Gentle or Powerful?

There are many healing modalities that use force to create shift and release. Think of deep tissue massage, for example. In the realm of emotional healing, many similar modalities exist. Some, for example, want you to scream out your pain, or smash through your ego’s defenses.

Other methods are much gentler. Think of Reiki or other forms or energy work. In the realm of emotional healing, similar approaches exist here, too. In some therapies you might talk about your issues for months, even years before touching the real pain beneath. Or, you might work to strengthen a fragile self-esteem and avoid the healing process altogether.

In my view, the best way forward isn’t by looking at this question as an either/or. It’s truly both/and. What I’m suggesting is that the best healing techniques are always gentle and powerful. They work with the flow of Presence, and Spirit, rather than against it.

I learned this many years ago, regarding my own body, when I found an energy worker who didn’t touch me at all. Yet at the end of our sessions I felt the healing power of ten deep-tissue massages. Plus, I wasn’t sore afterward and my muscles didn’t need to recover.

Now, back to the emotional realm.  I’ve watched many people get “hit over the head” by a coach or spiritual teacher. While on the “hot seat,” they seem to break open to a new dimension of freedom. However, since the healing wasn’t integrated, these people usually revert back to their usual state quite quickly.

On the other hand, what I love about Emotional Connection is that big changes happen for people without them even knowing. They get an expansive release, both at once and even more so over time, but they’re not aware of how much healing has actually occured until the changes in their lives start showing up everywhere.

Recently, after experiencing emotional connection, a client shared her feedback. “The work is so gentle,” she said. “And also so powerful.”


I’d love to know if this idea of gentle and powerful resonates with you. If so, what techniques in any realm have you found that best balance both. If you disagree with my assessment, please share why, and what techniques have worked for you that don’t incorporate this balance.


About Raphael Cushnir

Raphael Cushnir is a popular contributor to O, The Oprah Magazine. He has also been a teacher, activist, screenwriter, and film director. His own heart was rekindled after a period of profound grief. His first book, Unconditional Bliss: Finding Happiness in the Face of Hardship, was twice nominated as Best Personal Growth title of the year and introduced the "Living the Questions" process. His second book, Setting Your Heart on Fire: Seven Invitations to Liberate Your Life, is used as a teaching tool in churches and spiritual centers around the country. His third book, How Now: 100 Ways to Celebrate the Present Moment, was named one of the "Best Spiritual Books of 2005" by Spirituality and Health magazine. Raphael shares his work in talks and workshops worldwide. For more info:;;;
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6 Responses to Gentle or Powerful?

  1. Mona Nicholson says:

    Since your workshop, “The One Thing Holding You Back,” I took last February, I realized the only thing holding me back was…and is….me. Sometimes, I think I’m treading water….not getting anywhere with this “one thing,” and then I take a few reflective minutes, and realize all that has happened in 6 short months….I moved to, and began living and working in an Intentional Community, set up a new preschool program, learned a reservation system for a lucrative resort/retreat business, learned (still learning) the ropes of a new rustic community and the names and personalities of the diverse group of people who live here, received my first degree of Reiki, assisted my son and his partner as they move through their son’s autism diagnosis, healed (quickly, I might add) from a fall less than two weeks ago…..and life continues to unfold. You asked for comments about ‘gentle and powerful.’ They both resonate with me, and the techniques I am using since your February class are Reiki and Cranial Sacral for the more gentle side of my healing. These healing modalities are extraordinary to me….a gentle strength is received through the gentle healing hands of others….and myself. The powerful technique has been joining the flow of this Intentional/Cooperative Community. Each and every person here stands for him or herself AND the highest good…in his or her mind/though/belief. This is what I am experiencing as powerful therapy. I am challenged/encouraged/nurtured each and every day to stand for me and my dreams and to stand with others who share the collective/intentional dream of the Community. I like being in the middle of “gentle and powerful.” What most “got” me from your blog was the word “integration.” This is what I often move from….too quickly. An intention I have since reading your blog….is to integrate….resonate with….be with….the waves; the shifts and releases, the gentle and the powerful. Thank you. The healing began and continues…both gentle and powerful.

  2. I totally agree that when being with people for their healing and growth we need to be both powerful and gentle, and part of the art for me of therapy is knowing when to push a person to feel painful or neglected emotions (which are often surrounded by shame) while still holding them in total regard. This comes with getting to know them, and providing them a safe place to imagine being whole. I sometimes use humor, which I think my clients find unexpected and refreshing. It is that ability to hold out hope and be present. I feel honored to hold onto this place of healing (and wholeness) until the person reaches it themselves, this is the gentleness, and the power comes in when I ask them to go into the uncomfortable space, while I’m present with them. Gentleness has been a rare commodity, too often, but I think it’s making a comeback. Too often, power has been associated with the power to make someone feel shame, which moves people away from their emotions, and so my power has to remove the shame, so that they can get to the emotion.

  3. Gentle, Yet Powerful . . .

    I agree completely with what you have said Raphael. When we open up because we are ready and motivated from within it produces long lasting growth. When it is pushed from the outside, whether it be peer pressure or the pressure of a “teacher” we get immediate, but not long lasting results.

    It reminds me a little bit of the fable of the hare and the tortoise. The tortoise wins the day because of his slow steady approach. Though we may be impressed with the dramatic short term results the hare achieves, in the end it doesn’t get the job done.

    Of all the things I have experienced on the path of healing and transformation what I have written of below are the things that have contributed the most to my life and have proved their staying power over the past 35 years.

     Witnessing with an Open Heart – Love is a healing power that is unsurpassed in my experience. Learning to access and focus this healing power within you and for others is one of life’s most important skills. Somehow the struggles in life seem lightened. The courage to continue on a path of self actualization is expanded. And a vision of the possibilities of what human relationships can be opens up in its entire splendor.

    There is a remarkable power in unconditional love, a love that generates an energetic embrace. A love that provides safety and acceptance as someone shares their deep experiences and challenges in life. This consequent experience of sharing yourself in this loving embrace is quite simply transformative, gently and powerfully at the same time.

     Telling the Truth in Love – Revealing Your Shadow – community support is an essential ingredient on a path of self realization. Our relationships with others reflect our unconscious thoughts, feelings, beliefs and attitudes about love, intimacy, love, power, safety and trust. Creating a safe environment for ourselves and others to explore and reveal our shadows leads to transcending them.

    Is there any part of our shadows that doesn’t have emotional roots? I don’t think so. This means, telling the emotional truth about our fears and all the difficult feelings we tend to drive underground, can be transformative. Though not always easy, if it is done with great tenderness and strength it is both gentle and powerful.

    Emotional honesty about difficult issues leads to an integrated wisdom that generates personal and collective power. In my experience, illuminating and healing the shadow is essential to experiencing life as a gift. Keeping our masks up and the emotional bridges drawn up and defended just drains us of too much precious energy, which is better used in other ways.

     Breathwork – There are different methods of using the breath to attain varied states of awareness. My expertise has been in using the breath to connect with our Higher Self for an experience of Illumination and soul connection. Having our own personal connection to spiritual wisdom and love helps us get the “spiritual altitude” we need to get our challenges in perspective and to feel that we are bigger than our problems and we can grow beyond them.

    The breath in most spiritual traditions is seen as a bridge between the spiritual and physical realms. Often the gap between our spiritual ideals and their integration into the fabric of our lives is caused by unresolved emotions from the past. The breath can serve as a healing pump to channel spirit energy into the core of emotional pain and actually pumping the pain out. The breath has been one of my favorite tools for Purification.

    Working the breath also accelerates the Integration of spiritual ideals and concepts into our everyday life. This means we can walk our talk and we are not continually confronted with the gap between who we want to be and how we show up in our lives with others.

    Our energy units are dedicated to creating a life we love, in cooperation with our higher selves, which culminates in an experience of profound freedom. This freedom is enormously powerful in accessing another octave of happiness and well being.

    I wish you all happy trails on your path of discovery, may the “force be with you.”
    Love, Layne

  4. Angelo says:

    Another polarity or way of looking at this is “hard” or “soft.” Sometimes a client or person needs “strong” or a “hard” approach to push him or her to grow and otherwise the opposite. In the West, we are accustomed to “soft” or “gentle” stimulation from therapists or others, whereas in the East people will sometimes complain after receiving acupuncture that they didn’t feel pain or that the treatment was too soft, I think of this as a continuum and the type of stimulation the client needs depends on many things, such as his/her temperament and what he or she is going through. The attuned practitioner, operating from love, can deliver the type of stimulation the client needs to bring him or her to the next place.

    I think that the American culture is biased towards “soft” stimulation and has trouble understanding, say the utility of the healing slap of the zen monk –

  5. Chantel says:

    The question is not a choice between gentle or powerful, but wether gentle or forceful is more likely to produce a powerful impact.

    I prefer gentle, but gentle does not mean innoffensive either. I have been both extremely helped and subjected to negative impacts following the use of an extremely gentle approach to bodywork (biodynamic osteopathy). The quality of presence and alignement of the therapist made all the difference. It is obvious that forceful can be overpowering and induce a “negative” reaction or injury instead of an integration or healing. Sometimes a little force can be useful, as some resistance can respond well to some outside force like using a few contraction/relax cycles on a tight muscle in order for the body to become aware that it is contracted and remind it to relax. The same can be said after trying to defend a story, one may come to see it for what it is only after some nuddging from a caring outside source, and then be able to tackle the underlying issue.

    My take is that gentle can be most powerful: If one sincerely inquires and sheds the light of his/her Truth on what is at the core of an issue, the Truth resonnates so deeply that you cannot unsee what you’ve seen in this new light. This shed a new light on the landscape of your life, gradually permeating all the small and not so small areas of your life that were previously tainted with that “misunderstanding”.

    The core issue is like a lock, the right question is the key, seeing your truth is what unlocks and opens the door. No outside force required here, as it only invites resistance-or worse retraumatize, but a healthy dose of inner strength, courage and an honnest desire to go beyond what stops you.

  6. Wendy says:

    I totally agree with the gentle approach, which can be very powerful and effective. I think especially where people have been traumatised in the past and often dissociated as a way of protecting themselves from overwhelming feelings, very gently bringing them back into the present and in touch with their bodies, is the way forward. There needs to be a feeling of safety, trust, and openness to face reality in the now, despite our fears – and sometimes those fears can just be too great and it’s not possible – but sometimes the desire to be free can be stronger than the fear, and that’s when we can start to take the risk and begin to trust in our present moment awareness and to feel whatever we feel, which is especially helped by the presence of a compassionate friend. I think sometimes baby steps are needed, touching the pain but not being so immersed in it that we are retraumatised, but always keeping at least one foot on the ground, and taking one step at a time.

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