“Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is relax.”
~ Mark Black
What comes to the mind when we hear the word – relaxing? Perhaps a very nice and comfortable laid-back setting where you are enjoying yourself, enjoying massage, on holiday, or staying late in bed doing nothing.
Admittedly, many of us have one or few or many of those moments where we were thinking about tasks we are procrastinating by staying late in bed doing nothing (while doing many things in our head, without getting anything done); or reading our emails during holiday instead of fully enjoying it.
Indeed, the word relaxing has that lazy, non-productive connotation to it that we tend to want it, and simultaneously, feel guilty about doing it. Many of us perhaps also have had at least one episode of being off work sick, intending to get some rest at home, but not unwell enough to not keep on thinking about things we should be doing at work (and try to do a little bit of the works here and there too!), instead of fully resting. I for one, had more than one of those.
While Oxford dictionary defines relaxing as “a way of resting and enjoying yourself; time spent resting and enjoying yourself”, it also defines the word as “the state of feeling calm and not anxious or worried”.
For the purpose of this discussion, we will refer to the second definition, which highlights the absence of anxiety and worry. So, it does not have anything to do with the activities. It is actually about the state of mind.
By this definition, we should be able to say that we are actually relaxing almost all the time, should we not? Yes, we can be worry and anxious about many things, but definitely not most of the time, right? Most of the ordinary moments of the day are actually relaxing – no anxiety, no worry.
Is that really so?
Let us have a look at what we notice in mindfulness practices. Herein, we discover that body and breaths tangibly display the state of the mind. A relaxed body that represents a fully relaxed mind is a body that is free from any unnecessary tensions, that is, tensions in all muscles, joints, connective tissues, in any part of the body.
It is important to mention that tensions are not inherently bad. They are necessary for the limbs and organs to perform their functions. Specific to the skeletal muscles, contractions are required for us to move around and lift things. Contractions may also be necessary for us to protect and defend ourselves from danger.
What usually happen is that we continue to contract the muscles when no actions are required and no self-defence is necessary. One example of this occasion is when we are reading texts and emails. When we observe ourselves close and often enough, we will find that there are usually, to a certain extent, tensions in the eyebrow centre, eyeballs, jaws, and shoulders while doing the simple act of reading. Some of us may even be holding our breaths. All these physical tensions affect the mind, declining the relaxing state in which we were all to be.
Here is where regular mindfulness practice comes handy. When we train our mind to be mindful of our body, moment to moment, we are able to be aware of the tensions as soon as it is developing, not after it is being ingrained and affects our whole state of being, which in turn affects our actions and speech. The awareness, in and of itself, is liberating. The moment we are aware that we are not relaxing, we start to be more relax. We may not be able to relax completely yet, but being a tiny bit more relax is a good place to start.
At the end of the day, mindfulness practices would enable us to relax regardless of activities. We can become fully occupied and yet so relaxed that the mind is clear and luminous. We no longer busy looking for ways and places to relax, trying to escape from the worry and anxiety, only to bring the worries and anxieties with us.
No longer are we lazy busy, because the source of relaxation is always here and now, within.
“Within you, there is stillness and sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.”
~ Hermann Hesse