by George Pitagorsky
Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.
Relaxing is a secret to success. Whether seeking personal enlightenment or seeking to get better at performing more worldly work, the ability to calmly and coolly address the task at hand without any excess tension is key. When you observe excellent performers whether in business, the arts or sports do they seem tense? No they don't. They are alert and relaxed. They are ready to respond to whatever arises.
Often, people raise the issue that being relaxed takes away the edge that leads to successful performance. They argue that stress raises energy levels and promotes better performance. They equate being relaxed with being inactive, like lying in a hammock somewhere peaceful and quiet, perhaps with a cool drink nearby. To be relaxed does not equate to being a slacker or asleep.
To relax is to relieve tension or strain. It is also to loosen or reduce intensity; to rest.
To relax under stress or pressure is a challenge. It seems that often the act of trying to relax creates more tension. Some experience increased anxiety as they relax, they need distractions that will alleviate the stress that arises when they become quiet.
Relaxing in stressful situations means accepting the fact that stress exists rather than fighting it by trying to relax. This is done by exploring the stress' cause and taking action to relieve it.
Stress may be externally sourced or internally sourced. Externally sourced stress is the kind that comes from physical conditions and pressures to perform, for example the need to pass an exam or to meet a tight deadline. External stress is often a motivator for enhanced performance. But, when it is chronic or not handled skillfully and it is augmented by internal sources, stress diminishes health and performance; people freeze up, they react rather than respond or they tire themselves out so that they cannot perform optimally.
Internally sourced stress is the kind that we create for ourselves. It is self imposed. Self imposed stress is caused by fear, ignorance and wanting things to be different than they can be.
External stress can be controlled to some extent but it cannot be eliminated; it is a fact of life. Self imposed stress can be eliminated. By accepting what cannot be changed and relaxing into the present moment, the root cause of internally sourced or self imposed stress is cut.
So how do we do that? The following approach may help.
Cultivate sensitivity to the arising of stress related feelings. If you let stress build, it becomes increasingly difficult to calm down and relax. So practice mindfulness and become aware of the early signals of stress. Maybe for you they are a tightening of the shoulders or neck, discomfort in the stomach, anger or frustration arising.
When the signs are sensed, the first thing to do is to step back and explore the source of the stress. With the source as a guide, take some action.
Is the source external? For example overwork or too much noise or the annoying way your companion does or says something? If it is, then the traditional methods for relaxation can be applied - take a break, moderate the workload, cut down the noise, do some physical exercise or try a breathing technique, maybe change companions or learn to love their habits.
If upon investigation you see that the stress is caused by your attitude or by wanting things to be different than they can be, for example wishing the work would be over or the deadline wouldn't exist or the noise would just go away, change your attitude. Accept the current situation for what it is.
Now, this idea of accepting is often taken the wrong way. It doesn't mean being totally passive and perpetuating a bad situation without doing anything to change it. It means that you cannot change the past and you cannot change your present condition. You can take action that will influence the next moment and the conditions that follow.
If fear is fueling your stress you can explore the source of your fear and see if you can stop the worrying that is fueling it. If strong aversion to an annoying condition is the cause of your stress you can stop the useless complaining that does nothing more than increase your tension and the tension of the people around you.
As a powerful stress relief strategy you can accept the reality that everything is impermanent, that stress is a fact of life and that you are able to change the way you relate to the things that are happening around you. Then you can begin to eliminate the internal causes and either accept or moderate the external causes and your reactions to them.
Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency. ~Natalie Goldberg, Wild Mind
© 2011 Pitagorsky Consulting