Friday, March 2, 2018

Not Too Tight; Not Too Loose

A comfort-loving student named Sona was making violent effots to become physically and mentally vigorous. But he seemed so unsuccessful that the thought came to him: “My family is wealthy; perhaps I can enjoy my riches and yet do good. What if I were to give up the training and return to a rich but worthy life?”

The Buddha understood what Sona was thinking and said to him, “Sona, were you not skillful at playing the lute when you were a layman?”
“Yes, I was,” replied Sona.
“And what do you think, Sona, was it possible to play in tune when the lute was overstrung?” asked the Buddha.
“No, indeed not. The strings could snap if too tightened,” replied Sona.
“And what do you think, Sona, suppose the strings were slackened and became too slack. Could you play then?” the Buddha asked.
“Again, no. Without any tension, the strings could not produce any tones” Sona answered.
“But when they were neither overtightened nor too slack, but keyed to the middle, not too tight and not too loose, then could you play harmoniously?” the Buddha asked.
“Certainly!” responded Sona.
“Then, Sona, take heed that when effort is too strenuous it leads to mental and physical strain and when too slack to laziness and dullness. So, please make a firm determination that you will adopt the middle way, not allowing yourself to struggle or to slacken, but recognizing that confidence, energy, mindfulness, concentration and wisdom are the fruits of a calm and equable middle way” the Buddha exhorted.

Sona followed the buddha’s advice and in due course awakened.

Based upon this story and the teachings of Patanjali where he describes Iccha or the proper “yogic will” toward practice as requiring both abhyasa and vairagya or continuous, diligent effort and a dispassionate, non-clinging attitude, I offer a course called “Not Too Tight; Not Too Loose.” It’s been my experience that many students without a firm understanding and connection with a teacher can often fall into one of these extremes and then give up altogether.

Some students seem to throw themselves into practice and I am always concerned with such aggressive determination because it tends to burn out swiftly and if anything, this path of practice requires long-term commitment. Which is already something not held in very high esteem in our quite superficial, sensation-oriented culture. Others get interested, but never make a real commitment, remaining almost aloof or lackadaisical in their approach to practice. No roots are ever really planted and practice withers with a whimper.

Confidence and energy must be there for a student to be able to commit to practice, and mindfulness helps to balance efforts to concentrate. The middle way, neither not too tight nor too loose allows one to practice in the face of all changing conditions without losing sight of why we practice.

That said, I always emphasize that it’s a disastrous mistake to take this teaching as some kind of fairy tale where once the middle way is found we can live happily ever after. Not too tight and not too loose is absolutely NOT a static position or orientation.

I play guitar and ukulele and if you are at all familiar with string instruments (actually this goes for all instruments, but keeping with the analogy the Buddha uses when speaking with the lute-player, Sona, I’ll stick with string instruments) you know that if you tune your instrument in a room that is 68-degrees F and 30% humidity, and then walk into a room that is 95-degrees F and 80% humidity you will have to re-tune your instrument.

Not too tight and not too loose is ALWAYS in relation to circumstances and conditions. If you are well rested and feeling at ease, you can relax a bit in your meditation practice, but if you’ve had a rough night tending your sick child, and you are feeling tired, you will have to ‘tighten up’ a bit and use more energy (that you will feel you don’t have!) in order to practice.

Sensing the ‘sweet spot’ of not too tight, not too loose itself is the practice of mindfulness. Seek the ever-changing middle way and practice in harmony with your present conditions.

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