boat logo

Village Gate

Library Hut


The Discipline of Relaxation
by Serge Kahili King

"Sorry, I can't talk to you now!" "Where's that blasted folder I need for tomorrow's meeting?" "I can't stop thinking about what he/she did to me!" "Good grief! Where did the time go?" Etcera, etcetera...

Many people today are dying or getting physically, emotionally, or mentally sick from being overstressed by work, by problems that they can't or don't know how to deal with, by anger at the past or fear of the future.

Stress is a natural part of life, but only when it is counter-balanced by relaxation. Think of a wave. The rising of the wave is like engaging in activity and the falling of the wave is like relaxing and resting in preparation for new activity. The wave itself exists because of a natural resistance to movement and change - the stress effect - and a natural release of tension to allow more movement and change. In very broad terms it can be compared to the wake/sleep cycle of human beings.

Not all waves are the same, however. Because of a mind-boggling variety of different environmental conditions like wind direction and intensity, temperature differences, earth movement, and others, waves can be smooth, choppy, deep, shallow, crash together, form rogue waves or turn into tsunamis. Likewise, humans enounter a mind-boggling variety of environmental influences that can create the human equivalent of all the varieties of wave patterns.

The most important of all these influences in our human lives comes from our internal environment in the form of the thoughts we think. Going back to our water metaphor, thoughts can be considered as the equivalent of wind, and emotions to the waves. In simple terms, our thoughts are what stimulate our waves of emotion, and our reactions to our emotions are what produce bigger and more dangerous waves, or calm seas.

Fine. We are all pretty much aware of how dangerous excessive stress can be. Strangely enough, though, many people are not aware that excessive stress translates into excessive tension in the body. And even fewer are consciously aware that what you think about and where you place your primary attention are factors that can increase or decrease that tension.

When your mind is racing a mile (1.6 kilometers) a minute, when negative thoughts keep circling around and around, when life's problems seem overwhelming and you feel like either exploding or going into a paralytic coma, then it's a good time to gather all your will-power, determination, desire for healing or a better way to live, and all the useful help you can find to enter THE PRESENT MOMENT.

The Present Moment is a magical place that everyone visits briefly and few ever stay long enough to reap the full benefits. Some try to take up permanent residence there, but they usually end up making their present moment so small that they end up limiting or losing their connections to the larger world. What I'm recommending, then, are extended visits that can range from one consciously focused minute to an hour or more if you can do it.

First, the benefits. When you are fully involved in The Present Moment with your mind focused on what you are seeing, hearing, feeling, and/or doing, your body automatically begins shifting into a relaxation mode. When, by degrees, you can be aware of the pleasure of what you are seeing, hearing, feeling, and/or doing, your body relaxes even more deeply. As that begins to happen, the release of tension allows your body to muster its resources and start healing physical and emotional injuries and the effects of excessive stress. This doesn' always happen instantly, but the more often you stay a while in The Present Moment the more often the healing happens, even without any intentional effort. At the same time as an additional benefit, the whirlwind of negative, conflicting, or confusing thoughts begins to calm down.

Second, the challenges. With physical relaxation and mental calmness there may come awarenesses of sensations and thoughts that you'd rather not be aware of. Sometimes there may be tension reactions in different parts of your body that you didn't notice before, or that make you feel very uncomfortable. Sometimes there may be thoughts of how impossible it is to solve any of your problems. Sometimes it may even seem that givng up is the easiest way out. This is the critical point at which it is entirely up to you to decide to be healed, to succeed, to live... or not. No one else can make this decision for you.

Third, the magic. As your body relaxes and your mind calms down you become more consciously aware of inspirational or intuitive ideas that can give you new points of view or new ways to solve your problems. Sometimes these come as full-blown revelations or plans, but more often they come in quietly over time as a series of useful steps toward positive change or creativity. Another kind of magic often happens as well, in the form of positive changes in the behavior of others in your life, or encounters with new people who can help you in some way.

Fourth, the "how tos." It takes discipline to enter The Present Moment" and stay there for any length of time. This does not mean the use of any kind of forced concentration that causes stress. It does mean having enough desire to make your life better that you are willing to pay attention to something without any thoughts of past, future, or negative stuff that may be going on around you. Some people will not do this, because they are unwilling to experience the initial discomfort of changing a familiar habit, or they are unwilling to give up the payoffs they may get from continuing a life of stress and negativity. Sorry about that. What I'm proposing will only work if you are willing to do it even tnough it might be difficult at first.

So here are a number of techniques for helping you to enter and stay awhile in The Present Moment. All of them are extremely simple, and some will be familiar. It is conscious awareness and intention that makes them so effective.
1. Wherever you are, look at objects close by, listen to sounds around you, and touch a few things within reach. To make it even more interesting for your conscious mind and your body, look at shapes or colors, listen to high and low sounds, and be aware of the texture and temperature of the things you touch. Do this for as long as you can find it interesting.
2. Using a watch or clock with a second hand (or digital readout), count the number of times you breathe naturally in one minute. Then take a moment to pay attention to sight, sound, and touch, and count your natural breaths again. The number will usually be a lot less, indicating a reduction in stress and an increase in relaxation. I just did this while writing this article. My first count was 9 breaths per minute, and after a few seconds of sensory awareness the count was 4. This can be used for a short visit to The Present Moment, or as an introduction to a longer session.
3. Meditate on (pay attention to) something beautiful in your environment. Nature is a natural for this, and walking in nature helps to maintain the focus. Nevertheless, it's possible to find beauty in anything. I once achieved a state of bliss by meditating on the beautiful relationship between two paper cups on a table in a shopping mall.
4. Play a non-competitive game or sport that requires total focus and not a lot of effort. I find that skiing on gentle slopes and kayaking on calm waters works well for me. Actually, any game or sport can work as long as you focus on the pleasure of the playing and not on the winning.
5. Engaging in a handicraft that requires total focus can work very well. Painting, weaving, photography, woodworking, purposeful doodling like Zentangle and many other things that involve mind and body working together are excellent for relieving stress and inducing relaxation. However, be careful of crafts that are so repetitive that the mind can wander out of present moment awareness.

THE PRESENT MOMENT, 99% of the time, is a place of peace and healing. It is an incredibly effective resource available to anyone. You can use it to change your life from despair to hope to joy.

palm isle