To Be Held in Respectful, Tender Regard
In the spring of 2011, sitting in circle with incarcerated men at Monroe Corrections, I posed a question, “Why do you come to this group?” The answer that most surprised me:
At the time, they were emerging from a period of lock down, the men locked in their cells for 7 consecutive weeks, showers once every 3-4 days, all work, classes and programs suspended. Those few months now pale in comparison with the repeated COVID lock downs that have rolled through prisons across the country since onset of the pandemic.
Love wasn’t the only answer the men offered. They spoke about how meditation helped them navigate the stresses and trauma of incarceration, the separation from family, the support to regulate emotions and mental health, personal awakening. And yet the refrain repeated by the majority of guys in the group that so surprised me was “love”. One man elaborated, “You come more often than our own families visit. And you just keep coming.” They teach me a lot, the men inside. Right now, I go out to Monroe, every 1st and 3rd Tuesday for most of the day.
There were two fundamental things I grasped that afternoon over a decade ago, insights that have been reinforced again and again in interactions with many different people in many different demographics over all these years. First, we all deeply, fundamentally yearn to be held by others with respect and tender regard. Second, I actually don’t need to be anything special. I just need to show up, as present as possible. I believe this showing up is how they perceived and received ‘love’. Sometimes it’s messy, I’m messy, life’s messy. As one dear patient repeats, humaning is hard! When I am less resourced, when I am fatigued, hungry, stressed, grieving…extending respectful, tender regard to others is harder. In October this year for example, I experienced several sudden deaths in my circles in a very short time.
Sometimes, I need to simply stop, to rest. And being present must first be with and for ourselves. If you’re interested in some additional practices to support your own tuning in you’ll find lots here. On a sustained basis, we must replenish our own reservoir; reach for friends, community, therapists, healers, mentors, elders, people who can hold us in this way, reach for solitude as well if that’s what nourishes us. When we are better resourced, we can show up differently for those in our world. And regardless of our positioning in this country and culture and economy, we all need and deserve respectful, tender regard.
How can you show up for yourself right now? Can you pause a minute to reflect? Try three long exhales.
The distribution of stressors is never equal. Nor is everyone’s resilience to adversity equal. There are segments of our human family in this country, in this world, who daily face structural hindrance, oppression and violence, who are actively deprived of respect or tender regard, and more. Our incarcerated population is an example. AND, we cannot deny our own grief or exhaustion by contextualizing our privilege in relation to another. One doesn’t cancel out the other. We must cultivate our capacity to hold both.
While rest is imperative, I’ve learned that sometimes just when I think I’m stretched beyond capacity, my heart is so easily lifted when I extend respectful, tender regard: someone working for the Mid cleaning our streets downtown, someone who is making me a coffee or checking out my groceries. I ask, “how did you sleep last night?” “Have people treated you kindly today?” Sometimes, I see all the muscles in their face soften as someone responds, “No. I didn’t sleep well. And, thank you. Thank you for asking.” And there, in that moment, there can be intimacy that is not brokered or hindered by capitalism, by political affiliation. That human intimacy is something we can freely offer to each other.
How can you show up for others right now? Again, is there space for you to pause for a minute to reflect? Pause in the breath, and consider a few simple gestures you can make.
When I am more resourced, things are easier. Regardless of my capacity, they get simpler when I’m humble and show up as fully, attentively and compassionately present as possible. I show up for myself and for others, letting go of my expectations of myself. It is a gesture of love. And so I keep showing up: for my body-mind and for those at the prison, in clinic, in community, in family, in connection to with those dearest in my life, this short and precious life.
In this season of darkness and light, of anxiety and revelry, of hardship and of beauty, how can you extend respect and tender, loving regard? to yourself? to those around you? If you are so beyond capacity, you can barely sleep or breathe, consider asking someone to cook a meal for you, to walk your dog, to stay with your kids for a few hours. It can be a gesture of generosity to invite someone else to support you, even though it can be so hard to ask. If you live in or have interest in the Seattle area and are resourced financially, consider a gesture to one of these amazing organizations: Tubman Center for Health and Freedom, Real Rent Duwamish, AfricaTown Community Land Trust, WaNa Wari. Wherever you are, consider your local food bank or another organization about which you are passionate.
We don’t need to do or be anything special. Just as we are, we can reach for each other with respect and tender regard. And in that reaching, we extend love into our world. Please receive the invitation to explore this in your circles.
Zoe* aka Amy Darling
When I was born, my mother wanted to name me Zoe. My father thought it was too strange. I have orbited around Zoe my whole life. In 2021, I began inviting people to call me Zoe (pronounced like Joey or Chloe). Amy feels more and more like a piece of clothing in the back of my closet that no longer fits. Zoe feels truer to my expression in the world. Going forward, I invite you to call me Zoe. For the time being, all the institutional things remain in my given name Amy. Web site, domain and other changes are on the horizon.