Earlier this week, I was with my 9-year-old son at Cub Scout Camp. Hot. Dusty. No hot water the first day. Food fit for . . . cub scouts (but not their parents). And he had a great time -- which, of course, was the point! And all the things boys like to do: BB-guns, swimming, sling-shots, hiking, boating, archery, etc. I loved doing almost all of those things, too, as I was growing up. But archery was NOT something I'd really experienced. And it was fascinating listening to the instructors describe the proper technique for getting the arrow situated on the bow, how to hold the bow itself, how to hold the arrow against the bowstring, etc. One of the things that seemed to create the most difficulty for the kids was the instruction to hold the arrow against the string "loosely"; in other words, not to squeeze the string, arrow, or fingers too tightly. The result was a poorly-shot arrow! I can understand the kids' confusion; it seemed counterintuitive to me too!
Then, on Thursday morning, I went to the doctor to have him check on my left elbow, where I was experiencing some pain when I would move my arm in certain ways. I assumed, given some internet searches, that I had tendonitis. But I wasn't sure I wanted to treat my own (poorly diagnosed) ailment. Sure enough, the diagnosis was "tennis elbow tendonitis". The strange thing was that I am not left-handed, so I don't swing a tennis racket with my left arm (actually, I don't swing a tennis racket at all!). The doc told me that what was happening was that I was gripping things too tightly with that hand, leading to pain in the tendons that run from my fingers to my elbow.
Hmmm. Gripping the arrow/string too tightly leads to a poor shot. Gripping things too tightly with my hand leads to tennis elbow. Gripping things too tightly . . .
It didn't take long for me to make the connections: this isn't just a physical issue! I recalled that the singer Sting paid homage to author Richard Bach when he wrote the song, "If you love somebody, set them free."* It also contains the line: "You can't control an independent heart." Control of another is just a corollary of holding it too tightly.
But it is not just pop-culture that understands the hazards connected to tight-grasping. Many of the world's religions understand this as a spiritual issue. Attachment and/or non-attachment to anything is a central theme in Buddhism. Jesus is recorded as saying that "Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?" (Matthew 16.25-26).
I know that I have a tendency to grip things tightly. I also know that I have a tendency to want to control. I'd never quite put the two together. But now, whenever I'm exercising and wearing that oh-so-lovely (and comfortable -- NOT!) elbow strap, I'll have a visual reminder of what this week taught me.
*For more on the song see the Wikipedia article with that title: