The first time I was introduced to a Chinese finger trap I was a child. Encouraged by a more worldly friend, I innocently put my index fingers into the flimsy woven straw tube and then pulled to get them out.
However, the light tug to release my fingers only served to tighten up the cylindrical, helically wound hollow straw braid. The middle got narrow and stretched tight and the ends seemed to grasp the tips of my fingers as if imbued by some strange life-force.
The harder I pulled, the harder the grip from the finger trap. As my friend laughed, panic deepened, but the more frantically I tugged the tighter the trap became. Blushing started (because I’m a blusher) and that made me panic even more (because I get so embarrassed when I start to blush). All to no results.
When I finally admitted I didn’t know, she showed me the trick: relaxing and easing my fingers towards each other rather than away. It was so easy, but I simply hadn’t been able to figure it out; that the solution comes not by overpowering through strength and pulling away, but by relaxing and pushing into and towards the center.
In essence, the problem is overcome, the trap is released by letting go of Trying with a capital T.
It’s funny, it seems so simple doesn’t it, once you know it. So OBVIOUS!! And yet, I find myself, more than 20 years on, relearning this lesson and feeling it reverberate throughout my life.
Yesterday I went rowing with my friend, daughter and an exchange student who is living with us.
We were trying out a rowboat with two sets of oarlocks. It was a boat that can easily seat four people – two riding and two rowing.
The weather was exceptional – clear, bright and hot for mid-October. There was a slight wind, enough to set the sailboats singing at the marina and get the water just a little choppy.
It was a fine day for an adventure and I was happy to be in a rowboat, partly because I know how to row. It feels easy, and sometimes, it’s so satisfying for something to just feel easy.
The reason for my rowing ease: during university I spent a season on the Varsity Rowing team and I got skilled in rowing, finding a rhythm with my teammates, and sticking to it, expending the energy in my body as we set ourselves flying up and down the river.
Now, the rowboat I was in yesterday was a different kind of boat and oars, requiring a bit of a different technique, but I find you never really forget the basics after you learn them.
I enjoyed finding the sweet spot of rhythm, both by myself, and with another person. Sometimes I’d even close my eyes as we were going along, trying to sync myself up to the water and my rowing mate by using sound – the creak of oarlocks, splash of oar entering water, slight shifts in the boat as weight was shifted, and the feeling of speed from the wind. There was a crackle of energy that came from engaging the senses in this way, and I was taking full pleasure in it.
The efforting of the adventure felt welcome, particularly to muscles needing stretch, movement and a release.
However, because it had been a while since I rowed, I eventually hit a point where I started getting clumsy. The movements that had felt so masterful moments before were gone, I was knocking oar-ends into hands, getting caught with the oar still underwater, becoming asynchronous rather than synchronized. I had become tired, clumsy and I was trying too hard.
And yet, I kept pushing through, trying to keep something going, trying to force a result. Which, of course, led to results that were more of the same. But clumsier, more awkward, frustrated. Once I realized what was happening I tuned in – my body was tired and the clumsiness was a message for me to rest.
The only problem I had was that I wasn’t listening to my body and I wasn’t paying attention to the results.
So, I listened. I stopped. I announced I needed a break and I rested. I stopped TRYING so hard to do it right, to keep it together, to keep going.
The result of stopping was a moment to feel the sun on my face. To hear the people around me. To see the water I’d been pushing through. To look through the water to the surface of the intertidal zones we were skimming across. To take in. To really take in, not just my surroundings, but my own state, and to nourish it through snacks, water and moments of stillness.
To allow, finally, for rest. To allow, finally, to let things be as they are. To release the struggle. To release the Chinese finger-trap of Trying (with a capital T). Because I’ve become bone-tired Weary (with a capital W) of Trying so hard to understand, to figure out and to make things work.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been letting myself feel Weary, and I’ve been letting myself release the Trying. I’ve been applying these concepts, the ones I learned so long ago as a child, and yet forgotten, to almost every single area of my life.
To my ideas about work, vocation and earning. To my ideas about needing to figure things and people out. To my connections with family. To my relationships with my dearest friends.
You may have noticed I didn’t send my weekly Sunday Morning Pleasures letter last week. This was a conscious decision in the face of an annual state of overwhelm connected to multiple birthdays during the same week. A couple times a year, there are times when not Trying so hard is a very good idea, and early October is always one of those times. It is however the first time I’ve allowed myself to drop the Trying, even just a little bit.
And somehow it doesn’t stop!
I’ve also been applying this practice of release and non-Trying to my relationship with my health, with my body, with my parenting. The repercussions are being felt in my creative art-making practice, my emotional life, and my personal boundaries.
It’s resulted in some incredibly deep, profound and scary shifts. I’m not sure what the end results will be, because I’m still in the tossed-up-in-the-air phase, but I’m certain the results will most definitely be accompanied by a greater sense of ease than I’ve carried with me for most of my life.
As always, I am truly so curious. Have you ever had these experiences? Of feeling like you’re in the flow but then bumping up against every indication that the flow is gone? Have you fallen into that trap of Trying with a capital T? Trying to keep going, Trying to do it right, Trying to persevere, thinking that if you just TRY harder, and hard enough, and long enough, and Try to do it the right way, it will all work out the way everyone else says it’s going to?
I surely have, and it surely has not worked out the way I thought it would. And the bone-tired Weary, the release of Trying, well, it’s got to be telling me something and I think I’m finally ready to listen.
Tell me – what are you finally ready to listen to?
Until next time,
ps – not Trying is what has led me towards my Devotional Paintings. The concept came to me fully formed and scary as hell. But it came to me. That’s the key. I’ve been letting it unfold, following the intuitive voice in my head that nudges me to keep offering them, regardless of how much sense they make. The result is the most exceptional feedback I’ve received.
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