Being Gentle on Oneself. But How Gentle is Too Gentle?

I recently talked with a dear friend who reminded me, again, of the slowness and soft-ear needed towards oneself. Especially in difficult times.

In short, my friend has a daughter with serious, ongoing health complications. My friend is constantly care-giving and lives in a constant state of stress. Over the years she has regularly looked for support via therapy, acupuncture, running…

When I talked to her last night she told me of her radical acceptance routine – to do nothing. To do nothing to change how she is feeling. She allowed herself to do only that which was absolutely essential. During this time whispery voices inside her told her that she was bad for doing nothing. She observed them and continued doing nothing.

After three weeks she felt a little movement.
Something in her was rested enough, ready to wiggle a bit.

I felt an overall sense of peace as she shared her story. There was some kind of truth that resonated with me.


Then I remembered a question I used to have a lot: But, for myself, how soft is too soft? I will never learn, grow if I do not challenge myself! Am I being lazy or avoidant, or do I really need to rest? I thought of the future-humans in the animation movie Wall-E. They built a world in which they never had to strain, floating about in their soft, space-age massage chairs. I heard the voices of my culture telling me that if I don’t strive and excell I am not worth talking to…

Then I remember to breath. To feel how it feels to breath.


We each are a unique pile of dna, childhood and present environment – such that, what is just right for one person, physio-emotional-mentally speaking, is too much for another. This means, we can’t precisely gauge what is right for ourselves based on another.

When we are having a hard time we can try to support ourselves in different ways. We can try gently holding ourselves. We can try shaking. We can try breathwork, or dancing, or walking in nature, or … we can actively do nothing.

Then listen, how does this feel? Does this feel right?

The whispery voices might come and tell you you’re bad. Then you ask yourself again, does this feel right? What I’m doing right now.

When you ask yourself these questions with a tender ear, you might start to notice that there may be the whispery voices, or the list of thoughts that start spinning out of control, racing to find a solution to your predicament, the best route out of where you are right now.

And, there is also some other source of knowledge in yourself. Keep an ear out for what feels vital and calming at the same time. Ask that part, is this right for me, right now?

If you’re not sure of the response you might remain still and keep listening. Or check again in an hour. Or tomorrow. Just try something and listen. Your version of doing may just be “doing nothing.” A lot of action happens during resting; it is our cultural framing that considers it to be “nothing.”
Bears hibernate 7 ½ months every year.

“Researchers used to believe that microbes going dormant was an oddity peculiar to a few select species. Now, they are finding it’s more the rule than the exception. New work in some of the harshest environments around the world is finding that many microbes that find themselves in undesirable conditions choose to go dormant and wait for circumstances more to their liking. The trait may help explain how biodiversity within an ecosystem can recover from a crisis.” – – Quanta Magazine