We’ve been wrapped up tight. Can you feel it too? Terrorists tightened up our security efforts to ridiculous effect. Centuries of unintended consequences endanger our environment. Food scares make dinner an occasion for debate instead of relaxation. I think it’s time to practice no-tight.
I won’t claim to come up with the term tight/no-tight. It come from an old style of karate that I’ve practiced for over 25 years now. Practice is the right word because that much practice has proved to me how much more I have to learn. Like many aspects of the art, tight/no-tight is a simple yet elusive concept that is powerful enough to be worth the chase.
The iconic images of martial artists are zero-fat sculpted bodies with muscles delineated beneath glistening skin. Very tight looking. That ain’t me. I’m 52 years old. When I practice karate it isn’t very vigorous, dramatic, or even sweaty. My sessions are more like Tai Chi, slow and attempts at understanding the aspects of the art and myself. Surprisingly, those icons like Bruce Lee were actually very good at being loose. They were flexible and their muscles were taught to tightened fully for precise fractions of a second within a technique. My body looks looser, partly because of my American diet padding, yet beneath that can be too much tension. I’ve been so tight at times that my muscles ached and strained from days or weeks or more of stress.
The handy and humbling aspect of decades of training is the personal introspection that makes me laugh at myself. “I was tightened up about that? That’s silly.”
The Dismal Decade tightened many people. Many types of defenses were erected. It is unfortunate human nature that our defenses tend to outlast the threats. We continue to maintain nuclear missiles. I suspect TSA won’t go away soon. How many of us continue in adulthood to counter conflicts experienced in childhood?
This blog was inspired by my book, Dream. Invest. Live., partly because friends commented that my reaction to money was different than theirs. I wasn’t always worried about money. I wasn’t always ignorant of it. Some people worry about every penny, and may think there’s never enough even when they are worth millions. Others never worry about money because they don’t want to, or have so little or so much that it doesn’t matter to them. My attitude isn’t best or worst. It is merely mine. Money is a resource. I’ve witnessed the progression from money buying happiness, from when paying bills is difficult; to when more money doesn’t make a difference because there’s more than enough for necessities, luxuries and philanthropies. Right now money would make happiness easier. I can pay my bills, but it is prudent for me to delay some because the money is coming from my core investments. (A divorce and the recent economic downturn didn’t help the money side of my life.)
Within karate, tight/no-tight is practiced as a way to manage energies, internal resources. A fighter who is always taut tires easily, moves more slowly, and is more likely to damage their own joints and connective tissues. No-tight might work for the master practitioners and is the ultimate because it can also lead to no-conflict, but moments of tightness are useful for when two opponents make contact. Then, taut muscles can protect bones and organs. Karate is about defense. The counter exists though and uses the same principle.
For me, money is something to handle with tight/no-tight. Ultimately I could be completely no-tight and trust to the universe and the divine to provide all of my needs and wants, but I suspect that would require a monastic or saintly life that few can manage. I could also relax with substantially more than enough, a calculation that I’ll leave for another time. I’ve lived the life of an impoverished grad student, watching every penny and challenging every book and food purchase. Realistically though, I tighten up my money awareness when I am preparing to pay my bills or when I go shopping, but I am not agonizing over every minute of electricity used, or the exact amount for a tip. I tighten my attention when I am deciding on how to spend hundreds or more, and am no-tight when I am deciding on how my nickels and dimes are spent. (And yes, it is still possible to be “nickeled and dimed to death”, but nickels and dimes aren’t as powerful as they were when we had five-and-dime stores. I can’t even find the cent symbol on my keyboard anymore.)
I’ve learned that many of my health issues are stress-related. I tightened up over many of the same things we all tighten up about, not just money. The consequences encouraged me to relax, relax some more, and then relax some more. I think I’m hearing the hint. At least my body feels better and friends tell me that I even sound better.
We also just went through some traumatic times that tested everyone. On an individual level and on a societal level, I think we could use a bit more no-tight: a less contentious political atmosphere, less political correctness, more levity, and maybe shed some old defenses. Parts of this era will look silly in retrospect. I highly suggest that we can also benefit from some internal no-tight. We deserve it. We’ve been through a lot.
Okay, time to take my own advice. While typing this up I’ve handled three or four other chores, including today’s karate practice. I think it’s time for a relaxing cup of tea.
PS For those writers in the audience, I practice tight (concentrate on writing this blog within an hour or two) and no-tight (forget about it after that). Just an example that works for me.