Why Force Won’t Set You Free
What do you know about knots? Here’s what I know. Knots bind things together. They can be tied on purpose (think shoelaces) or result by accident (think tangled jewelry.) They can be big or small, loose or tight, easily undone or nearly impossible to work out.
Knots are useful when you tie them for a reason, but even then, sooner or later you’ll want them to be undone. When that time comes, you’ll need a strategy.
I’m not a particularly patient person, so when it comes to untangling knots my strategy goes something like this. I choose a random end and tug on it hoping the whole thing unravels. Sometimes this technique works, but most of the time it only makes things worse.
Random picking, prodding, and pulling as hard as you can is objectively not the best strategy for untangling knots, and yet it is the same strategy we often use for untangling our lives. If we aren’t careful, not only do we fail to fix our difficulties but we run the risk of complicating them.
The Buddha explained why force doesn’t set us free with a simple story. It goes like this.
The Buddha came to his disciples holding a silk handkerchief. He asked them what they saw and they answered accordingly.
The Buddha then tied the handkerchief in five knots and asked if it was the same handkerchief as before. They said that it was still the same handkerchief, yet different because it was now in knots.
The Buddha agreed. Then he began to tug on both ends of the handkerchief and asked if this was the right way to release the knots.
In unison, the disciples answered, of course not! Pulling on both sides of the handkerchief will only make the knots tighter and more difficult to untie.
So the Buddha asked how he could undo the knots if he wished. One monk answered that he would have to come close and carefully observe the knots to understand how they were formed. Once he saw how they were formed, he could undo them.
The Buddha said this was right. The lesson is you cannot fix something without first understanding it. Often when we try to force our problems to disappear, we end up…