Perfect Tension

The word ignorance or delusion in the Sanskrit language is avidya: “misunderstanding” or “not seeing clearly.” The inability to see things clearly arises from the mind’s habits. So, when we are observing any life event, we are only seeing the habit—until the habit is liberated. We only see what we expect to see until our expectations fall away. We ‘ignore’ our natural clarity when we peer through the veil of habitual awareness. Therefore, everything is ignorance until we begin to see clearly.

This is especially obvious when we experience something unforeseen, an event we cannot hold hostage to our preconceived ideas about how life should proceed. We experience a kind of tension arising from our sense of being out of control. This tension is actually a manifestation of our clarity seeking to make itself known. There is a Zen analogy in which we observe a stalk of bamboo in a snowstorm. The bamboo has the flexibility to bend until that moment in which the weight of snow meets with optimal tension. The snow then effortlessly falls to the ground and the bamboo returns upright.

The bamboo in the analogy does not have a thought of resistance. It merely receives what is offered with flexibility until it is time to let go. Through practice, we can experience this optimal tension in every thought and emotion. In the Buddhist tradition this is called equanimity mind free from the extremes of attachment and aversion. When we are able to hold the center between extremes, we are able to let go. It is like a master archer sensing the optimal time to let loose the perfect shot. With practice, it seems effortless.

It is important to become aware that this optimal tension naturally resides in our body. Every beat of the heart and every breath mirrors the contraction and relaxation that pulsates throughout the universe. The mind also naturally oscillates between rigidity and release if we are not bound by extremes of thinking. If we do not hold anything to tightly or too loosely, there is a natural arising and liberation of every thought. This requires us to experience ‘perfect tension’ without reacting through habitual awareness. You could say the true nature of tension is letting go.

When I tune my guitar, I am aware of this perfect tension. I can hear when the optimal stretch of the string occurs and everything becomes harmonious. The most beautiful music comes from the perfection of tension.

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