How to Meditate, Article – April 16, 2010
"Stress we can do without. Tension we need. Our muscles have power built into them in this way. They are responsive to the needs of our bodies."
Health and Relaxation
Health and beauty are intricately related. I speak of true beauty—a beauty that radiates out from within. This inner beauty expresses itself naturally in a body unburdened by stress. We find ourselves attracted to those who are relaxed. It is comforting to be around them. There is a special patience and effortlessness present in their being—in their bodies. There is very little anxiety present in them. Can we learn how to be this relaxed?
Most of us have had the opportunity to watch a loved-one sleep and witness the beauty in their face and in their aura. It is one thing to be relaxed while we are sleeping but quite another to be relaxed while going about our day. This is the real question. How can we relax while in the waking state? More than this, do we even know what relaxation is? We may know what causes stress but what exactly causes relaxation?
Our Bodies Use Proper Tension
Can we define relaxation? Oddly enough it is not just the opposite of tension. True relaxation is something more. We cannot achieve it by trying. Trying requires effort which only adds to the tension. To solve the relaxation problem we need to get to the core of what makes it possible. The key to relaxation is effortlessness. After all, this is how it is achieved in sleep. We are not trying to do anything special in our sleep. We are simply sleeping. We are doing nothing.
In sleep the body has taken over and we are resting comfortably. By contrast waking life requires a certain amount of tension. We can do without stress but tension we need. Our muscles have power built into them in this way. They are responsive to the needs of our bodies. They operate without any conscious effort. Our breathing continues and our blood pumps through our systems. Our bodies know how much tension is needed to take care of its necessary operations effortlessly.
A Change in Perspective and Outlook
Let’s take the example of walking across the floor. We all do it. It is universal. Sometimes when we walk across the floor it feels effortless, while other times it takes a great deal of effort. This is a matter of how we feel about where we are going. If we dread where it is we are going then this is going to show up in our bodies as resistance. We are not at all relaxed about it so it will be a great effort.
On the other hand, when we are either excited or not really thinking much about it, then we simply find ourselves at our destination. It is effortless. The real answer to our problem of anxiety and stress can be found at the heart of this difference we have just pointed out. We only need to find a way to enjoy everything that we do. Changing our perspective and our outlook can make the difference. Meditation can help us with both of these.
”We are not doing what we want to do. We are doing something else instead and the body knows this even if we deny it. This is not relaxation.”
We Cause Our Own Stress
The life of the body is virtually effortless. It is our outlook that makes the difference and brings in the stress. It is how we feel about what we do. The unwanted stress builds up due to the contrast between what we do and the fact that we don’t want to do it. We are not being kind to ourselves. We are not exercising our natural freedom. We are doing something else instead and the body knows the difference even if we deny it.
I would venture to guess that there is not one among us who can wave a magic wand and suddenly feel better about those things we feel rotten about. We need to be honest about how we feel. Not only do we need to admit the feelings but we need to express them. So often we are expected to walk around with a big smile on our faces whether this is how we feel or not. Life becomes a performance. Again, if you compare it to sleep—there is no-one to impress there and no performance.
We Can Heal Our Stress
I keep using sleep as an example and yet for some of us it is difficult to even sleep due to the stress in our lives. When I speak of relaxation in sleep I am referring to that sleep we have all known at some point in our lives even if our sleep now is interrupted or poor. It is true that meditation can relieve stress and anxiety, but we must first fully understand both what we are up against and where our support is.
So far we have recognized that it is not our bodies that are the problem. Our bodies may exhibit and hold the stress but our bodies are not the culprit. The stress is all a result of our mental and emotional activity and this can be addressed through meditation. If there are greater health problems that are contributing to the stress then this is a different matter. Even then meditation will likely put one in touch with the deeper problem.
Recovering Nature’s Integrity
I am not suggesting meditation is a cure-all. However there is no question that our bodies want to heal. Our bodies are maintained by nature and nature is fully capable of healing itself. The imbalances can be reversed if the behavior that caused the imbalance in the first place is dropped. I have witnessed this happen many times in my own personal experience. Mother Nature knows very well what works.
Which came first—the chicken or the egg? Many health problems are the result of chronic stress. Over time these subtle energy imbalances or distorted patterns will undermine the integrity of various bodily systems. These systems were built out of the wisdom of Mother Nature. Through meditation we drop the patterns of interference. This allows these natural systems to recover their integrity. We get out of the way so that nature can do its thing.
”This sets us up for dealing wholly with the present moment even though we may be looking at things that remain buried within us echoing the past.”
Energy, Inspiration and Expressing Feelings
We have established that nature knows exactly what to do all by itself. Nature has its own rules and it knows them well. We need only to get out of the way. We know that relaxation is beautiful. We know that it is achievable while sleeping. We want the same depth of relaxation while awake. We know that our resistance plays a large part for how easy it is to do things we like and how difficult it is to do things we don’t. How do we deal with our resistance?
Our goal is to relieve stress and anxiety. Any excess or absence of energy is due to our feelings of resistance. If we are inspired there is energy. If we are uninspired then our energy is either lacking or it is bottled up—expressed as apathy or frustration. Regardless of the feelings, they need to be expressed. The word expressed means let out and released. Our feelings need to be acknowledged and then released—not held in.
Meditating to Release Feelings
This can be done a number of ways. Physical activity is always good. However, meditation can also work for this. If we sit in meditation for a reasonable length of time we begin to get in touch with these feelings very clearly. Once in touch it is important to stay in touch and find a way to release them. Inhaling and exhaling is good but moaning or crying is better. Releasing through tone is more effective than simply releasing through the breath.
Try to find a place that is private enough where you can do this without being embarrassed. Make all the noise you need including screaming if necessary. Feelings are natural and if you are willing to truly get in touch with them they will just come out. It may not be pretty but then this is why we held them in. If you have ever witnessed someone emotionally honest in a very demonstrative way you may recall the beauty in it however distorted their face or body may have become.
Our Power is in Being Present
Our focus in now twofold in that we are both looking at ways to release pent up feelings and also working on ways to deal with circumstances in the present or anticipated future that will likely act as triggers to stress and anxiety. The first will give us a reliable form of release that we can build confidence around while the second will ready us for those areas of our lives that cause such resistance in us. One offers a method for coping with the past and one with the future.
We are dealing with the past and the future and yet our only means to deal with both is in the present moment. This is an important point. Our power is only in the present. We cannot change the past or the future. One is gone and the other is something we cannot know. It is absolute conjecture.
"No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man." —Heraclitus
In sitting meditation one is still and can ideally find a space where external influences are minimized. This sets us up for dealing wholly with the present moment even though we may be looking at things that remain buried within us echoing the past. This practice trains us to be actively aware of tendencies to carry tension. In this way it empowers us towards our second goal. We gain a confidence in dealing with old deposits of energy and consequently do not feel as helpless towards future stress threats.