Attention to Tension



Walking along the Headquarters Trail at the Moosehorn Wildlife Refuge with Greg this past Monday, my gaze settled on a little clearing and I thought, “Oh, what a nice place for a little cabin.”

Of course, I know its a national wildlife preserve, so the land is protected from development. Further, I am not in need of a cabin of any size – got one. My instinct to “hole-up”, though, is quite strong and has been since day one.

I see a beatific spot in the woods, my imagination builds a tiny little cottage, or earth berm or hut. And then imagination goes in and builds a fire in the fireplace and draws the wingback chairs near and enjoys coffee and tea with crumpets.  

White space like scraps of paper, used envelopes that come near my hand while I’m talking on the phone or thinking soon have a doodle of a tiny cabin with a stone chimney. It is nestled in stately pines, under a sprinkling of stars and a sometimes waxing, sometimes waning crescent moon. 

As a child when I would venture out after a big snow storm, I would look for a promising snow drift or mountainous snow bank – to tunnel into and set up housekeeping. How I loved being in my own little (albeit icy) cave, so quiet I could hear my own breaths—and see them.  Mom feared she’d lose me to a snowplow.

Due to this burrowing instinct and certain nervous scurrying tendencies, Greg reckons I was a small woodland animal in my most recent past life and I quite agree. That would also explain my aversion to Big Sky. I prefer to view the sky through the safety of branches.

Tension, though, is the concept that seemed broached by that walk in the woods last Monday. A good hike often becomes a moving meditation. Having thoughts, but also observing those thoughts, perhaps sticking a label on them as they float away. (You know I love making labels for things!)  

Later, while I stood at the stove stirring milk for cocoa, the cottage moment swirled around in the pot. 

Isn’t it strange to want in when I’m out? And conversely, how I appreciate the view of the forest from my fireside chair. And how my best reveries while inside have an element of nature.  

A bit of imagery from a Robert Frost poem bubbles up. He’s walking to town, I think. It’s a cold end of day. The sun is setting and he speaks of the “shining eyes” of the cottages.

Why is solitude so deliciously fertile when I know that in exactly one hour I need to start cooking for dinner guests? 

In versus out. Silence versus noise. 

“But its not just an opposites thing I’m trying to bring to your attention,” says the swirling milk.

“Pay attention to the tension.”

And I understand that ‘we’ are thinking of tension in scientific terms, of pulling force, rather than as an emotional strain sort of thing.

Getting the tension right is important for things to function properly. Bridges, pulleys, springs. Or the mechanical tension with which I have more experience…the sewing machine. Improper tension, having the upper thread at a different “tightness” than the lower thread can cause all manner of things to go wrong.  I looked up sewing machine tension to get a better picture in my mind and found an article that refreshed my memory of the woes of tension problems: loose seams, unstable stitches and…puckering. Oh dear.

I definitely don’t want puckering.

Not just an opposites thing but the tension, I muse.

The tension.

A vague memory of reading about the importance of having the proper mental tension in meditation floats through my mind. I thumbed through several likely books, but can’t pin down the reference. Had I a clearer recollection of the excerpt, I would recall the book.  I understand, though, that searching outside of myself will never bring me the bit I want. I must be quiet, patient, wait on that still, small voice.

Paying attention to the tension in various aspects of life seems worthwhile though.  Why leave it to chance? That could cause puckering.

Click the PLAY button to hear Attention to Tension

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