The first time I watched the movie “My Octopus Teacher,” I admit I made fun of it.
Called it—The Octopus Lover—and turned it off.
I realize now I was uncomfortable. I couldn’t deal with male gentleness and a marine creature. Instead of investigating my reaction/opinion and wondering why I felt this way when I watched obvious and pervasive male tenderness—I just forgot about it.
Then a friend told me how much she loved the movie, and we watched part of it together. And I began to truly see, which is what happens when we approach subjects with openness and willingness to stop cherishing our opinions, no matter how strongly we have held those ideas.
Slowly, the magic of this movie seeped in, and I found myself mesmerized by the mystery, the beauty, and drama of the relationship between man and animal.
To feel gentle and tender requires being in awe, wonderment, appreciation for the transitory nature of things, inviting a sense of soft delight at the events of this moment, and no other.
To be truly tender, I understand at a deep spiritual level that this event, relationship, person, or animal will not always be here and neither will I.
Can I bring this gentleness to myself? Will it change how I see tenderness in others?
Elvis crooned it sweetly, “Love me tender…love me true…” What if instead of imagining a thirst-trap, sexy-pants man singing, I imagine singing this in the mirror. To myself. About myself.
Geez. That sounds so weird and silly.
I found Elvis and his guitar gently singing online and decided to try it. An experiment in tenderness. I stood in front of a mirror, hands on my heart. Swaying, in my slightly off-key voice, I sang away. It felt silly at first, uncomfortable, but then, I felt a surprising tingle down my spine, a little tear forming in my eye, lump in my throat, and the sweetness slipped down to my bones.
I totally see why all those women in the 60s screamed, sobbed, and tossed panties at Elvis. Tender is powerful.
The next singer in the playlist slides into another version, and I sway, hugging my sides, feeling self-conscious even though I am alone at home—but now, also writing so you can see me too, maybe, swaying all alone in the room.
I try not to think about that, and instead, I listen, and I notice every tiny and exquisite detail in the mirror, the curve of my jaw, the deep dimple in my cheek. I see with new eyes, like I have never seen this human before, been here before, and perhaps never will be again. This only lasts a second or two, then the song fades, and I go check the screen, curious about the singer. There are so many renditions of this sweet lullaby, and this songwriter, a bilingual, pansexual activist, recorded this version just five years ago. We still need us some “Love Me Tender.”
My friend and I talked about gentleness, about how strange it is to see this in public—seems such a private thing, reserved for the very young or the very old. And yet, so many philosophers and poets write about the power and strength required for gentleness, the active cousin of compassion.
I looked at poetry on the subject of gentleness, and while there were so many, most of them talked of gentleness toward others. Just when I was about to give up my google search for gentleness for self, there it was, a quote from my beloved writer/teacher Pema Chödrön.
“There’s nothing more important on our spiritual path than developing gentleness to oneself.” ~ Pema Chödrön
Nothing more important. Whew. So how do I develop this tenderness that Pema says is so important? Self-love and self-care are becoming ubiquitously meaningless online, synonymous with bubble baths and breakfast wine. Maybe we confuse soothing or addictive behaviors with deep care, true gentleness, and kindness for ourselves because it makes us uncomfortable. Like me turning away from the gently caressing of man and octopus.
Nothing wrong with a little chocolate ice cream, but the path to spiritual growth, authenticity, and conscious compassion isn’t paved with bubbles—alcoholic or bath variety.
If I want to open myself to more gentle tenderness, maybe I investigate how I am not gentle?
I scratch my side while I think about this, and touch a roll of fat above my waist. “Yuck. You should work out more, lazy fatso.” Yep, that was the voice in my head. She could b*tch-slap the tender right out of you.
I start wondering how many negative/judgey thoughts zip through my head on a daily basis. I start keeping track and lose count after about 50 judgey thoughts.
That was before lunch.
The voice in my head uses the words—should, need, must, all the time. Always and never are huge in her vocabulary too. Why can’t you, and you used to be able to…also fairly constant in her stream. Name-calling too. I would be astounded and horrified if this sh*t stream was out loud to friends and family.
I realize all of this negative, judgey language colors everything I do and makes real change—real tenderness—beyond my reach. That old nugget, “love all as you love yourself; treat others as you treat yourself” never really got me in the gut. Nice platitude, but really?
But then there are Pema’s words. I believe she speaks the truth, that true love starts with my own dear heart. So if I truly challenge all this negative judging as poison to my soul, body, and heart, and demand a new path for myself, I deserve it—so do you.
I can alter the course of my life. So can you.
I can, as Pema says, deepen my spiritual path—and no app, guru, or religious structure can do it for me.
So, I put one hand on the back of my head, cradling it, belovedly, and one palm on my forehead, warm and tender. And I breathe. I imagine the energy flowing through my head, sweeping the nasty voice along in the current, right out to sea.
And whenever she manages to swim back and whisper mean things in my ear, I will channel a little Elvis, and dance around the living room.
Love me tender
Love me sweet
Never let me go
You have made my life complete
And I love you so.
Love me tender
Love me true
All my dreams fulfill.
For my darling,
I love you.
And I always will.