Last week I did Yoga on the roof of the Clarendon Hotel, about a mile from my apartment, under the light of the moon. I re-started my yoga practice about a month ago after a 9-month hiatus, and can’t believe I ever stopped practicing. I leave every time with gratitude for my body, how it bends and moves. And believe me, my body bends a lot less than some other bodies. Still, gratitude…
Our instructor for the night asked us to think about something we’d like to work on in our lives over the next lunar cycle (so basically, the next month). My mind immediately jumped to gentleness, a word a friend I was visiting used in a church service a couple weeks ago. Gentleness, as my body twisted and bent, and honestly as it creaked and shook. I’m not great at yoga. But as the instructor says “there’s no perfect in yoga, only practice.”
I’m going to go ahead and say that I think gentleness is the least represented of the “fruits of the spirit,” which Galatians lists as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” I’ve heard lots of love, joy and peace sermons, especially around Christmas. Kindness seems obvious, and generosity will be represented in any a church lives out its mission to serve others. Faithfulness seem paramount to the Christian story, a God who is faithful to the unfaithful people, or whatever version of the gospel you’d like to tell. I grew up around some more conservative evangelicals, and can say I’ve heard too many sermons on self-control.
Gentleness was an intriguing thought as I did my yoga practice under the lunar light. I love yoga, but I always need a few days recovery afterwards. Am I being gentle to myself when I put it through a program that leaves much of it in pain? I mean, not excruciating pain, not debilitating. Just soreness. Maybe practicing gentleness means working my body in a loving way. Working out because it makes me more aware of the gift of my body, and less about trying to be “in-shape,” whatever that means.
I used to run to try to stay “in-shape.” I liked it most of the time, although I think what I was most interested in was the feeling afterwards. I liked accomplishing something, and I especially liked the feeling when my body was regularly being worked out. When I wasn’t winded walking up stairs, or when setting a regular workout schedule didn’t result in frustration because each individual run was so difficult.
I met someone at a conference in Indianapolis who mentioned that she walks. As in, she’s taking part in a 17 mile “walk” in a few months, and has been practicing by walking 7 or 8 miles at a time up the coast of Lake Michigan in Chicago. When I heard this, I thought about how much I like walking. When I got home last week, I decided to try it out. I put in my headphones, turned on the latest episode of “Wait, Wait…” and walked for an hour. 3 1/2 miles later I had made my way through neighborhood streets, a local park and a large stretch of the canal that runs behind my apartment. I saw at least 3 families of ducks in the water, and enjoyed a regular Arizona sunset, which, if you don’t know, is almost always the best sunset you’ve ever seen.
I like the slow movement of walking. I’m not that concerned with how far or fast I’ve traveled, only with the things going on around me in the world. I don’t have to be concerned with ouching myself, or looking for my “best time,” and maybe most important, I don’t have to worry when I don’t make my “goal.” There’s no ulterior motive, there’s only the walk. Only gentleness, with the world and with myself.
I’m not really sure what gentleness is. I’m sure there’s a definition out there, but I don’t want it. If there was an easy definition for gentleness, I wouldn’t need to seek it out. I’d just know what it was. I have a hunch that it has to do with treating things with more care, paying more attention to events in life for their own sake. Not dominating or overpowering or forceful. Gentle. Like accepting bodily aches as signs of growth, or appreciating what my body can do rather than what it can’t do. Moving slower, not pushing but accepting. Being present, and preparing space for whatever the world has to offer.
So for the rest of this lunar cycle: Gentleness!