A Tension of Openness

Paradox seems to be the nature of life.  We must let go to take in, to receive.  We must relax in order to use our strength best.  The simple act of breathing illustrates this.

I was meditating a few days ago when I noticed something I somehow didn’t remember noticing before.  I have been meditating for years, so this seemed odd, as well as humbling.  What I noticed was this:  at the very end of each inhale, when it seemed I could take in no more breath, there was a physical tension in my midsection.  It was really the feeling, I think, of being full.  At the end of each exhale, I felt, again, a physical tension—the tension of being completely empty, the contraction of it.  This seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it?  At least, it does to me.  When we are empty, aren’t we completely open, and doesn’t tension hamper that?  When we are full and cannot take in any more, I can understand a tension—there’s no room, and we are about to let go, to create room and lessen tension.  But emptiness, at least in terms of breathing and meditation, during which we are able to relax, would seem to disallow tension.  And yet, there it is.  Try it out.

I did notice that taking deep breaths while walking was a little different:  this time, as my lungs filled up and emptied, my diaphragm, spine, and belly muscles articulated to make room.  The tension was still there, but I noticed it felt more dynamic and flowing as a smaller part of my movement, because my entire body was stretching and contracting subtly with my breath.  I like the feeling.  I feel somehow more aware, more all of a piece with myself.  Sitting, the tension stays primarily in my upper body.  I don’t move as much to accommodate the emptiness and fullness.  The tension is more noticeable.  And yet, paying attention to my breath does give me more openness mentally and undoubtedly physically.

For many of us, I suspect, we reach a point of “I can’t take any more,” “This is too much,” “Why can’t things just settle down?”  close to daily.  How often it happens is a sign of how much stress we are under, of course.  Stress is a daily force in our lives, and some stress is needed to prod us into becoming and being our best, but too much stress can be quite toxic.  We all know this.  There can be almost unbearable stress is wanting something so much that we think of it constantly—the love of somebody, more money, to change who we are, to escape our present reality somehow.  It’s a challenge to stay present in a present we don’t like.  And yet, we are here, in our present, and nowhere else.  There’s a tension in wanting it to be different, no matter our reasons for wanting that.  There’s a tension in being open to change even when we accept that what is, is.  And this kind of acceptance is not easy.

Much as we’d like to, not one of us can definitively say what the future holds.  Despite my most earnest prognostications and intention-setting, even a year ago, I could not have imagined what my life now would really be like.  I had goals, and I have met the most immediate ones, for the most part, yet some things remain beyond my present grasp.  In that time of not knowing, one year ago, all I could do was what was before me while working toward, and staying open to, what I hoped for in the future.  One year before that, I had no conscious inkling of the changes that lay in wait.  I adjusted emotionally to what happened, and adjusted my plans accordingly.  After all, planning is finite.  Possibility isn’t.

Ah.  But…

When we are feeling completely, perhaps painfully, empty, how do we maintain a patient openness despite the tension of not wanting to be empty?  How do we use the tension between having and not having, between wanting and accepting, to keep the window open to possibility?  How do we accept ending up somewhere we didn’t think our plans would lead us and we didn’t want to go?

First, breathe.  Pay attention to it.  Noticed that when your lungs are full, you have to empty them.  You have to give up the air you just acquired.  It’s a rhythm.  Second, ask yourself:  How is this like my life?  Whatever the answer is, stay with it a while.  See if you can simply accept it.  See what emotions, thoughts, judgments, inspirations might arise.  This may all take ten seconds, or years.  And if it doesn’t happen quickly, remember, neither does the entire sum of inhalations and exhalations in a human life.

And then, if you are able, move while you breathe.  Get out of your car, out of your house, out of your head.  Moving does many things for us, and there doesn’t need to be a goal except to move.  Moving reminds us the world, and its possibilities, dwarf us—they’re simply so much bigger than we are.  Moving also makes it easier, sometimes, to move and think and choose differently.  I have arthritis, and moving for me is essential despite the obvious fact that moving too much, too fast, or too hard can injure me, so I have to always find my own rhythm, which isn’t what it used to be.  And the rhythm is how things happen.

Third ask yourself:  am I OK right now?  I don’t mean happy, or even at peace.  What I mean is:  are my bodily needs met?  Do I have shelter, food, and whatever else I need physically?  Then: are my basic emotional needs met?  Do I have support from others?  If the answer to either question is no, take care of that first, after accepting that this is what is right now.  If the answer to both questions is yes, find your gratitude.  Launching intentions and goals without gratitude for what we have tends to backfire.

Finally, give the universe time to work.  Give the river of life time to flow.  Maintain the tension of openness with deliberate conscious attention to your breath, to movement, and to gratitude.  Some gifts are beyond our imagining; some goals are too short-sighted.  Let life teach you what’s important for you.  And focus on that.

#breathe#staying open#flow#letlifeteachyou#gratitude#being mindful#infinitepossibility#rhythm#

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