THE THREE SIDES
TO INNER PEACE
REST, RELAXATION AND RELEASE
The easiest thing in the world to do is rest. It is also the hardest. What could be easier than doing little or nothing? But in a world where success and accomplishment are king, resting is almost a sin. There just isn’t the time what with money to be made, house and garden to tend and children to raise. Even our marvelous machines look less like labor saving devices now and more like masters and we the slaves. No. Rest is not an option for most of us. Our minds and conscience forbid it.
Yet without rest we are dead ducks. Sleep is when most of us get some rest but even sleep has been shortened and curtailed in modern life. Light bulbs and round the clock schedules have eaten away at the 8 or 9 hours of sleep we need. For centuries people went to sleep when it got dark and got up at dawn. The one advantage our ancestors could have had over us is that they probably got more sleep. It may be no small advantage. It affords the body and mind a vital down time for healing, renewal and recovery.
Rest implies some stillness of limbs and relaxation of muscles enjoyed over time. It may be for only 20 minutes or an hour (and called meditation). It may be for a day (the Sabbath) or a week (a vacation) or a year (a sabbatical). One religious tradition, as etched into the 10 Commandments, tells us to take a Sabbath day every week and to keep it holy. In a way it is this particular religious practice and observance that just might make the most sense to our modern rational and scientific sensibilities. All the mountains of metaphysics, theology and religious mythology may boil down to this. Learn to rest, practice it and what is spiritually real and valuable will come to you. There is the sense that in the sphere of religion nothing else is as important or even needs to be said. Talk about God and we get confused, but practice rest and we are onto something real and authentic.
We need to relax a little to rest and there’s the rub. We might not know how. Why we have become so tense may be a long story and not one we need to dwell on. The remedy to all this tension may also be a long story but one that does deserve our attention. We are not talking here about the kind of tension that is volitional and potentially useful. We can will volitional tension to occur and it works for us. Another kind of tension is called tone and it is this perpetual level of background tension that may be set too high. Our autonomic nervous system is behind this tension (tone) and conventional wisdom tells us it is beyond our awareness and control. And yet it still may be possible to pull back the veil that cloaks our deeper functions and to get a glimpse of what goes on there.
Besides the 5 senses, (sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch) we know we possess, is another sense we rarely acknowledge. This is the kinesthetic sense and it gives us our deepest awareness of ourselves, an awareness of muscles, organs and joints. Quiet the other senses (and perhaps the conceptual mind too) and the kinesthetic sense will appear. What this sense can allow us to view is how tense and strained we really are. It may not be pretty, it may not be pleasant but this is our condition. We are gripped, trapped in a vice of tension we can’t escape from. But then again perhaps we can.
Almost everyone has some way of relaxing. Take a walk along a country road, pet the dog or listen to music. Better yet soak in a tub of hot water, take a massage or practice some gentle yoga. If and when the kinesthetic sense ever dawns on us, life can take on a whole new turn. How we view and use our bodies will largely change. Where once we exercised our muscles, heart and lungs with forced and mechanical movements, we now give the body a chance to express itself and have what it wants. And what the body needs and wants could be a far cry from those exercises we were taught in school and in the gym.
When the kinesthetic sense acts as our guide we will be much more likely to address those feelings of tension, stiffness, strain and fatigue that become increasingly apparent. We may discover for ourselves where yoga actually came from (the kinesthetic sense). We may be inclined to stretch, move and massage ourselves in a way we were never taught. The kinesthetic sense is a true guide and it is showing us the path out of this trap of tension, pain and fatigue. As this inner sense of ourselves blossoms we may be able to focus our attention on specific areas of tension and strain and then experiment with the ways and means to relieve these conditions. Muscles and joints, that were only pictures in an anatomy book before, start to make their presence felt within our living bodies. We can actually feel the tension there and also those natural impulses to stretch and move in ways that would afford relief. What a relief it is to engage in such practices. This is not mind lording over the body anymore but mind and consciousness in accord with the body.
In this way of feeling and moving there is wisdom and a kind of self-indulgence that just seems right. Yes this is self-indulgence. This is giving ourselves what we want and need in a manner that may not be sanctioned or even understood by the society at large. That society may promote speed, force and control but we now know better. We are learning the wisdom and good sense that comes with relaxation.
Realizing the truth about our condition can be quite a revelation but also a very bitter pill to swallow. Large areas and small are in the grip of tension. The powerful, posture creating hip flexor muscles, the diaphragm (our principal breathing muscle) and the deep neck flexor muscles may all be in varying states of contraction. Shortened and contracted, these muscles will strain the areas they are in and distort our bodies. Feeling clamped, cramped and gripped and in this vice of tension, we view now, more clearly, what an emotionally burdened and suffering soul we really are.
This inner landscape of the body may have a spine that is bent and twisted with soreness and pain evident between many of the vertebrae. Our head feels heavy and hot, too full of a charge of energy and blood. Lungs may be constricted and feel folded up in a way that seriously impairs our breathing. Even our hearts can seem pinched, twisted and out of place. What kind of being is this that can be so cruelly constricted and warped? To one degree or another this is the human being as presently constituted, and it is a being crying out for some release.
Every constriction, kink and distortion we feel can have its day of release. All our efforts are directed to that end and so through a judicious and measured program of stretching, limbering, massage and manipulation we begin to untangle and release. To let go and release is not really accomplished through great effort but through an attitude of surrender. Within our own nature lies the wisdom and inclination towards healing we are seeking; so surrender to that nature and let it have its way with you. It will show you the way, the way to openness and release.
A new being is under construction here, one that is moving beyond perpetual struggle, conflict and strain. There is a freedom to be found, not the absolute freedom that the philosophers endlessly speculate about, but the freedom to be found in a natural ease and flow. Experiencing ease and flow is also the experience of pleasure. This is healthy pleasure that comes to us of its own accord and frequently as our tensions and anxieties melt away. As our hearts open and breathing unfolds our sense of being alone and alienated in a foreign universe gives way to feelings of love and compassion and being right at home with where we are and who we are. Here is a peace and ease and rest that is beyond the understanding of our restless intellects and although alluded to at the beginnings of most religions it is soon forgotten as doctrines and dogmas hold sway.