Mental pliancy is a quality of mind that is as important to our daily lives as it is to meditation.
It prevents us from developing one-sided views and becoming stuck in our ways. Conditions are always changing in our lives and it is mental pliancy that helps us to flow with change.
The opposite of mental pliancy is rigidity, which often results in the inability to gain another perspective—even when it is our best interest to do so.
Stagnation can arise as a result of a failure to adapt ourselves to change. The absence of mental pliancy can cause this stagnation and the failure to recognize an opportunity to get out of the quicksand, even when the opportunity is right in front of us.
Some years ago I was living in my home on the island of Maui, Hawaii, and my life was a mix of water, meditation, and enjoying my yard full of fruit trees and many flowers. My kids, one by one, grew up and went their way, and I was alone for over five years.
Without the responsibility of family (my wife and I were separated), I settled into a routine I loved, rising at 4 a.m. to meditate, do yoga, swim, gather flowers for my altar, have coffee and a bagel, and launch into my day—a process that took until noon. In the afternoons, I studied and wrote until sunset, then walked on the beach for an hour, and often took an evening swim. Then I would make dinner and do more meditation until lights out.
I rarely visited friends and was content doing what I was doing—maybe too content. After a few years, I started to become depressed and didn’t even recognize it. A family friend took notice, however, and contacted my eldest daughter, Rachel, who was living in Dharmsala, India. Rachel flew to Hawaii and lived with me for a few weeks. One day during our daily lunch together she looked at me and said, “Dad, your stagnating.”
My stagnation was to be the daily lunch topic for the next few weeks. Rachel wanted me to get off the Island and go to India or Nepal. I had already lived extensively in these places and argued for Hawaii, my home, and my way of life.
My stagnation was so difficult to see because my environment and lifestyle hypnotized me. Intellectually, I reasoned, my way of life was perfect. But, I was also aware that others see in us problems brewing that we may not see, and Rachel was always very intuitive and knew her dad well.
So, reluctantly, I quit Hawaii and headed to India.
Once settled in India my stagnation became apparent. I needed mental stimulation, and now settled just above the temple of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, I got all I needed. I visited the temple daily, made friends with many Tibetan monks, and walked the mountains every day with Ensel, a yogi resident of the temple. I gradually realized I had indeed been depressed and stagnating in Hawaii. Rachel was right, and I finally saw it.
Being settled in our old ways may sound nice, but it can also be a source of depression. We have to recognize when we are stagnating—our lives need challenges and cannot be too predictable.
This is not to say that there is no virtue in being settled in one’s ways or feeling content. But, when we become stuck in our ways, we must get ourselves out of the quicksand.
Fortunately for me, my mind was dexterous enough to try something new even though I doubted its advantages, and I was willing to leave a big attachment—my home and lifestyle—to do it.
My willingness to try change paid off, and I soon saw just how stuck I was in “paradise.” Things were too easy, too predictable, and I allowed myself to become isolated in my world. I was stuck in a rut and self-absorbed.
Many opportunities arose to free myself—friends often invited me out to surf, dinner, bike ride, and so forth, but I was so content being by myself that I didn’t take these opportunities. I became rigid without even recognizing it, and had I accepted these many offers, things might have been very different.
While my experience with stagnation and mental dexterity required a big change in my life, rigidity and pliancy also apply to minute details, as well. In our daily lives, in everything we do, we must recognize when we have to adapt to change or hold our ground.
One-sided views toward things are always disadvantageous. We have to be balanced and see the various perspectives from which we can view situations impartially. Many times, we are so attached to a situation that we cannot see clearly, but a friend, because she is detached, can.
There is a saying, “In the affairs of others, even the fool is wise, but in one’s affairs, even saints make mistakes.” This is so true—after all, a casual observation of a friend or associate can put things in perspective when we cannot.
Rigidity leads to stagnation, while mental pliancy and dexterity will lead to openness, which welcomes the change. A willingness to change is the first step toward pliancy, so we must always be willing to adapt to change and avoid tenaciously clinging to a position without being open to other possibilities—particularly when things are not going well for us.
Challenge is necessary for our lives. If we find ourselves taking comfort in the predictable, it is a sure sign that we are not being challenged and will soon be stagnating.
All of us have to flow with change because it is the nature of our lives. Nothing is stable, and we must constantly adapt. Adapting to change puts us in harmony with ourselves and our world.
Recognize the important part people play in our lives by paying attention to what they are saying. Being a good listener is essential. We are social creatures for a reason, and that reason is best understood when we take to heart the cues offered to us.
Author: Richard Josephson
Image: Author’s Own/Unsplash
Editor: Taia Butler