Tenderising the heart
I don’t eat meat but I come from a long line of cowboys and ranchers. My uncle owned a meat packing plant and a visit to that horrific place at the age of 8 is probably why I can’t (literally) stomach the stuff.
This isn’t a post about advocating vegetarianism but rather about the process of tenderizing…
Growing up I was taught that a tough piece of meat needs to go through a process of tenderizing: a soak in a marinade, stabbing it with a fork or giving it a good pummeling with a tenderizing mallet.
Growing up I was also taught that it’s good be strong; (I had to be strong). It’s good to be tough; (I had to be tough). And, if you could successfully project this strength and toughness into the world then maybe some of the “bastards” out there would leave you alone.
I’ve worked at softening myself over the years because being strong and tough wasn’t really working out. I was using up lots of energy for little benefit and I felt I wanted to be a “better person”. Really, I wanted to be more kind. So my yoga is this journey but this is again a different post for a different time.
What I’d like to unpick is this idea of “tenderizing”.
What I’ve come to realize in the last couple of weeks is that since moving here I’ve been unwittingly undergoing a process of tenderization.
This isn’t a bad thing!
I’ve been pummeled by culture shock, repeatedly stabbed myself with a line of purposelessness and marinated deeply in the hurricane damaged places and people and now, little by little I see there is a new softening, a hatchling of a buffer around my mental critic (no, this is not due to drinking excess rum!) …what this feels like is, a tenderizing of my heart.
One has to be careful putting such experiences into words like “a tenderizing of my heart” but this is the best way I can describe it…
It’s easy to get really scared when you feel you are becoming more tender.
(I already thought I was quite tender but man, there are layers to this shit!)
Doesn’t tenderness imply vulnerability?
Surely, I don’t want to become too vulnerable…
If you open your tender heart doesn’t that make it more susceptible to being damaged?
I certainly don’t want my heart broken (again)!
These fears are real but what my life experience tells me is that:
tenderness recognizes tenderness.
My first yoga teacher Baba Hari Dass who died earlier this month at the age of 95 wrote: “No one can please everyone, Your mental peace is more important. If you are in peace then others around you will feel peace. So your best effort should be to work on yourself.” (1981:62)
Similarly, Donna Farhi gives a useful example:
…we often choose to be around people who breathe like we do for we feel comfortable in the company of others who share the same values. Have you noticed now busy people like to be around other busy people who affirm the value of busyness? The peaceful breath of a Tibetan monk tells us as much about his values as any words. You might also find yourself attracted to someone who breathes very differently than you do for they may be pointing toward a way of being that you long for…breathing patterns are contagious. (1996:74-75)
Tenderness recognizes tenderness. It does.
In 2007 I worked for a horrible bully of a boss. She called me into her office to reprimand me for something and shaking, I put my hands into prayer position over my heart, looked her calmly in the eyes and said softly, “I don’t think your anger is meant for me.” It wasn’t meant for me – not that much anger. She was diffused on the spot and not knowing what to do dismissed me from her office. She never confronted me again about anything.
My point is, if you can be truly soft, bravely tender then other tender souls will begin to come forward.
Peace attracts peace.
Love dispels hate.
Be the change you want to see in the world.
These old sayings and modern day slogans mean nothing if we read them in a hurry just like usual and get that vaguely “I should feel inspired” feeling but then do nothing.
Action your tender heart (and I will too) - I think it may be worth it!
Hari Dass, B. (1981). Astanga Yoga Primer. California: Sri Rama Publishing
Farhi, D. (1996). The Breathing Book. New York: Henry Holt & Co.