Lessons in Relaxation Part 3
How well can you relax? Have you ever put it to the test? Can you sit and allow effort and tension to slip from you until a gentle feeling of pleasure fills you? Does your body become effortlessly still and calm? When relaxed do your mental processes -slow down like your heartbeat, until your mind is almost as clear as a cloudless sky? Is relaxation a doorway for you through which you can release your creative and problem solving abilities?
Tension, whether of our body, emotions or thinking, is rather like someone unable to move from a railway track as a train approaches because they are paralysed by fear. True, that is an extreme case of emotional and physical tension, but it illustrates the point. To the degree we are tense we are incapable of easily moving, adapting, responding, creating and enjoying ourselves in an ever changing, competitive, opportunity filled world.
Relaxation is not just sitting still silently. It is also the ability to dance freely to music allowing the body to abandon itself to the joy of rhythmic movement. A businessman is relaxed who can see an opportunity others are missing, take hold of it and confidently take the risks necessary. And we are relaxed when we can make love yielding deeply to our laughter and tears, and feel at peace afterwards.
Here are some of the ways people use to achieve a deeper relaxation, whether in stillness or everyday activity.
1) Spend a few minutes alone with yourself each day. You need not be physically alone. We can be alone with ourselves even on a crowded bus or train. We do this by decisively putting aside all the plans, worries, thoughts, activities and drives we are daily involved in.
In the beginning it helps to do this systematically. That is, in the same place and time, and using a particular method. The simplest method is to start by tensing the body, then slowly allowing. the tension to drop. Remember to tense the rectum and genitals too. Tense the body several times, each time a little less. As you drop the tension bring your awareness to all the areas of your body to see if the tension is being dropped everywhere. Particularly notice the rectum and genitals, the abdomen and face. During the period you spend in this relaxed condition continue being aware of your whole body, allowing the dropping of tension to deepen. This can actually be done lying down, sitting or standing up.
2) Most textbooks on relaxation only describe the method of muscular relaxation given above. But many people find their mind so active they cannot achieve this even if their body is still. If we ask people how they actually do achieve relaxation, sometimes it is done very differently to lying still. For instance I have seen people’s mood change from cloudy to very bright when doing the two following things.
(a) Put on music with a good rhythm and for ten or fifteen minutes really abandon your body, allowing it to move in time to the music. Decide not to hold back even if you feel clumsy or foolish. Afterwards sit or lie, covered with a blanket to keep warm, and use the method of letting tension drop from the body, or dwelling in the feelings of pleasure in your body.
(b) With or without music, stand with eyes closed and explore the different sounds you can make with your voice. Try a baby crying sound – being angry – types of laughter – animal noises – anything. Do this for ten minutes, then sit or lie and be aware of the pleasurable feelings in the body and dwell on them.
3) Many people say making love deeply relaxes them. On the other hand, an enormous number of people, during or after the act of love, feel tense, restless, irritable, or have pains somewhere in their body. These variations are due to the different ways we habitually and perhaps unconsciously handle our feelings and energy. Much tension, irritability and depression arising from other areas of our life, such as work and relationships, is also due to such unconscious habits.
Like electricity, our emotions and energy can be used for any number of things. Electricity can destroy us, or warm and light our life. So can our emotions. If we have a habit pattern of feeling tense, anxious or destructive of our own endeavour every tile we do or experience something which doesn’t measure up to our highest ideals, our glandular system pours out destructive substances. One of our habitual reactions is literally destroying our health.
To find deeper personal peace and greater health and satisfaction we need to discover those habits and change them. Fortunately it can be done. Because of recent ability to measure patterns or brain activity, we know many Zen Buddhist monks can quickly enter deep inner peace and quietness. Researchers have found the techniques which lead to this personal peace are really very simple. If we take time to learn them we can release mental and emotional tension just as we do with muscular tension.
With muscular tension we must usually become aware of it before we can release it. So with emotional tension. The simple rules are, when we become aware we are emotionally or mentally irritable, agitated, depressed or anxious (a) do not blame it on someone or something else, the boss, parents, your spouse. work, what you ate, the state of the country. The first step is to take responsibility for our own condition.
(b) the next simple step is allowing ourselves to be aware of our condition more fully. Without blaming anyone else, or intellectually explaining it away, give yourself permission to experience and feel your condition more fully. Most of our habit patterns of energy direction are almost unconscious. All we are aware of are the results, our tenseness, anxiety or emotion. ~t we can work from there. If we are irritable, by allowing our irritability to really be felt and expressed without blaming, the feeling strengthens, then the things behind it emerge. For instance, if we keep moaning at our wife, if instead we stop the blaming and feel the irritability behind the loaning, this will grow -stronger then reveal its source. It might be we sense withdrawal of warmth, and when our mother did that when we were young we hit back at her in some way and still have the habit. We do not have to analyse such situations, the underlying reasons emerge spontaneously as self understanding if we allow ourselves to feel the condition deeply enough. (c) If we can do this with a sympathetic spouse or friend, explaining at each point how we are feeling, what memories or realisations are arising, it helps -enormously. (d) the whole process is summed up in the traditional Zen technique. Whatever thought or feeling arises, we allow ourselves to experience it without censorship or blaming or believing it is the essential us. The feeling or thought intensifies then fades and our inner quietness returns.
4) It is all very well being relaxed while we sit in a chair practising, but what about while we are at work, or driving, with friends, or making love?
We need to walk before we can run.
Begin by learning to relax and feel your feelings out to the point of peace, in easy situations. Once learnt sufficiently well, then begin to use the relaxation while driving, going for an interview or enjoying a night out. It is very beautiful to learn to make love from the quiet peaceful place of the unstressed condition. The movement, the play, the love, all flow out of the quietness.
Try it sometime!