For me, life is sometimes reduced to brute effort. I often pick the hardest way to do a thing, or the hardest thing to do. Then, "GO!" It works, I get stuff done. I learn a lot about my limits by staying close to them,. I must get something from the strain, perhaps an ego stroke or I wouldn't do it this way. But the effort exacts a price, which is why I am on a massage table for the second time in as many weeks and why I also recently procured a yoga mat upon which to sweat and strive. All my effort, all my trying, takes a toll.
I've been reading "A Brilliant Novel in the Works", by Yuvi Zalkow. "Oh," I felt viscerally from the very first vulnerable page, "Someone else who struggles." So much anxiety, neurosis and fear in one engaging, smart, kindhearted package. There is also strength, for without strength there would be no struggle. Yuvi is clever. There are messages hidden in anagrams wrapped in the plot. One, especially poignant, "Save Me, Julia" is where Yuvi realizes his worst fear is something he made up himself. It still comes to pass, but he perseveres. I was sad to finish the book. I wanted to crawl inside the pages and hang out a while longer. Honestly, it was a relief to meet someone even more anxious and neurotic than me, it gave me hope, or at least took away some of the shame I feel about my own angst. I am grateful, Yuvi.
Angst, struggle, effort and tension, all closely related etymologically, are apt descriptors for our postmodern life. Yuvi and I aren’t the only ones navigating a world making our muscles tight with uncertainty; Massage Envy's waiting rooms are rarely empty. While sitting in that bustling room before my massage, I read an article by Andrew Olendzki. It’s a favorite, and a link to it had been tweeted that morning. I clicked to re-visit. The text was on the screen of my Blackberry as I undressed and lay on the table.
Later, as the massage therapist worked, the phrase "all views -even correct views- are best held gently" repeated in my mind. When she dug in to that oh so very tender spot on my ass it hit me. "I'm holding all my tension, all my struggle, all my anxiety - about myself and the world - in my ass, and I'm not holding it gently!" So basic an insight, it was almost pointless. "Lighten up, and your ass won't hurt."
This is easier said than done. Figuring out what it means to hold a view gently is something with which I've been struggling for years. See what I did there? I'm capable of turning a desire for gentle living into a struggle. "Save Me, Yuvi." I'm not alone, of course. We grasp firmly to what it is we want - to think, to be, to have. We push just as forcefully against that which we'd prefer not to encounter. Humanity is muscular.
I'm beginning to see growth from my Buddhist practice. What were once just comforting words are taking root in my sore muscles and weary mind and blossoming into more skillful habits that keep me present with less fear, and help me fear my fear even less.
My anxiety is often rooted in the multiplicity of what ifs and doubts ricocheting inside my head. Holding views gently means, in part, realizing how much I don't control in my life and letting it go. I can do only what I am capable of doing, and I’ve realized worrying accomplishes nothing but exhaustion. Recognizing what I can change and what I can't helps me to work more skillfully with less friction and, when I am honest, less struggle. Even in the middle of a crazy situation pushing my limits, I can pause and make sure of my footing. Happiness is available, even then. The choice to pause and the decision to be cheerfully present even in the most daunting moments makes all the difference. It doesn’t change the situation but it does change how I engage.
Holding views gently also means limiting my own rightness - especially when I'm in conflict. We all get angry. But I can notice the adrenaline rush that accompanies my anger and I can pause before I open my mouth, at least some of the time. This is a new habit and a helpful one. If I pause I am able to take a breath and consciously relax the tension in my body and in my mind. In that relaxed space I can attempt to see the other viewpoint through a sympathetic lens, instead of the lens of wrongness that my own rightness creates. That space is refreshing and, just as often, humbling. I've noticed the moments when I am at my most angry and self-righteous are the times I especially need to pause and look sympathetically at the "other" side.
Holding one's views gently doesn't mean giving up and being passive. It doesn't mean not working hard, and it doesn’t mean we don’t notice things that bother. But the same work (perhaps more) gets done if one is relaxed while doing it and it usually happens with less angst. It is a less rigid way of being, less tense. And it is a conscious choice reaffirmed in the space of contentious moments. I'm not sure if the choice makes the space or if the space increases the chance of the choice. The intention is necessary, as is the need to get to know one’s mind in order to recognize habitual tendencies.
I'm still figuring it out, of course. I have far more questions than answers and probably always will. I still get scared and I still disagree with people and I still get angry and insulted when people do things I don't like. But I'm beginning to have a more space in which to choose my reactions consciously, and I can see glimmers of a more relaxed, more gentle mindset. That feels like progress, both to my mind and my ass.
Rather, the key to harmony is learning to differ in opinions without engaging the fatal move of saying, “Only this is true; everything else is wrong...In other words, all views—even correct views—are best held gently, rather than grasped firmly." Andrew Olendzki , Blinded by Views, Tricycle Magazine http://www.tricycle.com/thus-have-i-heard/blinded-views
So this emptiness is not like the emptiness of an unfilled cup, a vacant room, or worse, an empty pocket. It’s not like that. When we have a genuine experience of emptiness, it actually feels good…It’s as if…we’re suddenly freed from our bondage, we feel so good, so much more relaxed and happy. - Rebel Buddha, by Dzogen Ponlop Rinpoche http://dpr.info
Appreciating sacredness begins very simply by taking an interest in all the details of your life. Interest is simply applying awareness to what goes on in your everyday life-awareness while you’re cooking, awareness while you’re driving, awareness while you’re changing diapers, even awareness while you’re arguing. Such awareness can help to free you from speed, chaos, neurosis, and resentment of all kinds. It can free you from the obstacles to nowness, so that you can cheer up on the spot, all the time. - Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, Chogyam Trungpa
Happiness is available. Please help yourself to it. – Being Peace, Thich Nhat Hahn
STRUGGLE intransitive verb 1: to make strenuous or violent efforts in the face of difficulties or opposition