398: “Slow. Calm.” (Thích Nhất Hạnh)

“Don’t be so poetic that you forget the practice. The main point of the practice is to cultivate more concentration. In. Out. Deep. Slow. Calm. Ease. Smile. Release. Present Moment. Wonderful moment.”
                -Thích Nhất Hạnh, How To Walk

                I was talking with a friend recently, and we both realized we’d been holding things tightly for days. Our shoulders. Our jaws. Our fists. Our work. And there are plenty of good reasons to hold things tightly — as a rock climber and a teacher and someone who rides my groceries back home on a kick scooter, I believe that. But my friend and I were talking about the importance of letting things go, too. That brought me back to Thích Nhất Hạnh. I’ve written before about his descriptions of meditation as something that can happen between one breath and the next, one step and the next. And that idea’s been blooming again for me in beautiful ways.
                Sometimes I’ll eat a handful of chips and then watch an episode of Netflix and then lie on the couch and then be grumpy, wondering why I still feel so tired. I’m resting, aren’t I? Shouldn’t I be rested? But in all those chips and episodes and couch cushions, I’m often holding on tightly. To control and the urge to “manage” myself, maybe, or to the “need” to get things done after “resting,” or to my plans and worries for the day. It sounds silly — and obvious — but forty five minutes “trying to unwind” with Netflix often doesn’t bring me a single step toward stillness. Pausing, even for half a second, as my foot feels its own weight and then shifts down to here. A step like a breath. In. Out. Or my hands, relaxing to sink down onto the wood of this table. Weight. Release. Wood. Skin. Touch. Rest.

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