Loosen Up!

As he held the strand of mala (meditation) beads in his hand I heard the voices of many teachers speaking this message, albeit in different ways. He said, “If you have a really tight grip on the beads, and try to pull the strand through your hand, what will happen? The strand will break. If you loosen your grip, then the beads slide through effortlessly.” Ah, I thought, such is life. It’s a lesson that calls to our Western minds, “Loosen up! Let it go!”

The man whom I quoted above is Lama Surya Das, a Western Buddhist Meditation teacher, whose workshop I attended recently in Pittsburgh. The lesson is one I’ve heard before in different ways, from wise teachers, books and ancient sources of wisdom. To be happy, we need to learn to loosen our grip on the idea that we have control. That false sense of control is what causes us to “break” in so many ways, causing us pain, sorrow, frustration, even anger.

It starts in childhood - I see it in my own children. They want things to “be” a certain way, and when it isn’t, what happens? There’s a temper tantrum. This behavior, this little control-freak attitude, is cultivated, often unintentionally, so that as we grow, we turn into adult control freaks. We call it having a “type-A” personality. We strictly adhere to packed schedules, we plan, we manage, we grip tightly to our ideas of how things “should” be. Then when some force beyond our control (like traffic, weather, or a person with a different idea) takes over, we freak out. The freak out might be internal - stress, elevated blood pressure & heart rate, an overwhelming feeling of panic and frustration. The freak out might be external as well, throwing an adult version of a temper tantrum - arguing, fighting, stomping your feet, even yelling. Is it all necessary? The freak out? If we can learn to step back, to loosen our grip, to allow the “beads” of life to slide through our hands gently, we are learning to manage stress. We are learning to let go, and ultimately, we will be happier.

But we grip tightly in so many aspects of our lives. A mother who clings to her children, wanting to guide them, protect them, and ultimately control them. What happens? The tighter the parent holds on, the more the child can’t wait to grow up and fly away. Loosen the grip, allow a child to grow and learn and find their own path, to resolve their own problems. They’ll love you for their freedom. Let the beads slide gently.

In relationships, especially when they are troubled, one person often begins to cling tightly to the other, grasping, desperately desiring to hold on. But it’s this tight grip that can often cause the “break.” We can’t control other people. We can’t make someone love us or trust us. And we can’t expect another person to fill the hole in our hearts. We must learn to do that ourselves. Loosen the grip and choose to journey along your bead strands together.

Even in handling our own health and wellness, we can grip too tightly. While you know I advocate eating healthy and exercising, it’s important to find balance. To grip to tightly might mean to exercise to the point of injury; or to deprive yourself, on occasion, of food that nourishes your soul. Even to think that all your good efforts guarantee a certain outcome, is gripping. We should choose to have healthy habits because it makes us feel good in the moment, not because you think you’ll live another 15 years. Loosen your grip. None of us knows what the future holds, we only have each moment as it comes.

We can grip tightly to our work, to our spirituality, to our lifestyle. Then when something changes... when we experience the loss of a job or a spiritual leader, or are forced to change to our lifestyle/home/material life, it feels like a devastating “break” in our bead strand. We are often so lost in the details and illusions of life - movies, video games, news, politics, the way we look, the cars we drive, we forget that these are not the substance of our life “beads.” Even our jobs, our roles, or our friends...that’s not who we are. Loosening your grip is opening your eyes to the truth of your life.

The truth is that life is about living and accepting your experiences - good and bad - because we all have both.  Life is about finding balance and equanimity in each moment; feeling peace and Love (with a capital “L”) in your heart, and trying to live from that space. Loosen your grip on the bead strand of your life. The control you think you have is an illusion. Let go and live fully, accepting and being grateful for each “bead” as it gently passes through your fingers. Let go and live.

“Although we have been made to believe that if we let go, we will end up with nothing, life itself reveals again and again the opposite: that letting go is the path to real freedom. Just as when the waves lash at the shore, the rocks suffer no damage but are sculpted and eroded into beautiful shapes, so our character can be molded and our rough edges worn smooth by changes. Through weathering changes, we can learn how to develop a gentle but unshakable composure. Our confidence in ourselves grows, and becomes so much greater that goodness and compassion begin naturally to radiate out from us and bring joy to others. That goodness is what survives death, a fundamental goodness that is in each and every one of us. The whole of our life is a teaching of how to uncover that strong goodness, and a training toward realizing it.” ~  Sogyal Rinpoche

May your bead strand be long and your grip loosen. May your rough edges be worn smooth as you learn to let go. May you, with gratitude, open your eyes to the wonder of each moment. Peace, Light and Love to you!