Strong back – Soft front
Lately I’ve been contemplating about how to direct my thoughts and take care of myself to maintain an inner calm, while there’s so much violence happening in the world, like last week’s violence in Washington, the ongoing violence towards minority groups and dictatorships who keep misusing their power to undermine democracy.
How do I cultivate a way of living where this hatred doesn’t take over inside of me? And how do I do that without judging, myself or others? How can I have compassion for these who I strongly disagree with? How do I belong in a world where I feel so much disconnection?
That’s where I got interested in finding out more about the expression; strong back – soft front;
According to Buddhist teacher Joan Halifax;
“All too often our so-called strength comes from fear not love; instead of having a strong back, many of us have a defended front shielding a weak spine. In other words, we walk around brittle and defensive, trying to conceal our lack of confidence. If we strengthen our backs, metaphorically speaking, and develop a spine that’s flexible but sturdy, then we can risk having a front that’s soft and open, representing choiceless compassion. The place in your body where these two meet — strong back and soft front — is the brave, tender ground in which to root our caring deeply.”
And she continues; “how can we give and accept care with strong-back, soft front compassion, moving past fear into a place of genuine tenderness? I believe it comes about when we can be truly transparent, seeing the world clearly — and letting the world see into us.”
Author and researcher Brené Brown says, “our belonging to each other can’t be lost, but it can be forgotten”. Her research has reminded the world in recent years of the uncomfortable, life-giving link between vulnerability and courage. She also speaks about how we walked into the crisis of our life together and how we can move beyond it: with strong backs, soft fronts and wild hearts.
Ok, so what is a strong back and a soft front? Let’s break it down in smaller pieces.
Joan Halifax means that having a strong back and a soft front “is about the relationship between the equanimity and compassion”. And if we look into one at a time, a strong back is about equanimity and our capacity to uphold ourselves, especially during difficult times. It means we are cultivating an ability to maintain a calm mind with emotional and mental stability. It enables us to be grounded, rooted and strong while remaining flexible, adaptable and open to change.
The soft front is about opening to things as they are. It’s about accepting life as it is rather than longing or worrying about the future and wishing things were different. Cultivating this quality within ourselves enables us to remain open to life without shutting down or collapsing.
If you are willing I invite you to experiment here for a few moments; sit or stand comfortably and allow yourself to feel the feet on the ground and see if you in this moment can trust that the earth is supporting you. Feel the warmth spreading up your legs and spine. Maybe straighten the spine just a bit more. Take a few breaths here, just breathing into the spine. Then move your attention to your heart, you might even put a hand there. Feel the quality of the heart. Maybe you feel your heartbeats. You might even feel a softness. Allow a few breaths just feeling into your heart.
Then move your attention to a place in-between the spine and the heart. Imagine that here is where the quality of vulnerability lives, held by the strong back and looking out in the world from the soft front.
I like to believe that when I cultivate a strong back and soft front within myself, I can bear the storms of life with strength, wisdom, grace and an open wild heart ❤️
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