Lessons in Relaxation Part 1
The Strange World of Relaxation
Today I received a letter from a friend. In it she mentioned a difficulty she faced in the relaxation class she takes. A woman, new to the class, mentioned that during the relaxation she sank into herself in a way which frightened her. In the class held the following week, the woman began to breathe in a very ragged and heavy manner, and her arm was shaking strongly. She seemed to have turned within herself in a manner somewhat frightening to my friend, especially as the woman’s hand was cold and clammy. “What, ” my friend asks, “is wrong with the woman?”
Having seen this happen to people over and over again, I can speak with some experience in answer to that question. And the answer is quite simple -Nothing at all is wrong with the woman.
Relaxation, or any technique which quietens and looses the hold of the conscious mind and will, can be the trigger for such phenomena. And if it occurs to somebody intellectually, emotionally or morally unprepared, it can be a great shock and very frightening. I have seen one woman, in great distress, get up and walk out of a class half way through because, as she put it, “I felt as if I were being swallowed up by something I couldn’t resist. I had to fight my way out of it.”
Sometimes such phenomena are puzzling rather than frightening. Constance Newland, in ‘Myself and I’, tells of her own discoveries during a course in relaxation. Having discovered a tension in her throat, she fought long and hard to release it. Eventually she felt the tension dissolve, and says, “As it did, I heard a most strange ‘clicking’ or ‘ticking’ sound coming out of my neck and throat. This was not an imagined clicking or ticking. It was a real sound, loud enough to disturb the other students in the class who asked me to stop making that noise. But I could not. It was being produced quite independently of my will. After a few minutes, the ticking stopped – again, independently.”
Ticking is certainly an unusual one and I have never come across it myself. But the spontaneous results of relaxation are extremely varied, and they are not limited to a few ‘unusual’ people. Testing quite a large number of people I have not come across anyone who could not be similarly influenced if they let themselves go. Some of the results have been that the person involved suddenly began to cry. This is the most common of results. Others burst out laughing; some begin to sing; a large number start trembling or experience unusual body movements; when very free, the person often dances, or moves into a symbolic drama expressed through body movements. Another common experience is spontaneous and meaningful fantasies, often very vivid. Some people call these visions, which perhaps describes them better, for they seem to come from some more expansive part of self, and act as a means of teaching or realising deeply hidden parts of ourself. in other cases, a song or a part of a poem comes to mind. Here, the words are a means of communicating to our consciousness, a message or assurance from within ourselves. But at the beginning of deep relaxation, many people experience the already mentioned feeling of dropping into a darkness,
I have said that everybody I have met could experience these things, yet very few do. For most people, successful relaxation is a feeling of sinking into peace. a sense of floating, a loss of body sensation, and a stillness of thought. They have a sense of just ‘being’. Nevertheless, it appears from experiments made by numerous researches, that this state is not a sign of deep relaxation in its total sense, but rather a splitting off of one’s awareness from our own inner situation.
Let me put it this way: a man who is upset by quarrelling with his wife, and who finds he cannot relate closely to his children and thus is irritated by them, may find an inner quiet by parting from his family. He has found a greater quiet, but only as long as he is away from his wife and children. Another way of finding peace is to face his family in a problem solving attitude, and look for the inner and outer causes for his disquiet. This is much more difficult, but if he is successful his inner peace cannot be shaken by the things he previously disliked – namely, family life. In fact, his family will now become a joy.
What I am saying is that one form of relaxation is often a means of splitting off from our own fears, dislikes and difficulties. It is useful, for it gives us a few minutes’ peace and perhaps some quietness of soul we can bring back into our confrontation with life. it does not usually solve deep-seated problems though. It may give them a much more positive outlook for a while, because often they believe they have found the ‘peace which passeth understanding’. Unfortunately life circumstances eventually prove that, if they are honest, many of the old frustrations, the old turmoils and inability to relate deeply, are still there under the veneer. The real kingdom of heaven costs a lot more than a few minutes quiet relaxation or meditation daily. In fact it is the pearl of which we have to sell all to acquire.
But getting back to the experience mentioned – what causes them? And why is it many of us never experience them?
Well, taking the last first, it is because what most people call relaxation is actually very active inhibition. What we are in fact doing when we relax our body and mind is to make an agreement with ourselves. We say, usually quite unconsciously – ‘I am willing to let my muscles become fairly limp, and my thoughts become less active.’
It is easy enough to see this is what we arc saying to ourselves because having watched hundreds of people relax, it is noticeable that every time someone begins to cry, more spontaneously, or have unusual mental images, they quickly inhibit such things. Anxiety, fear, misunderstanding, feelings of appearing ridiculous in front of others, all take part in blocking the spontaneous emergence of these. If these inhibiting influences are dropped, then real relaxation begins. For real relaxation is when we let go of ourselves totally, not inhibiting thoughts, emotions, body sensations, body movements, crying, laughing, or even non activity – for many of us are more afraid of goalessness than anything else. Unfortunately, such total relaxation is usually impossible without the help of someone else, as most of our blockages against it, and tensions inhibiting it, are unconscious. We therefore often need someone else with experience to point them out to us, help us release them and face our inner contents.
As for what causes the experiences, it is the same thing which causes us to breath, or move, or be aware – Life and its processes.
Imagine Life as a huge ocean of conscious and blissful energy. This Life energy realises itself as an individual by experiencing the limiting influence of our body and its senses. The body is a restricting, limiting influence which so dims the oceanic awareness of Life that it can be conscious usually, while in the body, only of time and place. We as an individual arise out of this dimming down. And if we like to think of Life having a purpose, then it was to give rise to us that Life died to its heavenly consciousness to be born into the limitations of matter. This does not make our body an evil thing, but shows it as a necessary instrument in giving us self awareness – for without limitation we would be lost in the ocean. But to give us individual life, this great energy flows through us like a torrent. If it flows freely its innate qualities of well being, its deep connection with other living beings, love, inner understanding of why we are here, and natural creativeness, express easily. Love, laughter, creative work and play, inquisitive search for further wisdom, are all expressions of the Life Force. A love of the Life which upholds us is also a spontaneous outflow of healthy existence. Unfortunately a number of factors can disturb or interfere with the flow of Life through us, and this disturbance or block is experienced as illness, a feeling of loneliness or meaningless, depressions, lack of love or creativity, brutality, destructive aggressiveness, and so on.
Dr. Heyer, in his book Organism of the Mind gives an excellent example. A young scientist came to him for psychiatric treatment due to the onset of neurotic behaviour. As soon as the young man lay on the couch, he began loudly to sing a hymn. It was quickly discovered he had strong religious feelings which had been blocked due to his scientific beliefs. The flow of Life through him, which in his case wished to express as thanksgiving and praise, had been denied, causing illness.
One person I watched during such complete relaxation went through what appeared to be movements of giving birth. She afterwards told me she had re-lived a part of her life she had forgotten for years. At that time she had an abortion, and during the relaxation it was as if Life spoke to her and said, “By doing that you hurt me’. But there seemed to be no condemnation in Life’s comment, merely a statement of fact, and the realisation that through the abortion Life had been cut off, unable to fulfil itself. The birth movements were a completion of this activity Life had begun in her those many years ago. One is reminded of Christ’s wonderful words – I come not to condemn, but to redeem.
In my own experience of such relaxation I relived being a child of six, crying for my mother who, I felt, had deserted me in a god forsaken hospital where I had just had my tonsils removed. During this very emotional experience, I also felt Life was telling me things, and showing me how much of my adult loneliness and feelings of being unloved and incapable of warm love, were due to this childhood event.
Education, social influence, our culture, as in the case of the young scientist, often smother our innate outflow of life rather than, as the words imply, “culture it,” “social it,” or educate us about ourselves. And we overlook the fact that Life in us has innate needs, qualities and directions. Like the woman mentioned, our acts may literally wound Life in us because we take no heed of it. And of course, as Life is our very substance, to wound Life is to wound ourselves, causing mental or physical illness or disquiet. But we must not forget that Life is infinite, and so people may have an infinite number of relationships with it. There can be no hard and fast rules how we must relate. Our only real guide is Life itself as it speaks within us. For what is wrong for one may be necessary for another.
Or perhaps life events and misunderstandings have left such scar tissue on our soul. Life can no longer flow easily through and a shadow fails in our life where the Light cannot pass. For most of us, incidents in childhood, at birth, in the womb, or even in past lives, may have given rise to such scar tissue. And depression, or even serious mental illness, is due to the absence of this life-flow.
If some of this seems improbable I assure you I am not theorising, but merely trying to explain, perhaps inadequately, things I have seen when people relax to Life’s influence. Neither must it be thought this is anything new, or belonging to any one therapist. Mesmer was using it over two hundred years ago, and there have been numberless people since, and before, who were acquainted with it. Thousands of people have been experiencing it in Subud, a world wide fraternity, for the past twenty years. Reich and now Janov also used or use it, in a more circumscribed form. And Jung, the great Swiss psychiatrist, long ago in his commentary on the book Secret of The Golden Flower, told how some patients helped him to discover the key to his own inner adventure. The secret is, he says, to do nothing, but to let things happen without interfering. He suggests allowing a fantasy to develop, or to let the hands move spontaneously, and thus allow conscious and unconscious to communicate.
Jung often has a wonderful way of explaining things, and says that many of life’s problems are in fact insoluble. But a number of his patients, in doing nothing, but letting things happen, found they grew beyond the problem. When we look at our everyday life, this has happened throughout. As a baby we could not help but wet ourselves. At that age it was an insoluble problem. But Life, acting in and through us grew us to a new level of experience where the difficulty disappeared. The same thing happens with our dependence upon parents, inability to care for ourselves, adolescent sexuality, and so on. If something happens to injure the growth process of our personality, however, then we may become stuck at that level, being forever tied emotionally to our parents; still bed wetting or still experiencing the homosexual drives of an infant.
Relaxation, in opening us up to life’s action, also bares these past injuries, and we become healed of them. The emotional or internal knots, the injuries or shocks caused to our Life flow, are untied. This frees these areas of us to go on growing. In this way we can grow beyond bed wetting, the homosexuality, the aggressiveness of youth, the loneliness or fear. From such new levels of awareness and capability we can become a new person.
This is also the clue to exactly why physical movements, mental or emotional outburst occur in this process. Life, in expression, is always movement. Work, sex, self expression, eating, digesting, breathing, laughing, defecating, loving or hating, all express as movement. If we love someone, our arms may spontaneously reach out to them and embrace them to us. If we are angry our breathing changes, our fists clench, face changes and perhaps we spontaneously strike Out or kick. Creativity involves skilful and often pleasurable movements of our body. Childbirth is a very active thing. Although we often intellectually plan these things, underneath is a great river of Life flowing out through us into these expressive movements. Love, work and play – song, dance and worship, have been with us much longer than mankind has had a conscious intellect to coldly plan with. In animals this particularly noticeable. When a bird builds a nest, or moves in a mating dance; when otters play, or beavers build their dams or termites their mounds, it is life expressing its wonderful flow of creative, loving movement.
If such movements are blocked in as through shock, pain, social scorn or education, they cause tension. Muscular tension is a blocked movement. When the tension is released, the person begins to move, if they allow it. In this way, and I have watched it happen, people burst into spontaneous song, or begin to dance, as Life itself sings and dances through them. This is really the release of tension; this is relaxation. And perhaps, with this in mind we can understand why abortion sounded the inner self of the woman mentioned. The blocked process had caused tension. When the tension was released, movement fulfilled itself. the same is true of our physical processes. When we eat something poisonous, our body attempts to vomit it out. In blocking this ‘movement’, we block the healing process. So too, in blocking the ‘vomiting’ of spontaneous emotions and movements, we block Life’s attempts to heal our psyche.
Society is just like an individual. At present, as a society, we are beset by many problems, which, as Jung says, are insoluble. Stronger police forces and more rigid laws do not solve theft and lawlessness. In fact the more we try to solve such problems by too rigid an outer discipline such as police rule or martial law – or too rigid an inner discipline, such as enforced morals, the more decay occurs in the very measures used. The police themselves become brutal and criminal -or priesthood becomes corrupt and murderous. History is full of examples.
To solve the problems facing us -problems of population increase, national aggressiveness, pollution, loss of social integration, sexual promiscuity and perversion, drug dependence and general meaninglessness – it seems pointless to approach them with our old fears, our old brutal suggestions of enforced social regulation. Many times before our race has faced such climaxes in development, just as we do in growing from babyhood to youth, youth to adolescence, adolescence to maturity, and maturity as it faces death. We do not solve such dilemmas as how to cope with leaving our mother and going to school by force. We face it by growing. With courage we reach out into the Unknown and with a leap find a new level of existence. So came fire to man, and the wheel-group action, farming, ocean transport and growth into nations instead of tribes.
Now we have to grow from nations into a world – from being ruled into greater self integrity. We must have the courage to face ourselves and cleanse out the fears, angers, greed and insecurity which possess us and lead us into war, political murder, national or individual isolationism, and infantile adaptation to life. In fact, we must let Life, in cleansing and healing us, rise to a new level of expression which will transform our sexual relations – our social creativity -and integrate our past injuries as people or nations, and lead to a fraternity of nations.
Can we do this? It is not a case of whether we can – we must – or be victims of our past, as some men are victims of childhood fears. It will no doubt take a long time. It will be difficult. But, we can do it!