Some of you have heard me talk about gentle persistence and persistent gentleness for years. Sometimes I forget that not everyone knows what I mean when I talk about them, nor why they are so important to me.
My “tagline,” if you will is “Change arises from gentle persistence and persistent gentleness.” Or even just, “Gentle persistence, persistent gentleness…” Let us move through the world with gentle persistence and persistent gentleness.
What do I mean?
On the face of it, I’m inclined to do something unskillful, something I did twenty years ago when I was asked, “How do you pray?” I said, “Well, you just do it.” I had been praying for so long and in so many ways that I had never bothered to break it down. Totally unhelpful, and I don’t know whether my wife has forgiven me to this day. At least, 18 months or so after that conversation, she married me, so that’s a good sign.
And so with gentle persistence and persistent gentleness.
Gentle persistence is related to discipline. Not discipline as we generally think of it, though. Not something punitive. Not something rigid — Goddess, no! But didn’t I just say,”discipline”?
Discipline is related to the word “disciple.” Does that help?
For many of us, I suspect not! So many of us and our comrades have been wounded by religious language that we are thinking, “disciple”?! How is that about anything gentle?!
Discipline means something that you follow. The word comes from “to follow.” Thus, we see Jesus’s followers. We see followers of Islam. We see people following all kinds of institutions, structures, and ways of engaging spiritually (or physically, financially, or educationally, for example).
There is some truth, for example, in the expression, “Discipline is doing what you really want.” And THAT is where gentle persistence comes in.
Gentleness is allowing yourself compassion. Self-compassion is the root of both gentle persistence and persistent gentleness. So “what you really want” comes from gentleness, comes from saying to yourself, what do I really, in my heart of hearts, long for. What is the outcome here that I most truly desire?
And when we are clear about what we really want, then we can say, All right, I can try, l can try to follow my heart and follow my desire, and if I cannot accomplish this thing before me, it is okay. I am okay. Making this attempt is what I can do, following my heart is what I can do, and if I miss the mark, then I can forgive myself.
And sometimes, when something seems insurmountable, just awful, terrible, and too big, gentle persistence is kind of magical. When you know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that you will forgive yourself because you know you’ve done your best, sometimes you can do more than you expected.
And if you can’t, no matter how persistent you have been, no matter how hard you have tried to follow whatever regimen, teaching, desire, work, parenting style…whatever… you can know that self-compassion, forgiveness, gentleness can always be there.
So what about persistent gentleness? Well I just kind of explained that, right?
Persistent gentleness means that I am in bed writing this to you right now. I fell this past weekend and hurt my knees. I want to be up and about. I want NOT to have to do what I need to heal. I want to be more helpful in my household than I can be right now. It sucks.
And yet, persistent gentleness encourages me to, “Forgive [myself] for everything every day,” as my Dragontree planner said last year. Forgive yourself for everything every day.
You fucked up. Humanness.
You injured your body through carelessness, recklessness, or thoughtlessness. Humanness.
You are habitually hard on yourself. Humanness.
You fall into spirals of shame when you make mistakes. Humanness.
These are all clarion calls, true klaxons from your heart asking for kindness, grace, mercy, forgiveness…for gentleness.
Over and over and over, gentleness. Over and over and over, gentleness.
Persistent, even relentless gentleness allows change to arise in me. Why? Because I find that I can do things I didn’t think I could do. Something hard and sharp-edged and afraid inside of me softens as I am gentle. And the gentleness, offered over and over again without exception (except, well, human, so not always, not without exception…but as much as we can manage) allows the persistence to come into play.
Do you see?
Persistence, by itself, may become punitive. Or harsh. Some kind of self-flagellation. Nothing is helpful there. All of that is rooted in shame, and shame is not the way to transformation into compassionate selves. Shame is not the way. It’s just not.
Gentleness by itself is beautiful. But there are other things that can masquerade as gentleness. The kind of things that seem soft and helpful, but that keep us from accomplishing our hopes. They are usually blocks, pieces of depression or shame. So gentleness can never be applied too much, but it is important to be on the lookout for those things that remind me of spiritual bypass. Getting to the gentleness without the persistence, without the grit of giving it a try. Really digging in and doing everything you can to get up when you’ve fallen.
And if you fall down and find you can’t get up, you get help. And you forgive yourself, for the fall, for the trying and failing, and for the asking and getting help.
You apply gentle persistence in the trying and trying again. And persistent gentleness, grace, in admitting that you need help.
Gentle, gentle, gentle, my love. Keep trying, keep growing, keep giving it all you have. And when that is not enough, loosen the grip that shame has on you, and be gentle.
I love you