The closed fist vs. the open palm — how letting go of control saves you energy

Mu Bul 無佛
5 min readJul 15, 2017


There is a beautiful feather in my hand and I am holding it. And there are two different ways I can do that:

Taking vs. Giving

One way of holding the feather is by closing my hand around it and making a fist. The feathers form, structure and beauty can’t shine and be seen that way. But by closing my hand around it, I am making sure that the feather doesn’t get blown away. So I keep it tight in my closed hand.

That’s how we often go about things that are precious to us, that we fear to loose: we hold them tightly. That is especially true for beloved people, family, friends, relationships, as well as ideas, beliefs and concepts.

But what happens if I hold something inside a close fist? First, it takes effort to do that and second, it might take away its beauty: in this case the feather is not to be seen. This fist gesture is an act of closing, not opening. It’s a gesture of taking rather than giving. It takes energy to hold a fist tightly and I will get tired at some point if I always try to make a fist like this.

Why do we do this?

We wish to be assured that things will be ok. We always yearn to have control and we like to be assured that things will go the way we want. But the truth is, we have no clue what is going to happen, we have no control either. And that scares us. We feel vulnerable. We think that staying with that vulnerability, openness and honesty is too dangerous. It actually isn’t. It’s the closed fist that will take away freedom, joy and happiness from us.

If, for a brief moment, you reflect upon your life, with utmost honesty and truthfulness — when was it, that you ever had any control in the long run? When did you ever have had any control over the real important things that happened in your life (the joyful as well as the sorrowful)? And what does “control” actually mean?

Yes, I am sure many of us have studied or worked hard to get somewhere and maybe it feels like you controlled it through focus and will power, and you have been rewarded and you „got something“. That’s great and we should enjoy our successes. But than, have you ever had the experience that this very thing that you thought you gained, suddenly turned into a loss?

Shit happens. People get married to their dream partner and four weeks later, it turns out he/she was sleeping with your best friend. Or you get hired for your dream job and BOOM… get fired out of the blue few weeks later, because the company tanked.

Than… what do you do?

There really is no control whatsoever. And the sooner I let that often uncomfortable truth sink into the core of my very being, the sooner I might be able to see what life actually really is offering. Isn’t life more of a mysterious, often unpredictable journey, where when we open ours eyes and look into this very moment, we must actually wonder: „Wow… how did I get here?“

So going back to the feather, there is another way of holding things. The other way of holding something is in the palm of your open hand. This holding is relaxed, rested and light. This gesture is an act of support, rather giving than taking. It is holding and giving space for something to be as it is.

And there is little to no control, since this gesture allows things to be taken away — if wind comes, the feather will lift off the palm and go with the wind. This gesture of holding something might take courage, because we can’t control what is happening. We have to be brave to except this truth: things will come to us and things will go or be taken away no matter how tightly we might want to hold onto them. The tighter we hold onto, the greater the pain, when we are asked to let go.

So instead of being scared of things to be taken away from me, to fear the change and instead of asking: „What do I get out of it?“ … what if I ask:

„What can I give to it?“

„What can I do for you?“

The closed fist or open palm is also our very mind. Stress in all it’s forms comes from our desire to control things, to be in charge. We use our energy and will power to get where we want to be, and if things do not fall into place as we wish to, we get angry, upset, sad. We might start blaming ourselves and others for our misfortune, and maybe even use more force. We get tight — in the mind and in our bodies. That leads to pain and suffering for ourselves and others.

A rested and resilient mind/heart is clear and spacious like the sky, things can freely float in it like clouds float in the sky. Things can freely come and go. There is no holding because, what do you want to hold onto anyway? Nothing ever sticks to space. Clouds don’t leave a mark in the sky when they float trough. Stuff just goes trough space without leaving a mark on space ever. Consider the freedom and peace that this implies.

So, if I hold things by paying great attention yet holding them lightly, just like a feather in my open palm, I can see, feel, perceive, and observe things with detachment.

Stress is the closed fist. Relaxation is the open palm.

What would you choose?



Mu Bul 無佛

Zen priest, M.A. Philosophy, who loves and does arts, photography and poetry. Above all loves life and the inevitable truth that appears by living it to death.