I had trouble naming this blog. I knew what I wanted to name it – I knew I wanted softness and space – but I resisted the softness. I resisted the softness because in my mind, softness has always been related to femininity, and femininity was something I never quite managed.
When I say “never quite managed” I mean it both objectively and subjectively. On the outside, I could never wear the clothes, the makeup, do the hair, walk a certain way, talk a certain way, pay attention right, do the right things, lean in at the proper times, step away at others. On the inside, I never wanted to. That was the real problem. That was what was always “wrong” with me.
So now with both bitterness and shame I resist the word “soft.” I resist it as part of something outside of myself, something alienating, something I have no right to because of what a failure I am at being a female human being.
But in 2013, after what I’d like to call a little nervous breakdown, I started listening to talks by the Buddhist nun Pema Chodron. And she kept talking about this “soft spot.” This place in the center of us that is not only the source of our love and compassion but also all of our vulnerability and pain. She said to sit with that soft spot, that tender place where all our hurt lies open and bare and unprotected. It sounds like madness. It can feel like torture. But with nothing else left to do, and hearing the compassion in her voice, I sat down with my soft spot, hoping to find healing.
It was there I found myself again, at first as a confused child and then through all the years after, the totality of little slights and large events that had brought me here. Discovering all this, of course, was no quick and easy answer. It was too much to bare. I searched for answers and was lead astray, hoping to patch things up. Patching things up, of course, implies applying protection, hardness. Another identity. Another person to be. Another way of living since this one was just too hard.
Of course I didn’t see it as covering up that soft spot at all. I thought I was finally being the person I was meant to be. It felt that good and right. It all made sense in my head. Even if the soft spot still hurt every day.
I tried on new names. I abandoned being female for a while. I decided maybe I should be male. I insisted, to myself, it would work. It would bring about the healing. Because if it didn’t, I didn’t know what else I would do. Nothing else had ever worked in my life before, so if not this, I might as well just die.
Because every day I would sit with the soft spot and feel so much pain.
Thich Nhat Hanh speaks about our pain as if it’s a crying baby in another room. I listened to him, too, speaking such slow, quiet, careful words. What do you do with a crying baby? Do you ignore it until it cries itself red and raw, contorting in greater and greater pain? Do you strike it, stifle it, cover it up? Or do you move yourself to pick the child up and give it comfort, give it softness, give it a place to feel safe and loved again?
In the end, all that worked for me was moving myself to hold that child within me with softness. To this day, I’m so often tempted to put up the hard defenses, to take on another personality, another identity, to protect and obscure the one that so often brings me bitterness and shame. I could name this blog a thousand other things that would feel so much better, so much easier, so much more comfortable. But it wouldn’t stop the pain, it wouldn’t be healing, and all of us, in this world, need so much healing.
So I’ll call it This Soft Space, for all of us, for every woman who has a history of pain, of bitterness, of shame, of guilt, of not being enough, of somehow being wrong. And I will do my best to write from that place of softness, even when it’s not easy, because it’s the only true thing in the end.