The word tenderness is the closest translation to the Tibetan word TSEWA. Tsewa addresses self and others. Pema Chodron says it expresses itself as kindness, compassion, vicarious joy, generosity, tolerance, mental clarity, courage, resilience, unshakable cheerfulness and in many other internal ways. Tsewa is about expressing and experiencing our own tender hearts.
This week I am tender, like a bruise; tender like my heart is broken open to others’ pain. The colours of tenderness are beautiful and soft, plums and blueberries, soft greens and yellows at the edges. Let me tend to your bruise. Let me attend to your needs- your poor broken heart. Tenderness this week is where my practice wants me to be – in the midst of a place of tenderness. This seems to work towards myself and towards you too.
Last week, I had my second session with an inspiring and talented mindfulness and art practitioner who is mentoring me as I research for my MSc Mindfulness Studies – my professional context is art – and quite how I’m going to make art scientific I’m not sure. So far I have learned a lot about the neuroscience of mindfulness meditation practice and I’m beginning to find similar studies from Mindfulness Based Art interventions – I’m hoping the process will make an interesting blog from September as I explore the topic.
For now- I thought I would immerse myself in Mindfulness and Art. Had I chosen Art Therapy as a course – it is a prerequisite to undertake the therapy yourself in order to understand the process. This embodied learning is integral to the master’s Course in Mindfulness Studies. It is an experiential course. I began the course in Mindfulness with the MA because I was curious about a lack of feelings I had when the world obviously thought I should be having some feelings. I couldn’t distinguish between thoughts and feelings. I was numb. Mentally and physically. Mindfulness shines a light on internal mechanisms and to my surprise I have found some feelings, but they are way down there, almost too deep to reach. A gentle pathway I found down to them is through my body.
So here I am at the precipice of Mindful Art. Sounds easy! and wonderful! But I have immediately come face to face with resistance, fear, procrastination; I have a sense of vulnerablility around where this is going. And after my session last week the word that came to mind and has coloured my world this week was tenderness. I’m feeling tender.
This wholehearted feeling of tenderness is something that I have caught glimpses of before as a result of Buddhist teachings and meditation practice. When sitting in meditation the mirror aspect of the mind reflects back at me my inner truth, it takes some courage to truly connect with the intention to look and to face up to what’s there. Sometimes contemplation reveals (and removes – “the seeing is the doing”) mental blocks or patterns or habits which in turn reveals something raw and painful beneath (I’m realizing as I write that this is true for me). Ouch. Hard to describe, it’s soft, and tender. Tenderness is a little bit raw. This why the compassion training is inseparable from Mindfulness training, it’s at the core of it all – it has supported me through the painful/joyful insights.
Rachel, my mentor, and I had one art and mindfulness session last year. I didn’t know what to expect and had no expectations. I wondered what would grow from this open field of potential. The session was incredibly powerful and I was invited to draw how I felt after gathering and arranging some random items from around my home and garden – I was to gather these items without thinking too much to just go for what I felt drawn to. I was to arrange the items in a way that felt OK. We moved on from this by looking at and talking about the items, the arrangement. Rachel listens intently to the words I use. This, is the key to enquiry (which I am learning about in the teaching pathway) – it’s vital, it’s the golden thread leading me to self-understanding, the tender hand helping me out of ignorance and stuckness. This woman is an expert at hearing in between the lines! She catches subtle nuance of language. Already I had learned so much in one session. She guided me through meditation with enquiry. She dropped some questions in and I awaited for responses to arise in the mind without thinking too much about them. A light touch on the question, barely holding it in the mind and letting it go. Dropping it into ‘the pond’ of the subconscious mind.
The session took me to feel into the trapped feeling of emotional stuck-ness which I was then invited to draw, moving on from the mindful arrangement of finding balance or resonance in the items I had chosen. I had found a broken handmade ceramic with a cute hen on it that said HEN; it appealed to me as it reminded me of everything homely but it was broken. I had bought it for a dear friend but I had dropped and broken it and couldn’t throw it away because I loved it. (raises the question of who I bought it for!)
I moved on to the drawing of being stuck, but safe in that stuckness, comfortably numb, I wrote. That was how that session ended. It took 6 months for the follow up session. We agreed the break for me to process what had happened during that session. I followed this up by sitting practice where further imagery came to mind. I allowed this imagery to display and allowed it to flow where it wanted to flow – this was like the hypnogogic state that we encounter just before falling asleep but with conscious awareness – a visualization that is projecting itself into the mind’s eye.
So last week was my follow up session. I asked to continue as I had imagery that felt needed more enquiry and so before the session I drew the imagery I had experienced. As a graphic designer and map illustrator I like my lines to be tidy! I like things to be neat. This kind of scribbly messy artwork takes me to the limit of what I can allow or endure. This really is working the edge. I feel a bit sick. I want to cry! This is ridiculous! I am so scared of it all. It’s messy. I think of Rob Nairn and Heather rolling their sleeves up looking at this mess and handing me some compassion, some self-compassion to get me through it. A compassionate colour to soothe this big messy mess.
The session unfolds. There is a lot of visualization, meditation – Rachel asks if I would like her to guide me through with a meditation for which I am grateful. She guides me and offers choices, avenues to explore, always listening to the nuance of the words. I feel held in her tenderness towards me. She offers movement, suggestions of different materials, chooses words and ask which ones resonate most, which way would I like to go? Poetry? Drawing? What colour might that be? I want to move my body. She seems very pleased about this turn of events! At the end of the session she mentioned that if we can allow this urge to move to come alive, it seems to enrich and allow the process. Fascinating!
Before undertaking Mindfulness, Compassion and Insight courses I did not understand that the body holds many answers. Letting go into my body has been difficult but I have worked with my resistances and so now, feeling a mild resistance and self-consciousness I work with the body. I reflect that I am now, as I move, shocked at the strength of my resistance to expressive art. It’s unsafe. Weird. I don’t want to do this.
After the session, I feel a resolution, a breakthrough has been achieved, I feel I managed to shift on the fear of moving, Only now as I write am I connecting the emotional stuckness to physically and symbolically moving myself out of that place. I feel that I went through something, I went through and all I can describe of that going through is an all encompassing feeling of tenderness on the other side which was not separate from me.
This tenderness feels raw. Palpable, open, vulnerable – an open wound, a bruise. A tenderness that has lain underneath protected by layers of armour-plated outer-presentabilty – neat drawings, straight lines, everything very NICE and clever.
I mentioned that Rachel displayed what felt like a tenderness towards me – a great sensitivity to my feelings (the emotional doula again). It strikes me that this great tenderness comes with a great empathy for others, for their pain and their inner tenderness. This is a two-way word – a two-way energy – this tenderness feels to me very much like I have found the heart of compassion.
I feel like this embodied shift, this arriving at a soft centre simultaneously connects me with the soft centre in others. It feels simultaneous. It is one, there is no other.
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“Tenderness contains an element of sadness. It is not the sadness of feeling sorry for yourself or feeling deprived, but it is a natural situation of fullness. You feel so full and rich, as if you were about to shed tears. … In order to be a good warrior, one has to feel this sad and tender heart. – Chogyam Trungpa
Pema Chodron says this:
When things are shaky, and nothing is working, we might realise that that we are on the verge of something. We might realise that this is a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way. We can shut down and feel resentful or we can touch in on that throbbing quality. There is definitely something tender and throbbing about groundlessness.
We have an ability to open up our hearts and minds, our ability to care and love, to be generous, have a sense of humour, as a society and as individuals we have capacity to nurture these qualities, and bring them out to trust that each of us has that within us – and that even those who are not displaying those attributes do have them but under layers of conditioning that has hidden it out of self-protection.
Instead of feeling or thinking we are flawed, we can see ourselves and others as full of potential. Genuine authenticity becomes the basis of the path of cultivating courage. As the path of fearlessness continues we breathe breath into this path – it’s the life force – genuineness to not be afraid of ourselves. If we can find the find the strength to practice, the relationship with ourselves becomes more and more unconditional – and we lose the need to fake it – to make out we are more together than we actually are. Allowing ourselves to be honest with ourself opens up our world.
‘This tenderness is the root source of all that is truly beneficial in the world’. —Sharon Salzberg
“… that most precious human quality of all: unconditional tenderness for all beings.” —Matthieu Ricard
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I found this book while I was looking up tenderness and have just ordered it: Training in Tenderness Buddhist teachings on Tsewa the radical openness of heart that can change the world by Dzigar Kontrul – as recommended by Pema Chodron!
This week I invite you to simply notice any moments of tenderness arising.
Tenderness in the body – how does that feel?
Emotional tenderness – where do you feel this most? What are your thoughts saying to you? Are they true? Is there a deeper truth?
Tenderness towards others – explore the thoughts and feelings around this compassionate connection to others. Are you able to turn this tenderness towards yourself too this week?
If you have anything you’d like to share with me around tenderness or ask about the mindful art process I love receiving messages from you. Please email me at email@example.com
Wishing you this week, a good week, full of heartfelt tenderness.
Jacky Seery is running a new series of Mindful Movement starting in October. which I will be signing up for!