May 2, 2014

Tune Your Instrument: Don’t be Too Loose or Too Tight.

guitar instrument girl

Creativity in sports, the arts, at work or in daily life comes about when we balance effort and effortlessness.

We need effort, focused, intentional action to achieve any kind of result, whether it’s cooking a meal, writing a report or making a presentation. But too much effort, while it may get the job done, rarely produces great results.

Too much effort tightens us up.

Our capacity to respond flexibly and readjust to the call of the moment is hampered when we’re fixated on following our plan or achieving a specific outcome.

Sometimes what appear as obstacles aren’t really in our way. Whether it’s a bottleneck in the system or an objection to the logic of our presentation from a colleague, these obstacles may not be in our way at all. They may be signposts, not barriers.

They’re pointing us in new directions that seem “off plan” but can lead us to something better than our highly focused, effortful mind can envision.

Openness is as necessary as having a laser focus.

Being loose, flexible, and adaptive is as necessary as being decisive, determined, and deliberate. Rather than developing a watertight perspective, let your attention be more porous so that ideas, insights, and information can leak into your mind and enrich your understanding in unpredictable ways.

But too much openness doesn’t work well either. It disperses attention and causes us to lose focus.

Effort and effortlessness need each other.
Focus and openness need each other.

Creativity arises when the balance is right. Getting the balance right is, as the Buddha suggested, like tuning a stringed instrument.

Too tight and it’s out of tune. Too loose, you have the same problem. You need to tune your body/mind in the same way. What’s your instrument?

tune your instrument 600


Your body/mind is your instrument.

It’s the instrument you play every day of your life. Your body/mind is the instrument through which you experience… well, everything you experience. What you receive from life and what you give to life is mediated through your body/mind. This instrument is precious, irreplaceable, and it needs to be kept in tune.

When situations, projects, relationships in our world are not working well, it’s likely that our instrument is out of tune. We’re either pushing too hard or not being engaged enough. We’re either over-focused on doing it one way or open to so many alternatives that the path of action is obscured.

We’re being too tight or too loose.

We need to re-tune. Here’s how:

Think about a situation where you’re struggling, not creating or receiving what matters most to you.

Now consider:

Do you need to tighten up?  Have you been straining to control the situation, insisting, or stonewalling? Those are examples of being too tight.

Do you need to loosen up? Have you been avoiding the tough conversation, smoothing over differences, spacing out, or sidestepping difficult decisions? Those are ways of being too loose.

To get yourself back in tune, you need to either tighten up or loosen up.
Once you’ve decided which it is, you can begin to re-tune your mind/body by doing the following exercise.

Reflection & Application

    1. Sit in a comfortable position.
    2. Close your eyes.
    3. Take some deep breaths to release excess tension.
    4. Feel the quality that you need—the quality of more tightness or more looseness—spreading through your nervous system.
    5. Get a sense of what being in tune feels like in your body. Then visualize yourself stepping into the situation in a way that is “tuned up.” Picture yourself engaging and experiencing the situation in that tuned state.
    6. Feel what it’s like to engage in this way.
    7. Finally, let go of the visualization and open your eyes.

Keep the feeling of being “tuned up” as you step into the rest of your day.


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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Melissa DeVries/Pixoto, Author’s Own

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