Stress and Relaxation?
Stress and Relaxation?
Where East doesn't Meet West.
By: Amrito MD
IT IS AXIOMATIC in Western thought that at-tension is really a thinly disguised form of tension, and that awareness requires concentration, which definitely is part of tension.
In fact the behaviorists view of the human condition is that life fluctuates between relaxation, which is seen as approaching the vegetative state at one extreme, and arousal, which is seen as approaching a hyper-excitable manic state at the other. In other words, a "normal" lifestyle is to find the balance between these two opposing options.
In complete contrast the East has another notion, best understood by taking driving as an example. If we concentrate, focus our attention, and then we limit our vision, naturally. There are the wing mirrors to watch, the rearview mirror, the road in front, the sidewalks on either side, and so on not to mention the dashboard, the kids in the back, the radio, and trying to find a dollar-fifty for the next toll, all the while working out what to say to the boss about our being late. It is small wonder that driving is regarded as one of the most stressful occupations we modern humans inflict upon ourselves, and that the incidence of cardiac arrhythmias and heart attacks in long distance truck drivers is a matter of particular concern to those drivers, other road users, and to researchers.
Needless to say, whichever of these multiple tasks we choose to "concentrate" on means less attention is available for the other tasks.
If, on the other hand, rather than focus on anything, we were to relax, and soft focus on the whole panorama, allowing our attention to stay in neutral as it were, ready to move in which ever direction the situation demands, we would, naturally be driving with much more awareness.
And this is the Eastern understanding: that only in relaxation can we be really aware. And vice versa, awareness is only possible in a relaxed state.
So rather than spending our lives dangling between the two unpleasant extremes offered by the behaviorists between being a vegetable or maniacally "successful" we can enjoy the benefits of both increased awareness and increased relaxation.
Slowly this view is taking hold. Just watch the wrists of a Kenyan long-distance running champion and see them flopping around loosely as he breaks another world record. Look at the picture of Martin Johnson, the world sprint champion, in Time magazine captioned, "relaxed performance." Or just watch a cat asleep on the sofa with its paws hanging over the edge as if made of Jell-O but one tiny sound in the room and those ears are there. He may look like he is comatose, but he is totally alert.
Interestingly, Ayrton Sena, the world racing car champion who was killed when his steering column collapsed, used to say that what he loved about racing was that his mind was totally empty, and there was a completely relaxed silence. In fact the hallmark of those who excel in life is that, unlike the rest of us, they remain naturally relaxed despite enormous pressures.
This is the Eastern option for stressed out, overburdened modern people. Meditation is actually the art of alertness with no effort. The ability to stay cool no matter what is going on around.
One TV commentator was describing a computer game where you didn't need to type on the keyboard but played with sensors wrapped around the fingers. She put this whole issue perfectly: "And strangely," she said, "the more you relax, the better you perform. Now there's an idea for the future."