I have a tough time with tenderness. - ⚡️Kristen Kalp

I have a tough time with tenderness.

Kristen Kalp tenderness painting

It’s easy for me to make plans for sweeping changes and short timelines. Throw out all the sugar and cheese and processed foods and bring in the vegetables! Buy the 30-day pass and get to the gym every day! Toss all the plastics and load up on glass containers, reusable bags, and never use plastic ever again for any reason!

Also: productivity. I tend to write books in 6 weeks or less. If I’m not achieving, I’m not living!

And if I don’t want to do something that’s on my carefully-planned calendar? Too bad! Do it anyway!

And if I’m tired and the writing isn’t happening? Suck it up, keep going!

And if I feel like shit for no reason I can discern? Oh well, there’s work to do! No one cares about how you feel, least of all your work ethic!

Tenderness — even internally, in the realms where no one else sees or knows me — is associated with weakness.

If I don’t make fists and rise up in anger; if I don’t fulfill the obligations on my calendar every single day, in the order listed; if I don’t achieve myself into a new financial echelon on a regular basis; if I don’t grow my following by X percent each year; then I’m weak or failing or both.

I have a tough time with tenderness.

It means I have to sit with myself in pain and in mess and listen to asshole brain without actually believing a thing asshole brain says. It means that sometimes, I don’t get as much done as I’d planned. It means that I don’t push myself past the point of exhaustion and waste 3 hours doing a task that would take 20 minutes if I just moved it to tomorrow.

I was consulting with an herbalist since my recent panic attack triggered a look at my health on a more than passing have-a-few-green-smoothies-and-do-weekly-yoga basis.

I told her the basics of my humanity with a great deal of shame and more than a touch of anger at myself:

I am one-third as productive in February as in July.
I dread the coming of October and November.
I sleep far more in the winter.
I have way more energy in the summer months.
I wake with the sun.
I want to go to sleep with the sun, too.

She looked at me with such tenderness as she pointed out that that’s what mammals do.

And, um.

We’re mammals.

It was almost unbearable for a stranger to look at me — the sum of me, having just consulted about my daily cycles and foods and bodily functions — and say that I might be right. Where was the work ethic and the magic pill to make me impervious to weather and the seasons? Where was her admonishment for my clear lack of will power? Where was her stern voice and her berating commentary about my weight?

I expected a quick assessment and an even quicker cure.

Instead, she met me with tenderness.

Ugh. Tenderness.

Tenderness means admitting that instead of being wrong or broken, I might just be an animal who hasn’t lost its instincts.

What if my instincts are on point, and my fighting them is actually causing unnecessary pain? What if I plan for seasonal rhythms, and input to match my output, and to keep on keeping on as the seasons allow — but this time, to do it with some semblance of kindness toward myself?

Hhhhnnnggggggggggg. ::makes assorted straining faces that indicate I’d rather take a pill and schedule myself into oblivion than be a mammal::

It’s so much easier to beat myself up and start a new(!) life-changing(!) revolutionary (!) program than to soften and deepen into my most human spots. Tenderness means admitting to my depression when it shows up. It means taking my tonic for anxiety when I read the news and it’s too much to process. (It’s often too much to process.)

Tenderness means getting help being human in the form of acupuncture and breath work, and talking with people I love about everything that’s going on inside of me instead of trying to give them the buttoned-up, no-worries-here!!!! A++ version of things.

Tenderness means living into the hard places without judging myself for the existence of those places.

It means I’m paying closer attention to the gentle ways change can come about instead of trying to push and strain and achieve my way through each day.

What if I don’t clear the cupboards of every single tasty processed thing in an effort to start over 100% and simply buy less shit-food and more broccoli? What if I acknowledge that change can be and often is gradual instead of trying to overhaul the entirety of my being again and again and again?

What if I don’t give in to the temptation to take on a 30-day challenge and instead, find ways to incorporate nurturing into every single day? What if nurturing and tenderness are one and the same?

OH GOD IT’S SO HARD. (That’s what she said.)

Welcome to Tender Land.

The good news is that there’s less self-flagellation here. When I can be with my humanity — its rough edges and flaws and the wintery desire to go to bed at 6:30 because it’s been dark for two hours already — I can extend that same courtesy to others. Even if you can’t sit with your desire to nap or to eat all the carbs or to check your phone 744 times a day — I can! I’ve been practicing!

If I can be tender to myself, being tender to other humans is far less challenging!

Of course, asshole brain does not agree. If I just push harder, hustle more, put my nose to the grindstone, and try more, I’ll get further. Right?  Like lifting a hundred pounds or running seven miles or sweating in a 105-degree room for 90 minutes. It’s gotta be hard in order to matter.  Laying off, easing up on myself, and/or being gentler with my humanity couldn’t possibly be beneficial. COULD IT?

I took a 30-day sabbatical in which I burned my last business to the ground and survived. No Productivity Police showed up to haul me off to Efficiency Jail.

Likewise, punishing my body for being a body — human and prone to tiredness, sweaty and smelly and alive — hasn’t worked yet. I weigh precisely as much as I did before I decided to do all the punish-y revolutionary things to myself.

What if being kinder to myself lets me be kinder to others?

What if loving the parts of me that are dark and weak (see: depression and my penchant for hermiting) means I’m capable of loving other humans more?

What if refusing to hate my body means I’m more capable of seeing the miracle of being alive that lives in every single body, no matter its shape or size?

What if quietly, lovingly refusing to judge other humans or put them in small boxes means that I’m more capable of finding and voicing nuance and complexity?

What if tenderness is, in fact, the answer?

The world has plenty of go-go-go, scheduled-for-17-hours-a-day, busy busy humans.

We seem to be losing the people who aren’t moving at warp speed. The people who work and play and ponder, fully acknowledging that the most brilliant ideas don’t come at hour 16 of a 17-hour-day, but in those moments when we step away from work and dive into something else entirely.

What if I stop being angry at myself for everything I haven’t yet achieved?

Oh god. That’s so fucking hard.

What if we are not here to achieve? What if we are simply here to love?

And in love, tenderness is always the answer.  (Dammit.)

Tenderness is the answer.

…I still have a tough time with tenderness. But I’m working on it.

P.S.  Tenderness goes hand in hand with learning to live in the body.  Find that and all other That’s What She Said podcast episodes here.

P.P.S.  The struggle part of the story is essential.