strength in the back, soft in the front

strength in the back, soft in the front
We tend to think about strength in terms of our physical body. If we want to be strong we must focus on building muscle, endurance and challenging practices. Of course this is one element of strength, but being strong is not limited to our bodies.

Strength is also something that can be cultivated in the heart and mind. Within spiritual practice our ability to be strong isn’t so much about what we can or can’t do with our body, but instead more of an internal quality. It’s an ability to stay open and present with whatever might be going on around or within us.

Many of us want to be strong, whether that’s physically, mentally or emotionally. It’s a quality that we are taught to admire and value. But if we focus solely on getting stronger it’s easy to get lost in making ourselves tough, hard or even unbreakable. To the point that we actually disconnect from the present experience. In our quest for strength we can push away or resist anything that makes us feel not strong. Whether it’s sadness, anxiety, failure, struggle or the many other experiences we label as ‘weak’. We tell ourselves that if we were ‘really strong’ we wouldn’t feel like this.

But our life, and our practice, isn’t about being some sort of superhero. It’s about becoming more human. Experiencing the vast array of human emotions and developing the strength to feel it all. To stay with whatever experience, emotion or reaction that comes up. To be open and accepting, in the heart and mind.

Zen Buddhist Teacher Roshi Joan Halifax uses a very beautiful phrase, ‘strength in the back and soft in the front’. Like everything in life, it’s not about one extreme. It’s about acknowledging duality and finding the sweet spot of harmony.

When we look at a tree we can see it’s sturdy, strong and deeply connected trunk. At it's core, it's unshakeable. But as we look towards the branches, there is more ability to move with the natural changes in wind and weather. There is strength, and softness, and this is what we are trying to cultivate in ourselves.

Becoming hard or closing ourselves off and shutting down isn’t strong. It’s fear in disguise. Being scared to feel, to be vulnerable and to be seen. The strongest thing we can do in our life is to really show up. To be ready for failure and heartbreak, but also for love and joy. Allowing our strength to hold us courageously in each moment of this very fragile human existence.
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