One place in my life where I see the wisdom of learning when to hold on and when to let go is in my body. I have aches, little knots (sometimes big ones!), points that become activated when I am stressed, tightness in my chest, and just plain old exhaustion when I am trying to force solutions.
I have worked with many different techniques to allow my body some space to feel better. At first, most of these techniques were on the most basic form: alcohol, drugs, and distractions on every level. I would feel a sense of relaxation and letting go when I used these substances, they took the edge off and allowed my body a little downtime from all the tension I was carrying. But, after a while, I couldn’t safely distract myself in those ways without consequences. I then turned towards more socially healthy ways to help my body feel better: yoga, meditation, massages, and bodywork, all of which helped a ton! Way better than drowning myself in alcohol or other escapes! As I became more aware of my body through mindfulness practices, I noticed that the state of my mind did a lot to either exacerbate or relieve the pain and tension in my body.
I began to experiment with and learn how I related to my body and specifically to pain in my body. I noticed that I saw my body as something other than me, it was a thing out of my control doing something to me. At times I was angry, hopeless, or frustrated with what was happening. I felt I was out of control. For years I experimented with trying to make these tight areas relax; I would be loving and kind to these areas for a bit and then get angry again. I was battling something that does not respond well to combat, or to my attempts to get it to relax when it did not want to. So frustrating!
I then tried something new, because I was feeling hopeless and needed relief. I said to one of the tight spots: “You can tighten, honey.” I actually surrendered and gave permission for this thing to exist. I said, “OK, you’re here, I get it, now do what you need to do.” I was scared, I didn’t know what would happen, but I allowed this part to tighten as much as it wanted to and then it relaxed. I let go of my idea of what needed to happen, for a moment, and then it let go too. We were connected in gentleness.
My shoulders came down and softening came from the inside. I was giving myself permission to not be perfectly relaxed but to just get tight; permission to be messy, and then there it was: I was OK. This then became a practice: allowing what wants to tighten to tighten and being brave and courageous enough to stay with what comes up when I let go of control. I am reminded of a toy I had when I was a kid when I practice this. We called it Chinese handcuffs, or a Chinese finger trap. You would put your index fingers into each end of a woven bamboo cylinder at the same time and when you tried to pull your fingers out they would be stuck. No matter how hard you pulled it would just get tighter. Yet, if you tried the opposite and pushed inward with both fingers the trap would release easily. It is the essence of counter-intuitive, yet is a path to a solution.
There is a large amount of mindfulness required to notice when the tightening begins and to meet it with allowing and permission. One of the key points of this practice is the tone of voice used when giving permission, which is why I like to add the word “honey” on the end. I imagine it’s the tone of voice I would use with a little kid who is scared and needs some support and encouragement to just feel what they are experiencing.
If you experience tightness in your body and you want to experiment with this practice, begin slowly and just see if you can observe with happens without an agenda. It might be a cool experience of getting to know yourself through your body!