Monday, August 30, 2010

The art of relaxation - animal style

You may have noticed from my last few blogs that I’m searching for balance, seeking a way to streamline my life, trying to turn negative into positive, and find a way to savor those wonderful moments of freedom.

So, I went to my parents who live by the Jersey shore for the weekend. I was there for family reasons, but also to unwind, relax, and do nothing. De-stress. I spent the weekend going for walks on the boardwalk, reading on the couch for hours, taking naps, and sitting around and talking with family.

I had a relaxing weekend. But I was already feeling down again this morning. So what did a relaxing weekend fix?

Just in the nick of time, I bought Oprah magazine this month, in which life coach Martha Beck approaches the topic in a new way in The Secret to Surviving Life's Low Points.

We all go through ups and downs, she says, the ebbs and flows of life.

Humans are not alone in this adventure though; animals go through ebbs and flows too. The difference between them and us (well besides the obvious) is that when an animal goes through an ebb, they stretch out their paws and rest. Have you ever watched a lion, a cat, or a dog when they are resting? They literally do nothing, all while being present. Examining and listening to their surroundings, stretching their bodies like a good yoga work-out, and napping in between.

They’re meditating.

And then when they wake up out of their funk, they’re ready to play, eat, go for a walk, and have a jolly good time until the next ebb comes again.

We humans feel the need to fix our ebbs, make them better, turn them into something positive, pushing away and suppressing our downs and forcing them to be something they’re not. We tend not to stretch out our paws. Instead, we do other things – positive things that will uplift our spirits, “fix” the problem, make lemonade out of lemons.

Martha Beck advises us to just accept that lemons are a part of life just as lemonade is. The ebbs – just as the flows - are natural. And they’re telling us something.

The issue is that many of us are afraid of the ebbs, Beck points out. A downturn in our lives may be the precursor to impending doom. Facing the fear is the next step, she advises. Turn the fear into appreciation. It is scientifically impossible for fear and appreciation to exist at the same time.

But the real lesson in all of this, after accepting that downs happen and appreciating our lives is to hear the message. Ebbs are telling us loud and clear to REST.

She means really rest. Do nothing. Absolutely nothing. Like a lion or a bear. Meditate. Just be. Observe your surroundings without judgment. Listen to the sounds. Focus on your breath. Your heart beat. Get in touch with your inner feelings, the sensations in your body, and find the places in your body where rest and relaxation reside. Become attuned to them. Empty your head.

Watching TV, reading a book, and hanging out with friends is not doing nothing. It may seem like nothing because you are not “getting things done”. Those kinds of activities, although may be fun, are really a camouflage. Suppressing whatever is really going on, and perpetuating the ebb so that it resurfaces in another form later.

After a great weekend, I had a mini-ebb this morning. The problems that caused the initial big ebb hadn’t gone away. They were merely suppressed for a few hours.

So I listened to Martha, and I meditated outside. I listened to my breath, to the birds chirping, and looked at the most incredible view of a white moon sitting in the midst of a bright blue sky. I stretched my arms and rolled my shoulders.

I wasn’t seeking to “fix the problem” or get things done or even turn my frown upside down. And what I wound up feeling was pure bliss. I also discovered the root of what’s been eating at me.

Next time I feel down, the first thing I’m going to do – is nothing.

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