Muscle Tension, Humanity, and the Universe

“Tension is our way of resisting the moment. It covers up our aliveness.”  -Tara Brach

Muscle tension has become very familiar to me over the past several years. Almost constantly, at least some of my muscles are in a state of tension. Driven by anxiety, it’s my body’s way of trying to feel like it’s in control, trying to resist whatever dangers are out there (imagined or real). In a way, it helps me feel like I’m ready to react to any danger that approaches. But it also prevents me from enjoying the moment, from seeing new things, from getting rest. It is not a desirable way to live.

Largely a relic of the past, muscle tension protected our ancestors in times that were more physically dangerous. But in today’s world that is comparatively peaceful and free from physical dangers, in a world more focused on cognitive performance than physical performance, it often just gets in the way and causes unnecessary suffering. Still, I should be grateful to my body for its attempts to protect me, though they are often misguided. When I try to push the tension away rather than compassionately accepting it, it only results in more tension. I’ve found that instead, I need to focus my mind on the area of tension in my body, breathe, and invite it to relax and be in the current moment with me. This brings relief and aliveness. It may be fleeting, but for a moment, I am in the current moment. I am truly living.

Of course, this is difficult, and it takes practice and persistence. It can be so hard to unlearn harmful habits and replace them with more helpful ones. But struggles like this are part of what makes life as a human so unique, rewarding, and beautiful. We humans have so much potential, but there’s also so much that can trip us up. Our minds can be a tangled mess of emotions, ambitions, hopes, fears, and prejudices. These things are meant to protect us, but if we let them get out of control, they can harm us and those we interact with. We must keep learning about ourselves, becoming aware of how our minds and bodies work and what is happening in them. Only then can we harness these things for good, pushing humanity forward to be more mindful, more just, more loving - creating rather than destroying. If we are controlled by fear, we fall backward and cause harm to ourselves, to our fellow humans, and to our fellow creatures on this planet.

We must embrace science, which can teach us truths about ourselves, our world, and our situation in this world. We must embrace spirituality and philosophy, to teach us what to do with the facts we have learned from science. We must embrace art and rest and mindfulness, to give ourselves space and time to understand ourselves, to learn to love life, and to appreciate our fleeting time as living organisms. We aren’t just on this planet - we are from this planet and of this planet. We are this planet seeing itself, feeling itself, understanding itself, loving itself. We are this universe seeing itself, feeling itself, understanding itself, loving itself. This is an immense privilege and responsibility we humans have. We are very special and have so much influence, but at the same time, we are small and fleeting and don’t really matter that much in the grand scheme of things. But our existence is beautiful nonetheless - even when we are haunted by constant muscle tension.