I woke up early on inauguration day. Turning off the alarm and peaking outside the window, it was gray and foggy. I rolled back over and snuggled into my bed. I didn’t want the day to start, and I don’t know what to expect from the future, but if there would’ve been an “opt out” button on that day, I would’ve pressed it.
Insult and injury often go hand in hand. Maybe it was the weather, maybe I slept weird, maybe it was a palpable concern about the state of my country, but when I finally struggled out of bed my back was hurting worse than ever. Dang it. It’s been so good lately, I thought my back problems were in my rearview.
Having no time for much that morning besides a bunch of sighing and worrying, I skipped my stretches. A few months ago, I talked about back pain free programming I had been doing, that was created by Coach Hannah. It has truly made all the difference.
And while I can’t do everything in the program in my home, I am slowly working through it at the gym. But with this programming, I can do many of the warm up and the cool down portions of each work out right away in the morning. I find just having a template, that I can reference is so so handy. And I can see a marked difference between days I take 15 minutes and stretch, and days I don’t.
I remember talking to Coach Hannah and she said more than anything, gentle and consistent work will help my back. She, like always, was right. The days I stretch, my body feels more supple, ready for anything, and more vital. Or, in the FLOURISH ZONE, as I like to call it. Days I don’t, I feel brittle and achy. Nowhere near the zone.
I have seen vast improvements, to the point where sometimes I don’t even feel my back pain at all anymore. And I’m not even all the way through the program yet.
As I moved through the rest of inauguration day, I noticed I got grumpier and grumpier. Not just at myself and my achy back, but it started to bubble out at others. Let’s just say, I was not “fun to be around” that day. I’m not proud of it, and I admit I could’ve done better.
By the time I got in my car to drive home after the show, I was more than ready to say goodnight. I turned my keys and drove silently, welcoming the idea of just dropping my stuff and crawling into bed. I always have my radio on, and I’ve been listening to a lot of oldies lately. And a couple of blocks from my house, Otis Redding came on.
I know what you’re thinking too… “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” right? Nope. Although, that song would’ve been a balm for a day like this. Instead I got a musical jolt. Otis starting crooning “Try a Little Tenderness”, and suddenly I’m wide awake. I find myself singing along, making wild hand gestures, and generally embarrassing myself as only one can when engaged in a car performance of a lifetime. It got to these lyrics halfway in:
It’s not just sentimental no, no, no
She has her griefs and care, yeah yeah yeah
But the soft words they are spoke so gentle, yeah
It makes it easier, easier to bare, yeah
And I’m singing these lyrics along with Mr. Redding, and suddenly I’m tearing up a little. This song that I first fell in love with watching Duckie sing it in Pretty in Pink, is now making me misty in my car late on a Friday night. How and why is this happening?
Well, it must’ve been those lyrics! She has her griefs and care… but the soft words spoken…makes it easier to bare.. I mean c’mon! It was like alarm bells went off.
I was stressed out, worried, sad, and my back hurt. And instead of being gentle with myself, I was being hard on myself, and on others. My toughness made it worse. When what I really could’ve used was a little, well, tenderness.
And I notice I do that a lot. When things get tough, I have a tendency to get tougher. Sometimes this toughness is a good thing. Sometimes it’s the only thing that helps me survive. But that is surviving. When you’re surviving, you’re just trying to get to that next moment. Just trying to get through the day/week/month/year. But when you’re surviving you’re also on lock down. Yes, you made it to the next moment, but at what cost?
Because in my experience, surviving is not flourishing. Surviving is not growing. And when I’m surviving, I’m not necessarily my best self. And while “being tough” can be a great trait, it’s not a trait that always serves me.
It reminds me of a conversation I had with my friend Amber over the weekend. We were talking about how great it is when people exceed our expectations. I lamented that I hate to be disappointed, and she said, “I think most of the time when people disappoint, it’s because they haven’t been set up well to meet the expectations that were being placed on them.” BOOM—Wisdom dropped! My ears perked up and my mind started racing. She then gave a great example:
Say you need a room decorated. You want it done well. You want it to look a certain way. But you only give them 2 hours and 50 bucks to do it. AH! Chances are, they won’t be able to meet your expectations, because you’ve given them no time and no resources.
I had never considered this perspective before. I don’t ever assume people are trying to disappoint me, but I never really considered whether or not I was setting them up to succeed. And it occurred to me, that this is a really gentle and considerate thing to do. And if I did this, not only would more expectations be met, but people and relationships would be bound to flourish!
And that’s where I want to be. In the FLOURISH ZONE.
I tried this with my improv class the other day. In lieu of our normal warm ups, I had each student give and receive multiple compliments to/from each other. The tenderness and consideration they showed to each other, and even to themselves, was inspired. By the end of 10 minutes of compliments we were all beaming. And there was a newfound kinship.
Now imagine if I took the time to do a little of this for myself? How might my day change? My expectations change?
How might I change?
I could’ve just crawled into bed and washed my hands of that gray and dreary day. But Otis had energized me. I put my comfy jams on, and sat on my floor, and I spent a solid 15 minutes stretching and breathing. My back loosened, and felt better. I stood up and said a few things out loud that I was grateful for in my mirror. And when I was done, I made myself a bowl of grapefruit (one of my favorite things to eat, because it feels like eating sunshine.) and ate it while lounging in bed and watching Broad City, like a decadent goddess.
I was gentle. I was kind. I eased up on myself, and I could feel my body literally easing up as well. And despite the worry I had, and the fear that was ever-present that day, I managed to fall asleep almost refreshed. And it’s because I tried a little tenderness.
* * *
The next day, women (and more!) marched peacefully in every state and on every continent. It will go down in history as one of the largest and least violent protests in history. A powerful display that we will not be ignored. A tender protest? Hardly. But a kind and tender act for ourselves and each other? Definitely.