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Hard Lessons


This morning, the newspaper title caught my attention: The Harder Life Gets, the Softer We Need to Be.” There was also a subtitle: When we brace against life’s bumps, we feel every stone more deeply.”

It sounds the opposite doesn’t it of our usual way of thinking? We work harder, not less. We resist more. And we don’t let go of our grip. We fight, and think this is not a time to back off.

Lots of things push us in the direction to resist. Chronic illness, the tenor of the times, hurtful words, even the weight of the water pulling us down when we swim, these all incline us towards even fierce resistance.

We don’t imagine other options. The harm or threat or action demand a counter-response.

We use words like, “I’ll fight the pain.” “Pain won’t have control over me.” “I’ll beat this somehow.” "I shouldn't have to put up with this." "It's them or me."

And sometimes we do "win," just often enough. This approach is working. We say we need to work even harder, to use more of our willpower to overcome.

But it is counterintuitive to think we should ease off, relax our energies, go with the flow, find other more positive ways to frame a situation. To meet our pain halfway, to acknowledge it, to roll with it seems a fearful and backward step.

I was recently out in a boat on a fishing trip with a 14 year old. Lake of the Woods in northern Minnesota is a million square miles of open water. With the throttle full open to get to the flats where the fish are found, the waves were not overwhelming but significant.

I asked my "partner" how he takes to the rough water, with my eyes set firmly on the horizon. He says: “It helps to relax. I try to relax my whole body, to concentrate especially on my back, and I try to roll with the changes.”

Great advice that echos the earlier titles. The Harder, the Softer We Need to Be. To do the opposite is to Feel Every Stone more Deeply.

I think that can get us through a lot of challenges if we cultivate what that might mean. It isn’t indifference or passivity, any more than we were trying to run from the wave’s pounding our boat.

It’s just another way of thinking. It doesn’t come natural for many of us.

Rodeo is another graphic way of saying the same thing visually. Can you imagine if the rider sat stiff in the saddle? Can you imagine if he or she was determined to control every moment or the outcome?

To roll, in the language of rodeo, is to accommodate to the animal's bucking and twisting. Of course, they anticipate but everything could be different in a fraction of a second. The next hoof plant might tell them everything - or nothing at all.

Rodeo is an elegant example of the paradigm shift I am suggesting. Nowhere is it more dramatic, to remain "soft," than in those eight seconds on a horse.

It is chaos-in-motion. It is a wild romance with life a rider chooses, but that is not cooperative. Its general aim is to throw that rider to the ground.

Rodeo is, in microcosm, life in crisis -

moments when seconds become eternities.

Here, the outcome is anything but certain.

Bracing Against or Going With - it’s your choice and mine. Here, light may be better than heavy, centered better than control.

"Staying loose in the saddle" is a good metaphor. Staying in the moment a necessity.

We can anticipate all we want but the next split fraction of time, might bring the expected or the erratic, crazy no-one-could-guessed-that novelty of complete surprise.

When I tire of fighting hard, when it hurts just as much if not more, I reluctantly choose to listen. I "go with" not because of any ingrained wisdom but because any alternative seems better than what I am currently doing.

If find there is more control in that. I seem to feel "every stone" (less) deeply." I find I learn again what I have always known: that I can't be in control of everything and that Life isn't arranged so it only fits to what I want.

I insist less and observe more. I try to quiet myself. I pay attention. I do my best to accept. I see if there is something I can discover.

And it seems staying in the present instead of being in the prediction business makes me more adaptive and able to adjust to the many changes the many next moments might bring.

All this, on a good day.

John A. Bragstad has written two books: Nature's Poetry of Life and Compass Season. Both are available at Amazon.

For more blogs of interest, just click on the image to take you to my website (www.johnbragstad.com)

Special thanks to Pixabay for the rodeo image.

Thanks to author Nancy Colier for the "Harder Life Gets" title.

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