I recently read an interview with Anne Dufourmantelle, a psychotherapist and philosopher in Paris, who talks about the concept captured by the French word “douceur” (In fact, she has a book entitled “Puissance de la douceur”)
“Douceur” is one of those words which is difficult to translate into English but it has elements of softness, gentleness, goodness, mildness, and sweetness. “Allez-y en douceur!” means “Gently does it!” or “Easy goes it!”. And in the plural, “les douceurs de la vie” translates as “the pleasures of life”
In the interview (and in the book, which I’ve since purchased and read), she talks of the “absolute necessity of ‘la douceur'” in modern life, and I agree with her wholeheartedly.
She says she was looking for a word which would capture the connection between “the body, the spirit, sensation and intention”, and it was the word “douceur” which seemed to best fit the bill.
Let me try to translate a couple of her phrases for you –
“Douceur au sens de force de vie, de puissance, car notre première expérience sensorielle et émotionnelle est d’avoir été enveloppé dans la chaleur et la douceur d’un autre corps…La douceur donne naissance à la vie, elle est, pour l’humain, une nécessité absolue.”
[my translation – Douceur as a life force, a power, because our first sensory and emotional experience is to be enveloped in the warmth and the softness of another body…..La douceur gives birth to life, it is, for the human being, an absolute necessity.]
To make this concept clearer she says that if douceur was a gesture it would be a caress. Isn’t that lovely?
And somewhere (I can’t find it now) I’m sure she says that a flower could be a symbol of “douceur”.
I think she is right that kindness, gentleness, goodness, softness disarms and has great power – it comes from our own sense of vulnerability and that of others. It’s a humble stance – but powerful in the way, as we saw when it was used by Gandhi and others who advocated non-violent resistance. One image which comes to my mind when I think of this is the anti-vietnam war protesters in the 60s giving flowers to the police and the security forces. (OK, I know, the flower power thing went off from “peace and love” to “sex and drugs” but, well, there was a good hearted idea in there!)
Anne Dufourmantelle’s recommendations for how to increase the “douceur” in your life seem completely consistent with those which I find myself writing about again and again in this blog –
She recommends paying attention to details – gestures, facial expressions, the play of the light, all the little, fleeting, amazing things (“toutes ces minuscules chose fugues, merveilleuses…”) which surround us. And she recommends seeking out and, I’d use the word “relishing”, sensations – smells, tastes, sights, sounds, what touches our skin.
I love how she has taken this single concept and used it to link together bodily experiences, a way of engaging with everyday life, and a power of change which can be used to create more goodness in this world.