A note from Erin:
When I was 18, one of my most mind-blowing, life-altering reads was the Tao Te Ching as translated by Stephen Mitchell. I still have the same worn copy. I’ve been thinking about it a lot in the past year. Mostly because of Jane Goodall.
About a year ago, Jane Goodall came to speak in Salt Lake City. I’d missed getting tickets. We have a wonderful children’s book, Me Jane, about Jane and her stuffed chimp Jubilee, which our son loves. When he heard she was coming, he used all his 5-year old powers of persuasion to insist we go see her. Gratefully, a dear friend shared a pair of tickets with us and Mesa and I were able to go. We got there early and had near front row seats. I’m so glad for my son’s encouragement. She blew my mind.
As soon as she came to the podium, she held the entire room rapt. Yet she spoke so softly, so gently, with no large charisma or flourishes. She was so calm yet so energetic. So soft, yet so powerful. I couldn’t get over it. She reminded me of the diminutive, ancient tai chi master who can throw the big muscly guys across the room without visible effort. This gentle, gracious woman, who struck me as being without edges, had in her lifetime rocked the scientific community when her discoveries with chimpanzees redefined what it means to be human. She has had huge impact on science, on conservation on a global scale, and is a tireless advocate for wildlife and nature. At 81 years old, she travels 300 days a year. (Can you even imagine that?!?) And after speaking with gentle passion for a few hours, including graciously answering questions from audience members aged 6 and up, at 9pm when I was fading fast, she energetically agreed to sign books for the hundreds and hundreds of people lined up to meet her. Did I mention that she’s 81 years old! I couldn’t dream of mustering the energy to do that, let alone with a smile and no yawns, and I’m half her age.
In the first five minutes of being with her gentle, powerful presence on stage, this line from the Tao Te Ching kept running through my mind:
That sums up my experience of Jane. So soft, so gentle. So powerful. Such a force of nature. And she does not come across as a woman on the verge of burnout, but rather lit from within by some strange force that seems absent in most people over age 8.
Since hearing her speak, the aspiration has been with me to be more like her. More like water. She is such a powerful model for my inner life. To trust the power of gentleness. To come back to the wisdom of this taoist text I’ve loved for so many years.
It’s not a common orientation in our culture, but one that is sorely needed. The wisdom of softness. The power of gentleness. The strength in yielding.
There’s a question I’ve been loving to ask myself…. what softens me? It’s a living question, one I won’t ruin with a quick answer, but rather live with for hopefully a long time.
What softens me?
What softens you?
Maybe a useful question…..
We are enjoying signs of spring here which are nourishing my heart in such a powerful way. I hope wherever you are, you’re appreciating the gift of being alive. In spite of all the ___ (fill in the blank.) Even so.