“What is the connection of tenderness with happiness?” she had asked at the end of the talk the other night. Oh, everything.
In our contemporary bay area culture, tenderness is not one value that is dialoged around in a group. It called to me that which lurks behind our hearts and this yearning needed to be broached, even if just to awakened to its mere presence within our lives.
The cat jumped on my belly, stretched herself and lowered her head unto my chest and unto my heart. She wasn’t just inviting me with her tenderness. She was claiming me in her tenderness. It felt wonderful. It felt scary. It demanded that I be in my tenderness to meet her there. It demanded my vulnerability. There was a moment of ambivalence, even resistance and defiance.
Tenderness is not just gooey, runny, hush puppy group hug style. It is not the saccharin taste of someone trying to con you with a sugary cupcake frosting kind of seduction into your vulnerabilities. I am talking about the warm, unrehearsed, softness that can bring up a smile, a tear, a fullness, a longing. It can be in the form of a dog licking you all over your face, sending you into a ripple of laughter, or the mere hint that someone we love will not always be here in his/her physical form. It can come up in the midst of an abyss between a teacher and student when partings pry them apart. It can simply be the recognition of a gesture of kindness when someone offers to take your plate away. Unannounced, unmitigated – simple moments when we are touched and we are seen and we see each other.
Tenderness can be allowing someone to come into your car lane. It can be the neighbor who knocks on your door to say, “I’m just doing the neighbor thing and saying hello”. You are tender to a young sapling, tending it to its full strength so it can grow into the next season. You tend to a fire. You tend to a relationship. One of the most tender moments with a man for me was he brushing my hair tenderly.
Tenderness melts us. It brings a peace, a relaxation, an ease. Tenderness has receptivity. Time stops here. There is no hurry, no outcomes, just riding the golden glow of tenderness. It is a mystery, an invitation, a pausing. It is the greatest compliment we can give each other.
A wound is tender. It has no covering. It is exposed. Raw. When we are tender, we open our vulnerabilities. Sometimes, it takes us over like a storm after a long drought. Sometimes, tenderness feels totally good. In our surprise, there can be tenderness. Sometimes, it feels insecure, afraid we might get hurt, be invaded, overtaken or overwhelmed. It may trigger earlier experiences when our tenderness were not met with utmost care, respect and honoring. Sometimes tenderness is unsure, shy, uncertain, wary if it truly is okay to be soft. A flower petal is tender. The skin just underneath the foot’s arch is tender, especially with older people whose blue capillaries show through there. It is a tender act to touch blue feet.
If you’ve felt all the above, you are fortunate for shame has not come in too quickly at the door preventing you from feeling your tenderness. Or your longing for it. The absence or the omission or the anxiety that it will be taken away might quickly come as an escort. If it does, tell shame to take the back seat. You are the driver now. Invite your tenderness. Allow yourself to be held in its softness. Yield to its caresses. Ask your tenderness to tell you your secrets to your happiness.
Kathrina Peterson is a transformational healer, teacher and writer of consciousness using the body, emotion, mind and spirit. She facilitates individuals, couples, families and groups be more embodied and live happier lives in their relationships. Her books include: Surviving Illumination Breaking through Crisis, Salamander Marking Time and Camino: A Mental & Spiritual Journey.
Please visit www.marinmindfulbody.com for more information.