Positive Pressure

I’ve always said that I am not a fan of pressure; time pressure, peer pressure or foot pressure, for that matter. Especially vexing can be the pressure for things to change, a pressure that often shows up as illness or accident. Yet there is a way that pressure is what maintains us, maintains our bodies, our minds, and our health. A healthy blood pressure, for example, is maintained by the proper amount of fluid flowing through our blood vessels. A healthy mind has the pressure of contemplating how to say what you feel and a healthy body overall is maintained by the perfect pressure of exercise and rest in some combination. In some ways our world is always exerting pressure on us, even just the pressure of the climate, if nothing else.

What I like to call a positive pressure is created by connection, whether it be a connection to a friend, to a job or to yourself, your creativity, or your feelings. Connections help to hold you, place you in your world. Without connection, we can’t survive. A connection to meaning and purpose can sustain human beings sometimes through the worst life has to offer.

Alternatively, a negative pressure is created by expectation or demand. In my experience this kind of negative pressure most often takes the form of ideas about outcome. When we think we can expect or demand a certain outcome, we pressure ourselves or those around us in ways that can paralyze us, depress us or even break us under the pressure. One of my favorite quips from Buddhist nun Pema Chödron is a twist on a phrase that comes from Buddhist mind training. The original phrase is translated as “change your expectations and relax as it is”. Nice advice, but Pema says “lower your expectations and relax as it is!” Really, give yourself a break and don’t wait for circumstances to make you break.

All pressure has an element of tension. Too much tension and we break easily. Too little tension and we do not feel supported. Applying a bit of pressure is the way we can begin to experience what degree of tension is already there. When we apply a bit of pressure, say in a question or a hand on our neck, we begin to know how we are. Our feelings surface in response. A certain kind of tension, as well as a certain amount of pressure, are necessary for any structure to be maintained and to respond to the stress of life.

How do you create a positive pressure, a vital relationship with life? How do you recognize the negative pressure, where you are interjecting expectation, even demand, into the equation? Pressure will not work if it is constant. Significantly and not surprisingly, pressure and release works to both inform and relax how we function. Think about how it works with your muscles, how when someone touches you with some amount of pressure you relax, and with another amount, you may tighten. Apply that same idea to your emotions, your thoughts. Observe how the pressure of your self-reflection and self-examination works positively or negatively for you. Observe how you respond to your own inquiry. Is the inquiry positive for you, the right amount of pressure? What would the right amount of pressure feel like?

For me, the right amount of pressure feels like love, care. And the wrong amount of pressure feels like irritation, distraction, even invasion. This week’s experiment; how can you create exactly the right amount pressure, how can you discover where is too loose, where is too tense and how can you engender the sensation of love and care for yourself, no matter where you are or what you are doing?