Crafting Gentleness

Sunday, December 07, 2008


Any time I have found myself in an intimate relationship where nurturing and loving are possible, where a commitment to caring and emotional vulnerability is taken up, at such times I am reminded of the notion of a 'soulmate'. It's a word that has certain resonances for me, and not only because I was told by a psychic friend once, in a spontaneous reading, that I was looking for a soulmate when it came to matters of the heart. To be honest, I don't disagree. But I think it's important to draw out some of the nuances of the notion.

I think it's a word that can drag along a lot of unnecessary baggage, the kind of baggage that comes with the worst excesses of soppy love songs (and yes, I have written a few). But I don't think it has to come with that baggage, all that language of destiny and only-one-ness. I think if I lift the word up and look underneath to what it can helpfully mean for me it can speak to a quality of possibility in relationship that is really beautiful.

In the film (pronounced 'fillim' in my universe) Good Will Hunting there is a scene where Robin Williams' character Sean asks Matt Damon's Will if he has a soulmate. Will asks what he means.

SEAN Someone who challenges you in every way. Who takes you places, opens things up for you. A soul-mate.

In Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love a helpful Texan offers the following suggestion:

…A true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that’s holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever. Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then they leave. And thank God for it (Eat Pray Love, p.149)

Whatever a soulmate is or isn't, what I would hope for in an intimate, caring, emotionally committed and responsible relationship is a person that invites that vulnerability, that transparency, a person that invites me to The Work in every aspect of my life, by simple virtue of their being alive. A person to encourage and support, to challenge and critique, to nourish and cuddle (etc.!).

But I don't know if meeting such a person is something that's too painful, as that quotation suggests. I think that once you sit through the painful part, that's where the gentleness can flourish.

I think I've referred to this before, but Bell Hooks speaks about the practice of love and loving in All About Love: New Visions:

"We can only move from perfect passion to perfect love when the illusions pass and we are able to use the energy and intensity generated by intense, overwhelming, erotic bonding to heighten self-discovery. Perfect passions usually end when we awaken from our enchantment and find only that we have been carried away from ourselves. It becomes perfect love when our passion gives us the courage to face reality to embrace our true selves. Acknowledging this meaningful link between perfect passion and perfect love from the onset of a relationship can be the necessary inspiration that empowers us to choose love. When we love by intention and will, by showing care, respect, knowledge, and responsibility, our love satisfies. ...

"All relationships have ups and downs. Romantic fantasy often nurtures the belief that difficulties and down times are an indication of a lack of love rather than part of the process. In actuality, true love thrives on the difficulties. The foundation of such love is the assumption that we want to grow and expand, to become more fully ourselves. There is no change that does not bring with it a feeling of challenge and loss. When we experience true love it may feel as though our lives are in danger we may feel threatened.
True love is different from the love that is rooted in basic care, goodwill, and just plain old everyday attraction. We are continually attracted to folks ... whom we know that, given a chance, we could love in a heartbeat. ...

"The essence of true love is mutual recognition - two individuals seeing each other as they really are. We all know that the usual approach is to meet someone we like and put our best self forward, or even at times a false self, one we believe will be more appealing to the person we want to attract. When our real self appears in its entirety, when the good behavior becomes too much to maintain or the masks are taken away, disappointment comes. ...
True love is a different story. When it happens, individuals usually feel in touch with each other's core identity. Embarking on such a relationship is frightening precisely because we feel there is no place to hide. We are known. All the ecstasy that we feel emerges as this love nurtures us and challenges us to grow and transform."

Yes, being with someone who is loving also invites me to a loving presencing of myself, also invites me to allow myself the same gentleness, and sometimes that's something I'm just not willing to do. Someone that invites me to acknowledge and accept the more painful parts of myself. Warts and all, as they say. But that's a good thing, no?


  • Hi Anthony,
    I found your blog searching for info on the scything festival, (thank you), I love the title "Crafting Gentleness".
    I thought you might be interested to read a recently written perspective on soul mates which also brings in a new (as far as I know) idea referred to as twin flames.
    Happy gentleness crafting, and may the craft spread far and wide!

    By Blogger Lesley J, at Monday, 09 February, 2009  

  • Might help if I gave you the link!

    By Blogger Lesley J, at Monday, 09 February, 2009  

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