Open the hand, Open the heart and mind

 DSCN3587 Wildfire affected sky and light near Badger Mountain (and the little town of Waterville) in Central Washington. No relation to the text below, except perhaps it is more difficult to open the hand of thought in strange light? Certainly it would be difficult to be open and relaxed when a wildfire is coming your way (not that it was here, the fire was actually a long distance away).

I will begin with a straight-forward and easy exercise (for most people). Take both your hands, clench them in fists, turn them palm-side up and then…wait for it….here comes the really cool part….open them! Now do it again. And again. Wash, rinse, repeat.

How did it feel? Begin with how it feels in the hands then move to the wrists, and then the arms and the shoulders. Continue to observe. How does it feel in the core of your body? And what about in your heart and in your mind?

You may be wondering about the connection between opening your hand and sensations in your heart and mind, so let us start with the obvious – the body and move on from there. When I open my hand, I feel (actually it’s a sensation because it comes from one of my six senses whereas feelings are really an interpretation of sensory information whereby we categorize into positive, neutral and negative feelings) an immediate release and relaxation in my hand, wrist, arm and shoulder. Naturally so. If I am aware enough to notice it, I sense that same relaxation and release throughout the rest of my body. Certainly I notice that my breath changes, I exhale and relax when I open my hand; and I inhale and tighten up when I form a fist. Same thing for my heart – relaxation when I open my hand and tightness when I form a fist. And the very same thing is true for my head, my brain and my mind. Opening the hand, opens my whole body, and my mind.


The LaFevers with Mount Rainier in Washington in the background. Hot day, cold snow. This photo has nothing to do with opening the hand, but I thought it was a pretty photo so I added it. I suppose if your hand was cold enough it would be difficult to open it, so perhaps its easiest to open the hand, heart and mind in warm climates?

One might think that this is simply an analogy. When one opens up their hand, they open up to the world. Intellectually speaking, right? Yes and no. In addition to it being a nifty (yes I just used the word “nifty”) analogy, I mean it as more basic than that, more raw and more real. When I open up my hand, I literally relax and open up to the world. All of me, opening up to all of it. And when I truly get to the heart of the matter, I open up to the point where there is no “me”, no “I”, no “us”, no “it” and no “them”. Opening up allows everything else to flood in. Seems abstract but there isn’t anything more concrete.

What can you do with a fist? Not much, I say. You can punch another, pound a table, grab a hold of something. Is there anything else, are there many options with a closed fist? Now what can you do with an open hand? You can shake someone’s hand, hold someone’s hand, pat them on the back, give them a hug, hand them something, receive something, and catch snowflakes to name just a few of the many possibilities of an open hand.

Shunryu Suzuki-roshi famously said that “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.” The beginner’s mind feels like opening up your hand. It is a relaxed and alert state within which all is possible. Not only is all possible, all is occurring in the beginner’s mind. The tightened fist of the expert’s mind is much too wrapped around its own thoughts, ideas and conceptions to have any room for anything (everything) else. That tightness, and that constriction is the sensation of limitation. Kosho Uchiyama-roshi in his book “Opening the Hand of Thought”, wrote:

When we let go of our conceptions, there is no other possible reality than what is right now. This undeniable reality is the reality of life fundamentally connected to everything else in the universe. Right now is all-important. Dwelling here and now, in this reality, letting go of all the accidental things that arise in our minds, is what I mean by “opening the hand of thought.”

When the world seems narro??????????wed, tightened, and limited, I say do this simple exercise and open up with your hand. If nothing else, it can serve as a reminder that the world is limitless, you are connected with it all, and that you can open too. With an open hand there are many possibilities, with a closed fist there are few. And when in doubt, head out West, open yourself up to those vast Western skies and become a Wild-Westerner like these two dolls!


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