Over the past 2 years, I have faced the illusory notion of strength head on. Throughout my entire life, I believed strength to be a bodily-secure entity. A grasp on muscle, on power, on the emboldenment of my pounce. I had always believed that strength was the grit, the grind, the hammering of hard work.

And this is, in a way, right. Those things ARE strength.

But I found a deeper meaning. I found that softness in my belly and, just like the steam sifting up out of a hot cup of tea, the compassion that can radiate from within me toward others.

It is powerful stuff.

And this is my new sense of strength.

For the last 12 years, I have slapped my feet against the pavement, pushed the weights in the gym, grunted my way through intense workouts on the track, and Gu-ed my way through 18, 19, 20 mile runs. I have tested out my muscle power, I have competed hard against my opponents. and I have compared myself to others– and to myself. If my times weren’t as fast, my squats not as heavy, my splits not as negative, then I thought I lost my strength. I couldn’t look myself in the mirror and see myself as strong.

Instead, I judged, I cried, I compared, and I pushed and pushed and pushed.

And to what end?

This winter, all that began to change. After reading books for class (working on my Masters in Integrative Health and Wellness Coaching at the U of M) on meditation, and self-compassion, change and living-like-you-are-dying; after completing a month straight of daily yoga; after trying acupuncture (so amazing) and chiropractic adjustments (makes the body feel oh-so-good) and (albeit slightly disastrous) cupping technique; after learning my enneagram type (a 4) and what it meant to actively listen to others (it’s not very easy at first and takes a lot of practice) and walk through life with joyful attention and take on a positive frame for an otherwise negative situation… Slowly, I dropped my age-old habit of running myself to the ground and judging my own sense of strength.

Slowly, I began to look in the mirror and change the way I spoke to her. I began to tell her she was strong. She was beautiful. She was lovely. She was capable. And most importantly, she was loved.

And so I grew into a new strength. Strength in my tears, in my heart, in my self-awareness and in my growth. Strength in the reflection in the mirror and in my three-legged downward dog and collaborating with others at work or school. Strength in long talks with once-strangers and walking down a bitingly-cold and windy street. Strength in cleaning the apartment for my partner’s sanity and in laying back on the couch with a book instead of bolting out the door for a run. Strength in following my intuition and stepping away from the things in my life that no longer serve me– and that I no longer serve.

Life is too big and wonderful a place to grind myself down. It’s time to lift myself up with all the strength in my heart.

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