The Yoga of Relaxation

We live in a pretty tightly wound society. Expectations and drive and doing our best and giving up and some serious societal issues, nuclear threats and pending environmental collapse. The pressure is on. And it’s taking its toll.

Counterbalancing the stress and the tension is relaxation. Relaxation is an ever-deepening well that processes and eliminates tons of the physical and mental clutter we collect throughout the day. It unplugs us, if just for a moment, and lets us return with fresh eyes. It restores our clarity, our health, our ease with the world. It doesn’t deny or avoid the stresses, it processes and releases them. Sign me up.

I remember the first time I stood in tree pose in line at the bank (a long time ago, when people went to banks). I was so thrilled to have yoga penetrating my life and day, moving past class and an often cursory home practice. It invigorated all of the aspects of the practice (formal, casual, incidental) for years. That experience is similar but pales in comparison to integrating relaxing into my life and day. It’s especially important for me because I am conscious of the fact that if i am not actively relaxing, I am actively contracting. If I want to experience freedom, I have to invoke it, it’s not my standard state. It may have been at one point, but myself and society trained me out of it. Maybe one day it will be effortless, but for now it is choice by decision by choice.

And the best part? Every time I make the choice, I feel the win. Every time I check in with the feeling state of my body and relax on the exhale, and offer expansion on the inhale and deeper relaxation on the exhale – every time I do it I feel the satisfaction of doing something life=positive for my body. as I do it more and more, it seeps into each relationship, because I am relaxing as I am relating, opening more to listening than trying to impose my view of the world on the situation. the more i listen to others, the more intimacy i feel and the feeling of being present to someone recognizes the gift of their sharing. It’s a virtuous circle.

Focusing my time and attention on being present in the body and to the emotions and actively relaxing hasn’t solved all my problems, but it makes my life extraordinarily richer and makes me feel i’m moving in the right direction. I feel that relaxation is surrendering to love, letting love carry us and all we encounter. Trust in Life Itself to handle itself in our lives as expertly as it unfolds in perfect balance throughout all of creation. and a willingness not to need to author it all.

Acknowledging relaxation as what it is: accepting ourselves in our humanity in this moment, and making that our yoga – our path of union – – – it literally is the path of union, with ourselves and our right-now life, the only place we can express ourselves as we truly are. Touching in with timelessness. Being open to life itself. Feeling at least some sense of safety.

the most exciting thing ever

I’m pretty excited about Unitive Justice.  A dear one took the workshop in CO a few weeks ago, and Sylvia Clute, who is a genius, offered the extraordinary document accompanying the workshop for sharing. So Sher sent it to me and I am totally in love. It offers a framework of lovingkindness applied to all of life — this is one of the stickiest things about it IMHOatm, it’s wildly elastic. It applies from everything from how we treat ourselves in the micro to every level of relationship in the macro, interpersonal, community, international – all of it. Same principles up and down the scale. Same intent, same responsibility, same possibility, same willingness, same openness. Fan-freaking-tastic.

That a paradigm operating from wholeness is possible and functional is the most exciting thing in the world to me. I’ve grown up in a world where certain things we’re just stuck with. This system says ‘bullocks to that.’ Gently. Peacefully.

Another freaking amazing, most-exciting-thing-ever aspect of this paradigm is it doesn’t require modification of the old paradigm. It both replaces and augments without needing to fight about it, change things, feel powerless.

It is ultimate power. The power is squarely in our choice in being open to what is before us or turning away from what is before us. It’s as essential as that. As tiny as this decision and as huge as changing the world.  That’s the medicine i’ve been looking for. That’s the dance. This is entirely doable, choice by choice.

Tie in Caroline Casey’s compassionate trickster and we have the recipe to change the world and have authentic connection and genuine fun doing it. Provocative. Gentle. Intelligent. Curious.

This is gonna be fun…

remembering is key

Of all the traits I’d like to fall out of my personality, wanting to be universally approved of is at the top of the list. Also, taking everyone’s opinion as holding truth. Man, these are a couple of really destructive frameworks to try to work within.

Yesterday, I had a woman … hmmm, how to put this; more than imply but less than state… that the tension in my body is caused by unexpressed emotion.

Have you met me?

If you have, you’ll know that I don’t let much go by. I talk about everything. I bring up the uncomfortable feeling and insist we all at least acknowledge it. Constantly. My poor husband (he never needs to wonder about my internal space, though!).

But because I insist on not ignoring anything, I spent the whole damned day trying to figure out what has gotten past me, what I’m avoiding, what lies unexpressed.

This morning, Sounds True released a podcast about ancestral trauma and I just about fell off my chair.

Funny thing is, I had a Bodytalk session last monday wherein she uncovered a pathology around foundations. So, that has been gently unfolding – and as I learned when I had a Bodytalk session just before my hip surgery wherein she uncovered a pathological consciousness around “support” this can be a really powerful paradigm shift physically, emotionally and relationally.

So, I called Tucker and told him, “I don’t think it’s mine! I think it’s ancestral!”

Funny thing number two: Within a half an hour he got an email that we might be able to shift our citizenship appointment up to as early as September (our appointment currently sits in April 2022). Go figure.

This makes me reevaluate my self-brutality yesterday trying to inspect every corner of my being. That’s just not nice. However, it did prime me especially marvelously for the ancestral piece (this is not a new concept to me – i read my first bio-genetics book more than a decade ago – it’s simply another layer to address). I find this pattern repeating itself often – deep frustration, engaged directly, leads to revelation or breakthrough.

Last night, before I went to bed, still reeling and wondering what I might be repressing I sat to do a bodyfulness practice. My body was unphased by my mental meanderings. It was peaceful. It was whole. I could feel the energy of life pulsing gently. I reaffirmed that I have one objective: to grow, to evolve, to let life itself move through me at its own pace, with its own intelligence to best be in the flow of life itself and service to all of life, with my full cooperation.

ups and downs

Last time I wrote, I had been struggling with headaches and a few days later, I found out why… After my hip surgery, I ditched most of my medicines, but kept a few of the severe pain meds in case something unexpected happened (a fall, etc.). Silly me, I put them in a small container in which I’d received some THCa pills, which is very effective for arthritis. Anyhow, I found the container and thought, “wow! I forgot I had THCa” and took one. Felt great that day, but the ensuing headache came in and out for a week and I’m still rebuilding my gut flora. Very disappointed in myself for such a rookie mistake, careless, stupid. Hopefully: lesson learned. Certainly: lesson experienced.

The last 2 weeks have been full of ups and downs. For the most part I’ve weathered them better than at any other point in my adulthood, mostly, I believe, due to the bodyfulness practice. Remembering to breathe. Remembering to feel, and to be OK with what surfaces. Remembering that my focus in this life is presence and authenticity and love. Desires for money and impact and approval give way to remembering that abundance isn’t surplus, it’s having what you need when you need it. The mental back and forth had more volleying than I’ve had in a while (birthdays may do that to you), but in the end I could be more present to darn near everything being god’s way of playing “can you see me now?” But the internal struggle can ramp up with the strangest prompts. And, much of what my mind presents me with is pretty valid. Perhaps my life has as much peace as it does because I play it safe. Perhaps my flaws are so great I stay in a small circle of acceptability. Perhaps my individual brokenness is what keeps my delightful potential from expression in any practical ways. Any of it, all of it may be true. And while it can derail my day for a few minutes, or cast over it like a fog for a day or more, it’s not my business. Sitting in a bodyfulness practice may feel better, but sometimes it doesn’t – it feels like a lie. Ah, well. Sometimes days are like that.

What I love most, what gives me reliable relief is this idea that my job (our job) is to just be here – to be on earth at this time holding the vibration we were born with (amplifying it if we can, maybe, raising it if we can, but not necessary) and being here. Trusting that nature does its work all across the universe with remarkable precision, and I am part of that precision whether it feels like it or not.  This takes all the pressure off. This lets me approach my life, my day, my interactions with a freedom and curiosity that says, “I’ll bring the best I’ve got right now to this, but there’s not fear of failure because Life Itself is moving through me and that is most definitely enough (whether I am or not).”

That’s all I’ve got some days, and remarkably, that’s enough.

 

having the headache shifted the practice

I’m far from enlightened, but i’m more and more content and interested and happy. This is the trend of the practice and why i am so excited to share it. i don’t share it as a spiritual practice (with a goal of enlightenment) but as a physiofocus practice (with a goal of peace of mind throughout the day). maybe they’re the same thing, but I don’t know.

realizing how deeply entrenched in spinning stories about my successes and failures as a person in the world because of the comments of a few well-intentioned people – it was familiar. i fell into it and automatically engaged support structures to keep the stories active, the fears prominent, the strategy elusive and my mind consumed.

the headache didn’t help.

or so i thought. maybe the headache had me do more bodyfulness practices which helped me notice this mental spiralling. This “fully and completely outside of the present moment” mind path, and then when i would try to tap into the present moment, i got a lot of, ‘the present moment sucks, even if only because it is trapped here between this traumatic past and “elusive, and even then still probably not going to work” future. Yes, I’ll concede: that’s a terrible place to be.

Instead, let’s pop over here, where life is flowing through us regardless of how we perceive it, and to feel that for a moment (dropping out of perception – and maybe when we come back to it, we enjoy renewed appreciation for life itself caring enough about us to keep us breathing. Those stories – all of them – can be seen for what they are: nothing. and right here, in this breath, I can claim my alignment to the present moment and drop all of the identities and defenses and prognosticating.

Thankfully, this space is becoming familiar, too. And now I can engage my supports to reenforce this way of being in the world and relating to it. Huge shift. Thank heaven.

noticing, noticing and more noticing

I really did not enjoy everything I noticed this weekend. I’m also incredibly grateful for it and struggling just a bit to keep from ‘just wanting it to be over.’ Right? Noticing what comes up without judging it, wanting to change it… you can see how i’m doing on that today. But, these things come up. and throughout this headachey, emotionally draining couple of days, I just keep trying to say “yes, yes, yes” and “release resistance.” over and over again. A few times it has lulled me into a nap (thank heaven!)

OK, so, yes, I’ve been struggling. I’ve been trying to learn from it and make the best of it, and know it’s productive and be williing to let it transform me, but it has still sucked. And I think I just figured out why.

For the most part, I have to accept that talking about God, philosophy, human potential, evolution and the cosmos is all I really truly enjoy doing, and that’s been true since I was very young. Illness pointed me to both nature and stillness, both tremendous enrichments.  When I started doing Bodyfulness calls 4 months ago, I did it because that’s how I want to spend my days: I want to spend my days focused on what is true, what is possible, and how to relax into it.

During a consultation on Surrender as a Spiritual Practice, a woman asked, “but what about your personal agenda?” and for the first time I realized, Surrender may just be the relinquishment of the personal agenda, in favor of being wholly open and receptive to the cosmic agenda flowing through you and everything else. This has to be preceded by a huge curiosity about life itself and what It is up to, and the potential that this broader picture is more interesting than whatever little picture it is I am trying to create.

Late in the week, I had an encounter that left me angry and dejected. Actually two in a row. I’m not one to shy away from negative emotions if they come up, and I tried every technique I know to try to move it through me. Ritual, they say, is how the universe knows we’re serious, so along with lots of body practices, a few prayers, meditation, tears, (back to bodyfulness), overwhelm (back to bodyfulness), it finally occurred to me: all of this upset? It’s about the personal agenda. I’m feeling defensive about it, inadequate, scared, marginalized – all kinds of things. Every depressing thought and self-negating statement came out to play, and as usual, I tried to entertain them all (thanks for the idea, Rumi, but this shit is hard) and finally I realized: I don’t want to fulfill my personal agenda. I don’t care about my personal agenda at all. It’s like holding on to the junk in the garage. I don’t need it, I don’t want it. So why do I let it stay?

My agenda is to allow life itself to flow through me as purely and freely as possible. I believe that having that agenda by necessity includes things like being an interested and engaged parent, a responsive and nurturing wife, a decent human, a fair friend. It may sometimes also move through me as a bold fury. That’s up to Life. But I am here and infinitely curious about what life has got up its sleeve and ready to play. willing to play. willing to show up. and to listen. and to do what wells up within me to do. in response to life itself in and all around me, and motivated by the song that wants to be sung through me. i don’t even know the tune. i think i have a sense of the melody, but i may be very wrong, and the only way i can find out is to keep playing.

As I’ve been experimenting with this priority, I’ve gotten progressively more relaxed and more engaged. As soon as I hold this up to a personal agenda wherein i may succeed or fail, make illinformed choices and not be appealing? Sure, it’s a huge fail. OK. Fail away. That’s not the game I’m playing. I can fail in a game i am not playing, easy. No repercussions. Unless I convince myself I AM playing the game, and not doing very well. Then it’s torture.

Well, gosh. That’s silly.

It’s also understandable.

Remembering my priority shifts me back. And when I fall away again, into all that fear and shame? I’ll come back. I know that oscillation is the nature of life, and I know that returning our attention to the object of meditation IS the work. I am here. and I am free. and I remember.

practice, practice, practice

Walking my dog this morning, I had to drop my shoulders about a dozen times. In maybe a 20 minute walk. and tree pose while she does her business. Being present not only to my body, but to the habits I acquired over a lifetime that I now have the privilege of making conscious and making new choices.

It’s so remedial. And it is so powerful.

I thought waking up would consist of meeting a spiritual teacher and community that wouldn’t have the trials and tribulations of “regular life.” I’ve never joined such a community, or met a teacher that made me want to pick up and follow.

The truth is, for me, waking up (or becoming alive and present to life in the moment) seems to consist of noticing my own body. my spiritual teacher is within me (as yours is within you) and the community seems to be shaping up to be all of the me’s in there that I’ve shunned or repressed and that by releasing resistence to that which I constantly resisted before, i can integrate, I become whole – and I experience that wholeness through the feeling state of my body.

I know I talk about this stuff ad nauseum, and I should really do less stream of consciousness writing and more editing, but exploring this is the most interesting thing in the world to me. The idea that my efforts in life were to turn me into the best me i could be (which included wiping out all of my extremely annoying ways of being) has given way to my openness to all of me, even the parts I am ashamed of (for example: I get some Kali energy from time to time and I am relentless and unapologetic. I tried for years to shut that part of me down and it would spring back forcefully. Now, I accept it. I (am doing my best to) stop resisting it.  So, now, instead of trying to become someone better, I am trying to be gentle and present to the me that I am. She’s going to evolve naturally, because that is what life does. She’s going to evolve most gloriously from a foundation of wholeness, I can feel that right down to my toes. The 30 or so years of trying to get her to evolve into something i wanted left me frustrated and disappointed in myself.

That’s another interesting piece, I think… my own flawed views on what would be best. and ever-strategizing “better.” I’m less and less interested in what I think might be better. I’m really curious about “now.” I’m leaving the authorship to life itself, as it flows through this body it created, and I’m finally more interested in that unfolding than in the creation of a life whose basic specs were scribbled on a napkin I carried around through my teens and twenties, incorporating everyone’s opinion of me and culture’s dictates. Yeah. That napkin is not the map I want anymore. I want the most luxurious unfolding of my own DNA (I have a theory that our DNA has a spectrum of possible unfoldment, depending on the constriction of the body. Basic, no-frills unfolding for the stressed cells. Broader, richer unfolding of a wider variety of traits for the relaxed, expansive cells. No evidence at all here (although some may exist), but it feels right for me.

my body gets more communicative the more i do it

and not just in my awareness of my physical sensations, in the habits and situations I become aware of (such as a few weeks ago, not standing square to the sink; months ago putting hands down at red lights; last year, relearning how to stand and walk from my center – instead of  trying to be three feet in front of myself, always in the next thing

I carry a ridiculous amount of tension in my body for no reason at all. it’s self inflicted, deeply habitual and of absolutely no benefit. Some time ago, I realized my shoulders were often up around my ears. I’ve never inhabited my body fully, even at the height of my yoga practice. it was all in the service of something else, something elusive, and i kept myself always three feet in front of myself looking for the answers, trying to get there quicker. Now, going into the body being my primary practice, spiritual and simply practical, I want to be right here, right now. and my body is the obvious access point. Relaxing as my primary form of prayer and meditation – a physical experience that when added with open noticing and not needing to change, forms this trifecta of gorgeousness that lets life open up to in all her gentleness and glory.

Walking through the grocery store today, I felt the sensation of trying to be in the next aisle, trying to move through the store. Thankfully, I noticed. I became conscious of the choice I didn’t know i was making, the program i run about grocery stores. Noticing brings choice and when the default choice is “relax” things start to shift. and then it feels good so you want to do it more: more noticing, more relaxing –  our bodies can surf in this symbiotic amalgamation of energy and matter on this planet, at this moment. We’re here. We’re here, we’re here, we’re here, we’re here, we’re here. It’s bigger than any one of us, and yet we are all essential in mind-boggling ways we could never understand – but we can live.

Relaxing makes my experience an entirely different one than that physical tension-filled embodyment I do by habit. things go from ‘having to be somewhere’ (which was always) and to “here. relaxed and moving through time and space from my center and my love.”

I used to (regularly) turn the oil on in the pan before I peeled the onion. No reason. (i mean, to heat up the oil a bit, but I also risked burning it if everything didn’t go according to plan). I put undue pressure on myself to spur myself on. Now, I explicitly do the opposite. I undo the pressure. i drop my shoulders (i learned to try to start doing 10 years ago), square my hips (this is new in these couple of weeks), drop my sacrum and breathe at the dantien (new through tai chi a year or two ago), notice, relax, not need to interpret, be and relax for a minute; then, boom, back into life. chop that onion. and usually, before I finish chopping that single onion, I again will notice somehow my shoulders developed some stress and I get to relax them again, while chopping, relearning to chop at 50 years old.

Now, from this fresh place that knows it can jump in the pool really soon (because I’ll have another cue that will prompt me to take a bodyful breath within the next half hour at the most). The habits are identifying themselves and moving towards release as I notice and release resistence to the feeling state.

So my direction feels good. relaxing feels good, getting out of whatever i was thinking for a second feels good (I’ll get back to it in a minute, but for this moment, the body gets the keys), coming into the present moment is rife with gift (if just for the reprieve from the past and future for a breath or two). Life is made up of one breath at a time. Some moments are painful. I’m learning to say yes, yes, yes. i know as i release my resistence to the pain it will run its course in the shortest order possible – resistence is what causes suffering. pain’s no big deal, though sometimes it sucks – both emotional and physical. Coming to accept the wholeness of the Tao within us, that which we’re so pleased to be privileged to live and also to those traits and qualities that seem to have been programmed from a million different factors that cause shame. (that’s true too. or is it?) I think the body processes shame much more efficiently than the mind (which will always have another thought about it). Emotions work in short bursts – 90 seconds even. let them have their moment, grounded in the present moment, then relax in your dantien til you feel grounded, then go on with your day. you’ve just given yourself the best shot at a good ‘from here on out.’ Every time we make a choice like this, we are rolling out the carpet for the future – it is mind boggling to think that each choice we make is creating our future. are we choosing love or fear? I personally am experiencing that question as love=relaxing, fear=constricting, and I am training myself to relax more and more…

the platinum rule

We all know the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” But, honestly, I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves. I believe the opportunity starts with the way we treat ourselves, because as we get that sorted out, the Golden Rule is easy peasy. But, until then, it’s just aspirational.

May I suggest a Platinum Rule? I don’t have it sorted out but it’s something like: “treat yourself the way you would like to be treated” or “live the paradox of tender kindness and firm encouragement” or “stop beating up on yourself” or “don’t talk to yourself the way you wouldn’t talk to your best friend” — you get my point…

I notice a crisis, and it’s cross-generational and multi-cultural (certainly in the west. I’ve heard rumor that there are cultures without this self-flagellation, but I don’t have much experience). My observations indicate key factors include comparison, expectation, disappointment and a corruption of hope. It’s actually quite sweet – I believe it comes from our exceptional ability to project and imagine. But, then it often gets wrapped in desire and entitlement, which leads to impatience and futilism.

I postulate that in generations past, life in the moment was so prevalent that our ability to transcend it from time to time augmented our ability to endure. People had tough lives and survival wasn’t guaranteed. Imagining a better future buoyed the spirits to contend with the day.

But in a world with amazon prime, some of us may have developed ridiculous expectations about the speed (and the source) of change. And then we get so caught up on “if i was any good at this magical thinking, all my problems would be solved by now” and then get so fixated on the wanting and the lack we often shut the door on the natural unfolding of perhaps more than what we’d hoped for. It’s a hugely defeatest lifestyle and emotionally excruciating way to spend our moments.

I use *everything* as a reason to beat myself up. I use the present tense because even though Bodyfulness reliably removes that pattern from my day, it does so only when I employ it. I still find myself sliding down those old familiar slopes. Thankfully, I’ve developed that sensation into a cue that has me drop into my feeling state and welcome whatever I am feeling as a passing sensation in a context of wholeness. But those interim moments are excruciating. and I used to do it all the time. Even thinking about it, a sadness descends and my appreciation for these practices skyrockets.

my deepest heart’s desire

My deepest heart’s desire is to live in the world God created (a huge distinction from the world I interpret).

Recognizing all of creation (for all of its mystery) as Life Itself Expressing, and therefore receiving the people, things and events that occur with curiosity, because it’s source itself expressing – everything. and everyone.

In the world I interpret, I have a way I’d like things to go.

In the world God created? I’m just really interested in the creation. It’s fascinating. And massive. All the way down to infintesimally small..  With all of these systems and symbiosis’ this gorgeous fractal….

That deserves my attention. That is scientifically more true about me than any story i tell myself.

Often my attention goes to how I think the world should behave.

Bodyfulness has me stopping and noticing that tendency, and directing it to the recognition of some of the glorious eternal truths of our lives (life is ever-renewing, we are part of a universe the scale of which is incomprehensible. you can take that with stress (of not knowing the answer) or with deep relaxation and surrender and curiosity. No fear of losing your semi-permeable identity (huge fear of losing your fixed senses of identity). What if, just for an experiment, we went along for the ride? Radical acceptance. What does that look like?

Investigating that space? Especially in community? That’s my acting deepest heart’s desire, the one that sets the stage for that primary one above by being the natural road to god the sages have talked about since time immemorial – go within (if even just for a breath)