The true place of peace
The most important propaganda campaign the Western world needs is that which will teach it the wonder and worth of true relaxing--its power as an emotional detoxicant and its beneficence as a bodily healer.
We keep ourselves too occupied and then wonder why our nerves are taut, our minds without ease, our nights without sleep. The man who knows the art of perfectly relaxing his body, breath, and mind has a better chance to find health, poise, and peace.
Tension may be eased by the simple exercise of total relaxation. At least twice a day, the student should stretch out and lie perfectly still. He must endeavour to consciously relax every part of the body. Breathing should be slowed down and kept at an even pace, the intake matching the outflow. The exercise need only take a few minutes--or until all signs of tension are gone.
The unrelaxed person has tight muscles or taut nerves. Mentally he is too self-centered: a few simple exercises will relieve his tensions. The body is to loosen its muscles working from the feet first and then by degrees to the head. The mind is slowly and repeatedly to make affirmations of universal healing and restorative truths. The breath is to lengthen and deepen itself for a few minutes with inhalation and exhalation following a certain rhythm. Within a few minutes the person will become refreshed and relaxed.
If he can take a few minutes of concentrated rest at odd times, or even only one to three minutes at a time when he can get no more, he will benefit out of all proportion. The nerves will be soothed, the mind relaxed from its cares, the body-battery recharged, and the emotions calmed.
Too many modern men are expert in deceiving themselves with the justifying of their lives by showing results, getting things done, or catching up with work and studies. They do not know how to let go nor understand the need of relaxing quietly, so as to hear the voice of their deepest soul.
Sleep exercise: Roll your head around in a circle until the neck muscles are well relaxed and the chin easily touches the chest. Rest. Repeat the cycle of exercise and rest a number of times. Its effect is to increase the capacity to fall asleep more quickly.
"Let not the sun go down upon your wrath," is surely one of the choicely phrased, immensely practical pieces of biblical counsel. But perhaps it is not less commendable to take out and change the last word and make the sentence read: "Let not the sun go down upon your agitation." For when the nervous toil and turmoil of the day, whether coming or begone, the fret and load of thoughts and emotions, have passed and settled down, it becomes possible to search within for hidden peace. The more one relaxes, the quicker it is found.
The seated relaxation exercise: (a) Sit upright on a chair of comfortable height, with the knees and legs together, if comfortable, or slightly apart if not. Lean slightly forward, keeping the spine straight, and allow the arms to hang down completely relaxed and full length, like heavy weight.
(b) Lift both hands very slowly at the elbows, almost to shoulder height taking care not to move the shoulders. Next abruptly drop them, palms upright, on the upper thighs. Keep the feeling of limpness and heaviness in the arms, and the rest of the body utterly relaxed.
(c) Picture an ethereal aura of pure, white, electrifying Light all around you. Then, imagine this magnificent Light is actually pulling you upright by the top of your head. Its compelling force should, as a result, automatically straighten the spine, and the back of your trunk, neck, and head form a perfectly erect line. Finally, imagine the Light is pervading inside the whole of your body.
This exercise should give a feeling of physical refreshment and complete physical repose. It is also useful when having to sit continuously and listen to lengthy lectures or when reluctantly trying to practise meditation after a fatiguing day.
Supine relaxation exercise: The object of this exercise is to learn how to relax the physical body with complete thoroughness, for even when most people think that they have relaxed themselves, they unconsciously still keep some of their muscles taut.
Lie down flat on the back on a couch, the arms parallel to the trunk, palms upright. This supine position is more effective for most persons, especially the middle-aged, than the sitting one for relaxation purposes, because it reduces the heart's work in pumping blood, and this imposes less strain upon it. In the sitting or even squatting yogi position, the heart is forced to raise the blood up to a level higher than itself, whereas this is not required when the body is lying flat on the back.
This exercise is divided into five sequences to tense and relax each different body-part by turns.
(a) Begin with the feet and twist them from right to left, then back to right, a few times. Stop abruptly after each complete twist and relax as much as possible.
(b) Turn the legs and hips as far as you can to the right and left a few times, stop suddenly and relax the muscles affected completely.
(c) Twist the head and neck a few times: first backwards, then to the right, then forward and lastly to the left. Immediately after the last turn let the head fall limply forwards as if it were weighted.
(d) Every part of the body has been progressively and perfectly relaxed in turn. Now the whole body should be left in this limp posture for two to five minutes.
(e) Double up the fists loosely and place them on the upper chest. Take a deep breath, slowly and easily. As you breathe in, gradually tense every part of the body, from head to feet, tightening up as much as possible without strain. Hold this for as long as is easily possible. Then gradually and slowly untense while expelling the breath. When normal condition of the body is attained continue to loosen up further free of all tensions. Repeat three or four times.
In this exercise pay attention to the state of the knee muscles. If they are not relaxed, then usually the entire length of the legs is not relaxed.
The easily excitable person will benefit by the in-and-out breath-watching exercise. This is not only because there is a direct connection between breathing and consciousness but also because the practice calls for patience and self-restraint.
Breathing exercise to remove fatigue: Repeat the Supine Relaxation Exercise. Then practise deep breathing exercises for five minutes. Make the intake and the outflow of the breath rhythmic and unlaboured. Hold the thought that fresh energy is entering you with each inhalation.
Breathing exercise to calm the mind: (a) Repeat Fatigue-Removing Exercise for two minutes.
(b) Breathe in to the count of four seconds; hold the breath for the count of two seconds; breathe out again to the count of four seconds.
(c) Concentrate attention solely on the breathing process. If this is done perfectly, all other subjects will be kept out and the array of thoughts, which ordinarily run helter-skelter through the mind, will vanish. Later, when this exercise becomes effortless through constant practice, and there is less difficulty in preventing the intervention of outside thoughts, concentration on the breath-count may be dropped.
(d) Imagine a living aura of pure, white Light to be pouring into and through the body. Think of It as the blissful essence of Peace.
Addenda: Conceive this light as the healing power in physical Nature but as originating in spiritual being. It is primarily a spiritual force. If and when it comes, and the invocation is successful, the signs whereby we may detect this include a feeling of well-being, a lifting of the whole nature toward a more joyful and less depressed mood, and a sense of increasing vitality.
Recuperative mediation: (a) Sit in the position used in the Seated Relaxation Exercise.
(b) Picture and feel the living, white Light flowing, like the blood, all through your body and into your fingertips. Think of It as the vital essence of blood and nerve-cell alike. Distribute its energy to every part of the body. Next give each individual organ a rejuvenating treatment by bathing it in the white Light; begin at the bottom of the trunk with the lowest organ and proceed upwards to the head.
(c) Visualize and experience the radiance of this Light as enveloping you and drawing you into It. Offer yourself willingly to Its Perfection and Protection. Since Light is the closest we can come to actually seeing the Absolute, think of It, here, as the One Infinite Life-Power.
Exercise: Every hour, on the hour, stop whatever you are doing and assume the Corpse hathayoga posture, lying on a couch or a rug, for one to four minutes. This reduces a high blood pressure.
(a) Repeat Supine Relaxation Exercise.
(b) Try to feel that the aura of Light has an actual substance which becomes part of you. Then imagine that you are melting into It and becoming one with It. Next, think of it as being the pure essence of Love, whose centre is the region of the heart.
(c) When this Love has been experienced as a sensation of heart-melting happiness, let it then extend outwards to embrace all the world.
This exercise should leave you with a feeling of being in harmony with Nature, with the universe, and with all living beings.
Just as farmed earth needs periodic fallow seasons if it is to give forth its best life, so does the human entity need these occasional periods of cessation of all activity if it also is to give its best. This is done for physical result in sleep but for spiritual result in meditation.
What do Isaiah's lines mean, "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength," unless they mean this entering into the silent pause of meditation?
The continually out-turned attitude of humanity, operating mostly through the body's senses, leads to off-balance functioning. The need--especially important for health, nerves, mind, and heart--is to turn this tension backward in the opposite direction and let it dissolve there.
So many unnecessary motions of the trunk waste muscle and nerve force; so much useless fidgeting of the hands, drumming of the fingers, and shaking of the feet imposes extra strain. Such constant tension of the whole man dissipates the mind's attention and depletes the body's energy.
Tension of some kind cannot be avoided, for all activity, physical or mental, calls it forth. It becomes harmful when it is not rightly balanced by relaxation, when it alone rules the man.
Few know this wonderful pacification of the entire being--body, mind, and feelings--for though so close to everyone's hand, it is, through lack of aspiration and training, out of reach.
It may ask a little courage from him to tune his movements and activities to the more leisurely and less hasty tempo indicated by the inner voice. Some risk of loss may seem to be that way. The risk is an illusory one. Nothing that is really worthwhile and really meant for him will be able to miss him. The rest does not matter. The higher forces which he is beginning to invoke will attend to his true welfare as he attends to them.
Release from tension is the beginning of release from ego. To relax body, feeling, and mind is to prepare the way for such a desirable consummation. The current propaganda and education of people in relaxation methods is to be welcomed for this reason alone, quite apart from the reasons usually given beyond which the propagandist's vision does not usually extend. But to remove tension is only a first step, not a final one.
There is no doubt that the man who has completely mastered relaxation can let it pass into meditation more easily and quickly than the man who has not.
The relaxation is not to be inert and languid but alert and alive.
A warning: Do not practise relaxation or even meditation to the point of passing into a trance state.
Even metals like steel are found in the laboratory tests to suffer from fatigue when over-used. How much more must the delicate elements composing the human body suffer from it? If metals need the rhythm of rest, how much more do we? The living tissue of the flesh shows its wonderful balance in the unconscious action of both diaphragm and heart muscles, where every movement is counterbalanced by a rest. If Nature assigns such an indispensable place to the principle of balance in the human body, it is perfectly logical to believe that she assigns it in the human mind too.
This kind of relaxation is not to be confused with mere flaccidity or mental stagnation. It is creative and contributory towards his permanent benefit.
How often have businessmen, who have driven themselves relentlessly, enslaved themselves to their work, been driven in turn to a bed of sickness! If they could read the lesson, they would learn to relax and thus to balance their day more wisely. Their illness is often, not less but more, an inner one. Without mental therapy and spiritual change, they would only be temporarily relieved, not permanently cured.
Something inside keeps him from being caught and swept along by the world's hasty ways, as he was formerly swept along. This controlling brake substitutes, instead, a regular deliberate slowness. Even if every task or affair or walk now takes longer, as it does, he knows that this leisurely rhythm is ordained for him, and that in the end nothing worthwhile will be lost by being obedient to it.
He refuses to be forced by his contemporaries into their feverish activity but insists on retaining the dignity of an unharried pace. The body may be fugitive but his own existence is eternal--whether viewed as emerging in other appearances on earth or as pure timeless spirit.
When the great liberation from his ego is attained, his entire physical organism will reflect the experience. All its muscular tautness will vanish; hands, shoulders, neck, facial expression, and legs will relax spontaneously of their own accord as his mind relaxes. He will be transformed.
If used in conjunction with the exercises embodied in philosophic techniques, such rests have a constructive effect on the moral nature and even a curative one on the physical body.
All of him has to relax--nerve and breath, limb and mind.
The period set aside for the purpose of sleeping at night or relaxing by day will best achieve this purpose if the body is stretched out so completely, so loosely, and so free from muscular contractions that every part of its back, like a cat's, touches the bed's surface.
It is needful to bring oneself to abstain from all actions for a short time daily, and to let thinking and feeling slip little by little into complete repose. As the movements of the body are suspended and the workings of the mind are reduced, the rest afforded both of them opens a way for the presence of intuition to be detected, recognized, and connected with. The ego begins to get out of the way, giving what is behind it a chance to reveal itself and be heard.
The first step is to secure enough mental and emotional rest each day to give the intuition a chance to be felt and recognized. This is done by relaxing mentally and remaining inactive physically for whatever period of time the aspirant can both make available and endure. He has really nothing to do except refrain from all those activities which keep his ego assertive. He has only to get himself out of the way. This practice will not only restore depleted nerve energies but also bring poise into the mind.
To let the world and its burdens go for at least half an hour every day, whilst relaxing the mind and body in the repose of meditation or in the aspiration of prayer, is absolutely necessary to him. He ought to realize this, for the benefit will be out of all proportion to the time spent.
Relaxation exercise: If he chooses to sit in a chair his feet should not be pressed heavily on the floor but allowed to rest lightly. The palms of his hands should not suspend from the arms but should be supported by his lap, where they may rest on one another. His eyes should not be tightly closed, but slowly and gently the lids can be allowed to droop until they shut.
Start relaxing the body from the top of the head, then nape of neck, then shoulders.
Relaxing exercises which include lying flat on the back should have arms spread out and head thrown back.
The relaxed businessman locks his problems away when he locks his desk every evening.
That is not true repose where the mind is rushing from thought to thought, even though the body relaxes or sleeps.
To relax is to free oneself from undesirable bodily attitudes and to drop undesirable emotional ones.
If the exercises given in The Wisdom of the Overself are too advanced for him, it is not important that he should do them. It will be enough to relax mentally and emotionally for a few minutes every day, to go into the silence, to cease from striving and to pray silently to his higher self for its grace.
In most people their thoughts are normally circling around their personal affairs including their spiritual ones. To get away from them is one purpose of meditation.
In these groping efforts to find the Stillness within, he expresses a very modern need--release from tension, freedom from distraction, the need of letting go. And what is this but a contemporary version of the mystic's aspiration to become absorbed in what the pious call God?
A useful exercise to induce relaxation in tense nervous persons is to concentrate on the beating of the heart. It is used as a meditation while sitting down or lying down.
During this period he should try to separate himself mentally from his personal interests and activities.
In Japan, Mokso means the art of meditation, in the sense of resting the body and emptying the mind after, and in the midst of, their persistent activity. This may be practised for only five minutes before lunch, as with the children and adolescents of some schools, or for long periods as with monks.
Many complain that they feel too tired after a day's work to sit down for the practice. But if they would only lie down, utterly flat on the back, going limp all over the body, they might find that this exhaustion would actually help the emptying of their mind, coming as a welcome relief. And is not this result half the work in meditation?
That silence can be instructive, that we can learn lofty truths without a single phrase being sounded out, is beyond ordinary comprehension--certainly beyond the comprehension of those who gabble together by the hour.
Feeling utterly relaxed is the first sign that he has slipped out, however briefly, from the ego's tyranny.
Relaxation exercise: Stand erect. Place weight on right foot. Then, keeping left leg straight, raise left foot in front as high as it will go, slowly. Lower foot slowly. Repeat exercise for right foot. Then raise each hand, describing arc in front of body, until hand is stretched at arm's length over head, slowly, first with left hand then with right. This exercise relieves body tensions.
The leisureliness of the mystic is a thing to envy, and even imitate. He does not hurry through the streets as though a devil were pursuing him; he does not swallow his tea at a single gulp and then rush off to some appointment; he does not pull out his watch with nervous, restless hands every half hour or so. Such physical relaxation is itself an approach to spiritual peace, that peace which our world has all but lost and is now desperately searching for through ways and means that will never lead to it.
By becoming mindful of the rise and fall of breath, by transferring consciousness to the respiratory function alone, thought becomes unified, concentrated, rested in a natural easy manner.
The breath should be brought in with measured attention, slow spiritual aspiration as the background, until a pleasant high-quality calm is felt.
We in the West do not know enough of the effective powers, the practical contributions, and the psychological functions of tranquillity. Hence we do not give it a proper value, and do not usually try to cultivate it systematically, as it is well worth cultivating.
There is a correspondence between the state of the mind and the speed of one's walk. A slow, measured, deliberate manner of breath and movement, accompanied by attentive, detached observation of the thoughts and the steps, is a useful exercise.
Do not interrupt those wonderful moments, when all is still, by descending to trivial doings, or even necessary ones. Let them wait, let brain and body rest, let the world go, and give this fraction of time to the Timeless.
When relaxation is fully felt, physically, mentally, nervously, muscularly, and emotionally, then the ego is released and the practiser is momentarily free. But this will not happen if he is stubbornly negative, if there is no belief in the higher self and hence no wish to transcend the lesser one. Give the faith, surrender, and get the grace.
It is worthwhile giving all his attention to any feelings which he may meet unexpectedly within himself and which show an unusual relaxation, a release from tenseness, a freedom from care. They are to be caught on the wing, not allowed to escape and pass away. They are to be nurtured, cherished, and developed. They may be silent voices from the higher self drawing his attention to its own existence.
Let go of the thoughts which make so much turmoil in the head, so much stress in the nerves, and enjoy the calm of Mental Quiet. This is more easily said than done. So bring in help--from the body, from profound sayings, from the exercises of both Long and Short Paths, and from the remembrance of God.
What happens during these relaxed moods? The focus of the conscious mind is withdrawn from the flesh and the vital centres, leaving the unconscious mind in sole sovereignty over them. What results from this? The destruction of the body's tissue is repaired, the fatigue of its nervous and muscular systems is removed. The fuller the relaxation, and the soul activity within, the fuller the recuperation.
It is dismally hard to accept the wisdom of letting go, to learn the art of doing without.
The best and fullest way of relaxation is to subside with head, neck, and spine flat on the floor. Put, if needed, a clean covering underneath, such as a rug or sheet.
In this total Stillness a man may come to realize his best possibilities, even if only for a few minutes.
The time may come when he will truly love this practice, deriving unequalled satisfaction and profound consolation from it.
He comes to the point where he is unable to let a single day pass without this renewal of his spiritual energies.
If he suffers from that kind of nervousness which shows itself in fidgets, he ought to begin by repressing them and by declaring war on them.
The high tension of living tends to reflect itself in the high blood pressure of the body. We should be watchful of ourselves and heed the first warning signals.
To be poised and relaxed is not to be petrified: it is activity in repose, ready for use whenever necessary.
All tense contractions of the muscles are unnecessary when he is sitting, resting, or sleeping. If sustained too long they may even be harmful.
The practice will benefit health, too, by increasing resistance and decreasing nervousness.
To cast out tensions of body and mind and keep relaxed is to keep free and open and receptive to the higher forces--and especially to the intuitive ones.
To render the brain responsive to the spiritual forces, a state of physical relaxation and of mental calm must be induced.
"There is one form of art which is superior to all other forms--the art of remaining quiet and silent. . . . All the arts serve a limited purpose and provide only momentary joy. But the art of silence and the resultant peace ensure happiness. . . . That all should cultivate."*t--Sankara of Kanchi, 1958
Once allured by the benefits of being free from tensions, some of them will naturally want to taste for themselves the benefits of more advanced techniques, which lead to truth.
What a prize to gain this tranquillity of the mind! How greatly one appreciates its daily presence! All events pass and leave only memories but this stays with me, loving and blessing.
A sense of humour may help one who is on this quest. Why? Because it may relax him.
In that brief moment of relaxed tension, he comes closer to God.
This constant watching of the personal life and this unceasing aspiration to reform it create a tension that would be hard to bear if there were not Grace-given brief releases or momentary relaxations.
If some abstain from speech in order not to betray a secret, the mystic does so in order to obtain a secret!--one which lies within his own self.
Every symptom of distress is a message to you, uttered in the body's own language, telling of a wrong you have done or are doing. Learn to interpret this language accurately and remedy the wrong.
How to relax is one department of bodily training, how to energize is its opposite and necessary complement.
Even where he is unable, like most persons, to relax the mind freely, it is not so difficult to relax the muscles of the body. The exercises are easy but must be practised regularly.
It is a fact that overactivity creates tensions which contract various muscles and that excessive preoccupation creates anxieties which have the same effect. This has become so habitual with most men and so unconscious that they have to be taught as little children how to relax and the value of it.
It is essential to lie as completely recumbent as possible. Make sure that the whole of the spine and not merely a part of it touches the floor, rug, or couch cover.
There is real temporary relief from fears and phobias in a single relaxation treatment; how much more if it is persistently given every day?
He rises from these sessions feeling inwardly renewed and outwardly rested.
If he were to move his body leisurely, he would be able to move his thoughts more peacefully.