The Power of Softening


I remember sitting in a class on substance misuse in graduate school many years ago… We were talking about 12-step programs. The professor was explaining how difficult it is to know whether 12-step programs (AA, NA, Al-Anon, etc.) “work” due to limited ability to conduct research since these communities are based on anonymity and several other factors. Despite this fact, however, researchers have tried to determine whether these programs help people recover from alcohol and drug abuse. What stuck with me more than anything else in the class was learning that there is evidence supporting the idea that for women in 12-step programs, the foundational 1st step (“I admit that I am powerless over drugs/alcohol/etc. and that my life has become unmanageable”) can be disempowering, rather than healing and supportive.

(As a clarifying note: 12-step programs have saved peoples lives. They help millions of people every day and many people I work with attribute their recovery and health to these communities. And they simply don’t work for everyone.)

Yesterday in Qoya we danced with Softening. During the class I began to think about this research conclusion and whether we have deeply confused being “powerless” with conscious surrender. In class we explored what it feels like when we soften, surrender, and let go. While we live in a world that puts a premium on “pushing through”, “toughening it out”, and “getting on top of it”, the idea that we might need to soften and open to receive is quite counter-cultural. And at the end of class, I sent a prayer to the universe, Spirit, the divine, whoever is willing to listen, that we remember that surrender is not helpless and powerless…That we remember that softening is not the same thing as rolling over, becoming a victim, or collapsing into defeat.

We are trained and reinforced to value control and productivity. And the grand cosmic joke is that the things that are most lasting, satisfying, and nourishing tend to take their time and we don’t have any control over their timing. The hang time of life—those moments in between A and B—can be excruciating and anxiety-provoking if we don’t have practice with surrender and softening. Luckily, we can practice in every moment. Softening our breath. Softening our bodies. Softening the space between our eyes.

When we were dancing, I could feel the soft place within my body that knows how to surrender, open, and receive. And this part of me knows how to pace myself, she knows how to pause in patience, she knows how to relax and flow. Rather than staying in the exhausting and unsustainable pace of life we are sold (everlasting production, busyness, caffeine-induced activity), we danced with the idea of trusting our bodies to soften.

As we moved through our dance, I started to think about my experience in that classroom and how the idea of “accepting we are powerless over x,y,z” has probably been misconstrued time and again as we have forgotten the power of the feminine principle of surrender and allowing. Perhaps like the river that is powerless to control whether there are rocks in her path, yet continues to flow around them nonetheless, we can learn to drop into flow, surrender, and breath. It’s hard to doubt the power of a rushing river. Similarly, I believe it is hard to doubt the power of our own internal surrender. Acceptance, surrender, flow. This is a powerful combination.

Tomorrow I’m heading to Guatemala to do just this sequence. Based on several intuitive “hits” over the last several months, I’m traveling with the intention to soften my nervous system and body to open to the unseen world. I intend to pray. I intend to surrender to the adventure of Life itself. I invite you to join me in your own way, in your own place.

With love and softening,

Kathryn Holt