When I feel old habits of judgement, criticism or quick temper emerge, I will return to this. Softness is who I am.