The Goldilocks Zone: Not Too Loose, Not Too Tight

Another fantasBicycle Gearstic post inspired by the Yin Yoga weekend meditation program.

I was riding my bike the other day when I noticed it was becoming a little bit too effortful to pedal along in the usual range of gears I like to use, the middle range of the 21 gears I have available to me. So I switched to the smallest derailleur to make it a little easier.

Whoa! Too loose! My poor little legs could scarcely pump fast enough to keep up with the bike! I found myself constantly having to switch gears back and forth. Well, I soon tired of all that and switched back to the middle derailleur.

But after a little while I began to find I’d warmed up a bit, so now the middle gears were too easy. So I switched to the biggest derailleur, and cruised along happily for a little while. But then a big wind came up (a headwind of course — South Florida may be completely flat but the wind makes up for the lack of hills!) and I found myself struggling just to keep moving. Too tight! Definitely too tight!

So again, I went back to the middle derailleur, which was again a more comfortable level of effort. Aah, just right.

In meditation as in choosing a bicycle gear, the instruction is “not too tight, not too loose.” In meditation, of course, we’re referring to the mind and the thoughts. If we try to rein the mind in too tightly, it will rebel and tear off madly in all directions at once; if our control is too loose, the mind simply wanders off and forgets what it was doing. In fact, there are several ways of being “too loose” or “too tight” that become obstacles to meditation practice. For each of these obstacles, there are specific recommended antidotes, which seem to come down to a number of careful, precise applications of mindfulness and/or awareness.

These are but a few of the many lessons I learned during the recent retreat weekend about “Yoga and Meditation in Everyday Life,” with Shastri Brett Ferrigan.

Perhaps the most surprising lesson for me was how beneficial it was to do some gentle movement before sitting practice. What with all the focus on the mental effort, I think I’d kind of forgotten about my body’s role in all of that. But really, the body has to come first – after all, the mind has to live somewhere! If you can’t settle yourself physically on the cushion or the chair, you’re going to be uncomfortable and fidgety. Yoga helps the body to be not too tight and not too loose, to be comfortable sitting upright but relaxed for 20 minutes, half an hour, whatever, without pain. The yoga we practiced, yin yoga, works very gently on the connective tissue, gently but deeply stretching and strengthening tendons and ligaments, helping to integrate the lessons so mind and body really do work together when you get to the cushion.

After the weekend I felt stretched from the inside out, both mentally and physically, and yet it felt so effortless, feeling the body breathe, being aware of the body breathing itself, not directing, but just noticing and observing. Not too tight, not too loose, but juuuuust right.

[“Goldilocks zone” is a term astronomers use to refer to the “habitable zone” in a solar system, that is, the region surrounding a star where it’s just the right temperature to allow water to stay in its liquid state – not too hot, not too cold – and so a planet in that zone could possibly support life as we know it.]

Tunde Nemeth March 15, 2016

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