My father died three years ago today. A lifelong amateur handyman, he patiently taught me and my brothers and sister the art of hammering nails, sawing lumber, soldering wires and other such skills. He even gracefully accepted that, of all of us, only my sister possessed any actual skill.
I remember many times struggling to align a screw with a hole or to thread a nut around a bolt. If I got the angle wrong, which happened more often than not, the threads wouldn’t line up and the assembly would jam.
The obvious response: try harder. Bear down on the screwdriver. Crank the wrench tighter.
“No. You can’t force it,” my father would explain calmly. “You’ll strip the threads.” The only solution was to remove the piece of hardware and try again, aligning the threads so that the parts would fit together easily and elegantly.
Human beings are vastly more complex than even the most intricate machine, but we follow the same physical laws when we move. Ideally, bones revolve around each other like precision-milled parts, joints glide smoothly and movements travel through the skeleton as easily as ripples flow across a pond.
To move like that, we must be simultaneously relaxed and engaged – the embodiment of Patanjali’s twin pillars of asana practice, sthira and sukha. Quiet and calm, yet focused enough to feel clearly.
Not that I’m so good at doing that. Generally, when I feel jammed up, stuck, unable to move or breathe, what do I do? Try harder. Effort more.
But then I try to remember my dad, the way he would calmly and patiently feel how the pieces of a mechanical puzzle were supposed to fit together, and how, with a shift of just a millimeter or two, everything could fall effortlessly into place.
Copyright Joseph Miller