A dictionary would describe it as "a person of mild temperament or behavior. Moderate in action, effect, or degree; not harsh or severe.” I would describe it, if I'm being honest, as something I see less and less of in the world around me, including in myself. 

Writer Mary Ann Becklenberg said this: we are short on others because we are frustrated with ourselves. And reading that was like having my beloved cast-iron skillet smack me in the face with a big dose of reality. Ouch.

It’s never easy to be confronted with a shortcoming. It’s even harder when our own conscience is the one doing the dirty work.

Kind, tender, sympathetic, considerate, understanding, compassionate, benevolent, good-natured. These attributes are what I want to know myself for. I have them in doses, but I want them, in larger doses, to reside throughout every molecule of my being.

Is there anything stronger than possessing gentleness? To do so is to have a character that is consistent, reliable, and steady. A weak person cannot do that. Leo Rosten goes as far as to say, “Gentleness is to be expected only from the strong.”

I have a small, but ever-growing, list of people I admire. A few are bold. Adventurous. Risk-takers. Achievers. Leaders. Most are what most would consider to be quite ordinary. Predictable. Mundane, even. I began writing out characteristics I see in those I admire --- what was it I really saw in these people that I was drawn to? The common denominator was gentleness.

So how do I embody more of it? In a daily routine of deadlines, demands (both self-inflicted and otherwise), and post-pandemic reorientation, how do I ease my soul back towards gentleness of spirit? I listened to a podcast recently with a Hebrew professor talking about repentance. The interviewer asked, “Isn’t repentance about making an abrupt change…the 180-degree turn?” In my previous readings, I have always been led to believe this, so I was nodding my head in agreement as she asked the question. His response surprised me. In essence, he said, “Any slight turn in the right direction will get you to a different destination.”

Yes. Yes!
Baby steps.
Striving for improvement, not perfection.

My first baby step back towards a gentle spirit is learning to be gentle with myself. Referencing back to Becklenberg’s quote, I resonate with the truth that I lose gentleness because internally I’m spinning. Being gentle with myself is requiring me to let go of some expectations. Whether it’s to have dinner on the table within a certain hour, have a proposal arrive in someone’s inbox ahead of schedule (I err on the side of overachieving), make decisions that I’ve let sit on the backburner, or snuggle my kiddos before bed each night, I need to just chill the heck out on myself.

My second baby step towards gentleness is letting go. It’s the only way to truly free myself from that internal spinning.

When my jeans won’t button….let it go. (Hard one.)
When my business meeting gets canceled 15 minutes before….let it go.
When my kid checks his phone in the middle of my story….let it go. (Verges on impossible.)
When the cookies over bake…let it go.
When the coffee shop blares B-side rock tracks at 8 am…let it go.

When I can start letting things go, then these daily frustrations however minuscule they may be, no longer own me. They no longer reside in my belly to fester and then bubble up to a moment of irritability, however slight, towards another.

I want to start moving to a place of choice. To have the insight to see the implications and consequences of all of my actions. And reactions. Not giving over to the angsty feeling that arises because I actually am quietly feeling I’m missing the mark somewhere.

Most people, including myself, haven’t always been surrounded by the example of gentleness. Which makes its power even more visible when it’s present. Every day I’m turning just a bit more in the direction I want to be headed in. Just don’t ask me about it when the third batch of cookies has burned. I’m nowhere close to that kind of sainthood.

“How terribly hard many of us are on ourselves. Our reactions, and manner of response, to our unpleasant circumstances so often result in self-punishment administered in creatively cruel ways.

And to what degree is the management of our situations based upon an inability to lower self-expectations, as well as the pervasive fear of losing ourselves?”

Mary Ann Becklenberg