When the going gets tough the tough get going… I misunderstood this saying for a large portion of my life. Tough meant stoic, harsh, determined, sheer power over whatever was in my way. Then one day it occurred to me that I was exhausting myself. I read about body armor and stood in front of the mirror identifying myself as a “Challenger/Defender” and wondered if it was a coincidence that wherever I went, something or someone got unsettled. I joked that my middle name is “Change.”
Until a friend of mine pointed out that my actual middle name, Sasheva, is sexy and it purrs. I tossed away most of my tough looking attire in black, gray, and earthy tones, replacing it with lace, skirts, vibrant colors, skinny pants, high heels, and other girly things. My alter ego – the flamboyant tango dancer, was born with ample room for self-expression. A few years later, this self-expression gave birth to a shameless pole dancer. Not the strip club kind, which I have no objection to, but a graceful, athletic kind, that loves a challenge and the juxtaposition of sexy and strong. As in a Bad-Ass-Goddess.
At first, it sounded weird to be addressed by my middle name. But underneath the discomfort, I found a smile. Underneath the smile, I found an authenticity that put into perspective my whole existence. I saw “tough” as the nurturing, soft persistence of water on its mission of shaping the Grand Canyon. A quality infused with raw vulnerability underlying sincere and honest interactions. All of the sudden the laws of physics made sense in terms of human relationships. Every action produces an equal and opposing reaction, therefore if you push, they shove. Pulling a rubber band too far apart snaps it, and there’s no fixing that. Sensitive dependence on initial conditions (chaos theory), puts us all in interdependence with each other.
It’s easy to say “I don’t care” when we actually do and care a lot. It’s hard to put nuanced, flowing feelings into clumsy words. Yet, the very search for the right words is a space we share with each other and in a more meaningful way than slamming a door, shutting down, or checking out. This vulnerable space gives us the opportunity to reach out, connect, and lift each other up. We all love to be needed and valued. If none of us is ever vulnerable, then who will ever feel needed and valuable in return? We rob each other of the opportunity to share our goodness with one another when we retreat in our armor and warring states.
At first, we may mistake needy for vulnerable and manipulative for caring. We may mistake lace for weapons and purring for a growl. But as we keep trying to put ourselves out there and conscientiously attempt to connect, we get better at telling the difference. We become wiser to manipulation and deceit. We become more assertive, and honoring of our boundaries.
When I think of tough now, I think of the goddess Isis and her magical ways with which she cared for everyone – sinners and saints, maidens and artists, slaves and aristocrats, the living and the dead. Motherly but purposeful, soft but assertive, clever and carrying. The river Nile flooded every year with her tears of sorrow for her brother Osiris, out of which came fertility and life-sustaining nourishment. If she decided to say “I don’t care” and acted stoic, what would be the outcome?
I found a picture of Isis kneeling on the ground with her arms outstretched into beautiful wings as if ready to embrace the whole world. I printed it and pinned it above my computer desk to remind myself to check in with Sasheva once in a while and to keep softening. But old habits die hard. In fact, science tells us that they don’t, actually. The most we can do is build new habits, practice them until they become our defaults.
Occasionally, I stand ready for a fight and take someone down the old way. Thankfully, that’s not my everyday experience anymore. Sadly, when my friend who pointed out the power of my middle name passed away, I never heard it being spoken again. His inspiration and keen sense of nuances in life will be missed. But this changed perspective and attitude towards living have been woven forever into the fabric of my being.
There’s nothing wrong with being a work in progress. The alternative scares me. It would be a loss to keep ourselves stuck in repeating patterns of suffering, complaining, and blaming when we could be unfolding, refining, learning, and helping others as we listen to the whispers of inspiration and authenticity within us.
Make this one life count!