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Gentle Spaces

Jill Zimmer author
Written by: Jill Zimmer.
Last updated: June 25, 2020

gentle spaces image

Wow. Is anyone else feeling the heaviness of what we are currently experiencing? A heaviness born of a belief that at times it feels as though we have given so much, and yet it seems not to be enough – that nothing will ever change? Or maybe, like some of us, you are feeling a sense of hopeful anticipation? An anticipation that harmonizes with a life song that sings, “I still have more to give.”

The other day, I heard it said that “relationships move at the speed of trust, but social change moves at the speed of relationships.”[1] And make no mistake; we are not the progenitors of social change. But as history and Netflix shows us, every single generation that came before us was confronted by the choice to either stand unmoving or continue to push forth towards a “long obedience in the same direction.”[2]

One of the guiding principles of the anxiety work we do is the mantra of taking gentle notice of our beliefs and behaviours, then inviting a gentle refocus of those beliefs and behaviours through the courageous act of engaging gentle truth-telling into our lives.

As there is no such thing as “self-help” in living the good life – this practice is often ground zero for life-changing anxiety support – it’s the initial step most of us had to learn to combat the tyranny that anxious thoughts have on our body, heart, and mind.

So what of this in light of the difficult conversations being had around injustice and our place and space within it?  Is it possible that this anxiety mantra is a natural starting place for all of us to move forward?

  • Gentle Notice: This is the space BEFORE we begin to ask the tough questions. In this space, we want to notice what is going on in our spirit:
    • Breathe…What am I feeling?  How am I experiencing this? 
    • Breathe.  What am I feeling?  How am I experiencing this? 
    • Breathe…Breathe…
  • Gentle Refocus:  This is the space that once our spirit is quieted, we can enter into a remembrance of what is important:
    • Breathe…I am safe…It is well…God is good...
    • Breathe…I am safe – It is well – God is good…
    • Breathe…
  • Gentle Truth Telling:  This is the space where we begin to take note of what is ACTUALLY true: 
    • Breathe…What do I know of who I am? 
    • Breathe…How am I loved well? 
    • Breathe…How have I loved well? 
    • Breathe…What do I know to be true?

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Once we enter into these gentle spaces, we begin to notice that the hard questions we are asking take on a reconciling tenor as opposed to one surrounded in fear.  Here we might start to enter into the act of “bridge-building”[3] and the questions begin to sound more like: 

  • Who is my neighbour?
  • What have I been influenced by?
  • What does my brokenness look like to those around me?
  • How has my woundedness and that of my family shaped the lens I see the world through?

But this brings us back to the whole smoke and mirrors of “self-help,” which cannot be done in isolation. Many of these questions cannot be answered completely without the gentle truth-telling of “others.” Especially those who see the world differently than we do.

When we seek to move through this world as people who are vulnerably transparent and unconditionally constant[4] (see the Greek word for love – “philia” for more on this), then we experience what was always intended for relationship – the flourishing of humanity.

And isn’t this what social change intends? For all to have the freedom to flourish and live in the gentle spaces that prompt us to move forth? 

The words of ancient prophets come back to me often during these days where it has been spoken that we already know what to do: To live justly.  To love mercy. To walk humbly. 

We can do this because as Martin Luther King and those who inspired him previous could say with hope that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,”[5] and it is within this hope we can look into the not so gentle spaces of our hearts and minds and know that “all will be well – and all manner of things shall be well.”[6]

But if I could posit one last thing that might be of great importance in the days ahead - don’t stop there – get “othered.” Practice gentle spaces and then sit long with “others” (mercy), listen well (humbly), and then act justly. 

Oh, one last note… keep well in mind that “gentle” doesn’t always mean comfortable.

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.

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1. For more on this listen to the OnBeing podcast, “An Invitation to Brave Spaces.” with Jennifer Bailey and Lennon Flowers.

2. See book of same name by Eugene Peterson. Also reference Nietzsche and the Hebrew King Solomon.

3. Although not originating in the podcast above – referenced well and worth a considered thought.

4. See Timothy Keller’s work on “Befriending Grace.”

5. Although expressed by many - made most famous in King’s article in The Gospel Messenger entitled, “Out of the Long Night.”

6. Julian of Norwich.