Hold firmly enough so that it can’t fly away, but don’t squeeze so tightly that you kill the bird!
This is a concept sometimes taught in meditation, where holding the bird is a metaphor for the use of attention.
One should focus on the object of attention – the breath, for example – forcefully enough so that the mind does not wander, but not so forcefully that it suffocates the practice or causes fatigue. The bird is delicate and restless – it should be held firmly but not crushed.
Holding the bird applies to more than just meditation.
Have you ever noticed how when you really want something to go a certain way – an interview, a party, a date – it almost certainly doesn’t go that way? Rigid expectations are squeezing the bird too tight – holding on too tightly to wanting things to be a certain way.
Or consider an experience we’ve all had: momentarily forgetting something and then trying really hard to remember. What always happens? You can’t remember. But then when you let go a little bit, suddenly the memory re-emerges in just the way you want.
Whether or not this is some cosmic principle of the universe, it does seem to hold true more often than just coincidence would allow. Kanye West got it right when he said, “when you try hard, that’s when you die hard”.
Have you ever been in the early stages of a relationship and squeezed so tightly that it killed the budding romance? Or maybe the opposite – not held on tightly enough so the other person flew away?
Reaching flow states is the same way. You must focus enough on the task at hand to become immersed in it, while allowing inspiration the room it needs to come through. Lack of focus scatters the attention, but overthinking and over focus inevitably crushes the creative pipeline and the magical spark eludes you.
The principle is to apply as much effort as is needed for the desired result… but not more. It’s a hard balance, but that is how to hold a bird.
Read next: Why Life Tastes Better with Meditation