Inner  Frontier
Cultivating Spiritual Presence

 

Relaxation

The development of our soul, the strengthening of our being, and our contact with the spiritual worlds depend in part on accumulating and organizing spiritual energies, such as the energy of consciousness. But tensions of all kinds, particularly muscular and emotional tensions, sap our energies, wastefully burning them up. Tensions create the proverbial hole in our bucket, our leaky spiritual vessel. The amount of energy that accrues to us naturally on any given day would suffice to take us very far, if we could stop wasting energy on tensions. To be sure, we have other holes in our bucket, but tensions wreak havoc with our energies. Intentional relaxation, though, can plug these drains. In addition, work with relaxation can go beyond releasing tensions, for example in relaxing the grip of the inner forces that keep us from our true nature. In these ways, relaxation serves as an essential element of balanced spiritual work. How wonderful to let go and drop all our burdens!

Relaxation practice typically begins with the body. The interconnectedness of the body, the psyche, and the emotions, means that relaxing one leads to relaxing the whole. We could begin with relaxing our emotions, but the subtlety and intimacy of emotions makes them harder to perceive objectively and more difficult to relax. With our inner eye of attention, however, we can with relative ease inspect our body, checking its various parts, noticing the tensions in the muscles, and allowing them to subside. We can relax systematically by beginning with the face, the head, the neck, and gradually moving down through the entire body. In this way we can work at thoroughly relaxing the large and small muscles throughout our body. We do not attempt to bring attention to, or relax, our inner organs, so as not to interfere with their instinctive functioning; as we relax all our voluntary muscles, our breath and pulse naturally follow.

Muscular relaxation provides an excellent beginning for a meditation session, preparing the body for a free flow of energies. Sitting quietly at first, letting go of the day’s hurry and flurry, we relax into this moment, as deeply and as thoroughly as possible. We may find chronic tensions in some areas, such as the abdomen, the shoulders, or the face. By relaxing our muscles we conserve the energies that we usually lose to tensions, making them available for our spiritual practice, for improving our attention, for creating a broader, more constant awareness.

Relaxation matters not only during formal periods of practice like meditation, but throughout the day. Most activities require some degree of tension in particular sets of muscles: even the simple acts of standing or walking need certain muscular tensions. Relaxation in activity means relaxing those muscles not required for the action, having the minimum necessary amount of tension where needed, and letting go of fidgeting and unnecessary movements. We refrain from wasting energy. Relaxation is not about lounging around all day doing nothing with our bodies, but rather about not expending energy beyond that required for our chosen life activities, freeing the surplus energy for more important uses in our spiritual inner work.

Beyond the body, we relax our worries and fears, hopes and dreams. We open to deeper levels of relaxation, ultimately relaxing the grip that egoism and self-centeredness exert on our will. We relax our view of ourselves as separate from other people and from the rest of the world, so that egoism gradually loosens its stranglehold on our thoughts, emotions, and actions.

During the day we often find opportunities to relax emotionally. For example, an aggressive driver cuts us off. We react with anger. We could instead consider his state: perhaps a personal emergency, perhaps he has had some bad news and is full of tension, perhaps he is late for an appointment, or perhaps he is habitually inconsiderate. Regardless of what his actual state might be, we prefer not to let the event drag us into the mud. Not that we release others or ourselves from responsibility for actions, but we do seek to relax emotionally in difficult situations, not to be overwhelmed by our reactions. Such opportunities for emotional relaxation abound. To the extent that we are present, we can respond appropriately and with choice to life’s challenges, rather than responding from reactive tension and self-centered views. Of course, it’s easy for me to write this, and perhaps easy for you to read this, but for both of us it may not be so easy to actually put it into practice. Dogged, long-term perseverance remains an absolute necessity in spiritual practice.

Please be clear about the fundamental difference between relaxing and suppressing, between relaxing and adopting an attitude that something is wrong with us. Any rejection of tensions, be they muscular or emotional, creates yet another tension overlaid on the first. So if we consider ourselves to be bad or weak, because, for example, we react with anger while driving or grow fearful when we’ve made a mistake at work, then this attitude of rejecting our own emotionality produces a deeper source of tension in us, a tension in our will.

Instead of rejection, we can base our spiritual work on a radical acceptance of ourselves as we are. This calls for the readiness to see and accept whatever arises in us. Such radical acceptance engenders a remarkable shift, an opening toward allowing all things, including ourselves, to be as they are. We still do not permit ourselves to act on impulses toward some wrong or immoral action that would cause harm to ourselves or others. But we accept that such impulses do arise in us. Similarly, we may continue attempts to right some of the wrongs of the world. But we accept, with clear vision, that the world is as it is, and work from that reality as a starting point. Surprisingly, radical acceptance of ourselves enables a radical acceptance of others as they are, opening our being toward love.

Awakening and relaxation support each other. Awakening does not mean sitting on the edge of the chair with bulging eyes wide open, inwardly tensed to pounce on the next perception, in a nervous vigil not to miss anything. Awakening means open, relaxed awareness, not an inner demand to be awake but rather an inner interest in being awake. Being present is not exhausting. In fact, relaxed presence can stabilize for long periods, energizing us in a sustainable manner, not draining us.

Finally, at perhaps its deepest level, we relax our hold on the known, our insistence on viewing the world in our habitual ways. A glimmer of a deeper way of life begins to open up in us. This requires our perceptions to step beyond our accustomed horizons. Spiritual masters often describe the truth, the reality, the Divine as not far from us, as closer than our own breath, as a medium in which we live and move and have our being. How is this possible if we do not see it? Our habitual ways of thinking, feeling and sensing, our habitual ways of perceiving, built up over a lifetime, believing we know the world - all this blinds us to the Truth. Gradually we relax this iron grip of the known and begin to recognize another way of living.


        

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