Relaxation is often presented as the beginning of prayer – what to do to get started. Then you are cajoled into the attempt to get elsewhere. This is to miss the point.
Relaxation is not the antechamber of the temple.
To relax is to pray. It is the temple. It is the return to this body. The mind gathers back into its natural home from the thousand and one journeys of imagination and planning and remembering and worrying.
The dove returns to the Ark, the journey over, the search finished, flutters down, lands in Noah’s cupped hands, offers the olive branch, folds its wings, hunkers down: still yet alert; here; held.
To relax is to become (re)acquainted with yourself, this body. You come home to your self – a chance to recollect who you are. And then a more fundamental awareness. You know that you are. You know yourself to be; you exist. You experience the miracle of being alive.
As you start to relax you give attention to this body, to different parts, perhaps to different muscle groups in turn, you invite each part to let go, to loosen up, to give in.
You sit, feet on the ground, toes and soles, ankles, calves, knees, thighs, hips, bottom, belly, solar plexus, chest, ribs, back, shoulders, arms, hands, neck, throat, jaw, face, forehead, skull.
When full attention is given to this body, the places, amount and levels of tension are a surprise. Your calves are twitching: you’ve walked and stood and they’ve done a lot of work, but now they can rest. Your anus is tight, but now you can let your whole bottom relax. Your shoulders ache and your neck is tight. And so on and on. This is the lot of a body at work in the world, pursuing goals.
Now, though, there are no goals to pursue. You let go of all that. Relaxation is trust.
It is as if you say to yourself, “I do not have to hold myself: I can let the chair and the ground hold me; I belong here in the World; I can let God hold me in being. It will be ok if I do nothing for a while. This moment is enough. I do not have to take charge. I do not have to steer the course of prayer. I do not have to make myself into the right kind of person for God. I am ok as I am. Here I am, God. Take me as you find me. I trust myself to You, to Life, to the Universe.”
Relaxation trusts that this is enough. You relinquish ideas, projects, plans, worries, etc., because that is the future, what might be, who you might become. You part with yesterday, sadness, memory, etc., because that is past, what was, who you were, once-upon-a-time. It is both terrifying (because your life is not about you) and the only game in town (because your life is not about you).
To trust that this is enough is one invitation away from trusting God who is always enough. One more invitation and you open in love to love.
Ultimately, to relax is to let go into God, without agenda, without even the idea of God.
2 thoughts on “Relax!”
When I first read, “relaxation is prayer,” I was relieved and excited to enter into it and find rest in being held by God. Then I read about the trust thing and thought, oh my, that’s why it’s SO HARD. I have to surrender myself, all of me and my thoughts, plans, ideas, goals, and JUST BE. Every time I try this, I am sabotaged by my mind that simply doesn’t want to relax; it’s like my mind has a mind of it’s own! At least my lack of control seems to prove it so. I think the reason we/I move so quickly to chatty prayer is that it pleases the mind to have so much to say. Is it possible that the body can assist the mind in quieting down?
Thank you for this, Margaret. You will not find a person alive who will not echo what you say. The mind that doesn’t want to relax / surrender. Indeed! But this is not a problem. This is what the mind is like. It is just doing its job. No one avoids this. The body can help by offering a different focus of attention. Let the mind chatter on. As you know, it will do this on its own without any intervention from you. Meanwhile, let your attention settle in your heart (or anywhere else that takes your fancy). And when you forget or get distracted, it is not a problem, nor a failure: be kind to yourself and just bring your attention back.
And you are right: it is an act of repeated renunciation.