This is a post from 2016. In revamping my website, I’ve been combing through old posts for essays that still have some weight. This one struck me as offering some important reminders on how we might best manage ourselves – that is, finding that sweet spot between allowing the mind to run a bit wild while holding will lightly; between effort and letting go.
The word surrender, somewhat like the word pleasure, can be understood in two distinct and opposing ways. On one hand the former can indicate defeat and the latter, something unsavoury. On the other hand, they can point to enlightenment and delight.
It is like that with the concept of will. It can mean willfulness and obstinacy or it can mean ability and drive. Without the employment of will nothing gets done. We need it to survive, but will has taken over most aspects of our lives and hardened us to the point where the converse is a theory at best. We are adept at striving, at trying, at doing and exerting, but sadly unfamiliar with the experience of a deep letting-go. We are busy. We are engaged. We accomplish, but the other side of the scale is tipped dangerously out of balance.
Relaxation is understood as disconnecting rather than connecting. Activities such as reading a book, napping on the couch, or watching television are seen as relaxation. All well and good, but the body doesn’t get the full potential of full restoration that physical and mental relaxation offers through body awareness.
With my bodywork practice clients, I often encounter, not an unwillingness to relax, but a profound difficulty in connecting the body to the concept. My practice is called Rebalancing, which is literally the intent of the work – to bring about body awareness, ease, and balance through touch. It is, in effect, an invitation to surrender to the self, and for an hour or so, simply let-go in trust and safety.
One of the first exercises of my training was to explore our partner’s hand, fingers, and arm as if we had never seen such a miraculous thing. The receptive partner was to close their eyes and breathe, focusing on allowing the arm to be utterly passive; to be lifted and moved without ‘helping’ – an intentional surrender, if you will. The result of this very simple exercise was that the arm having been touched with respect and wonder relaxed, lengthened, and became softer in comparison to the untouched arm. That quality of ease and spaciousness is what Rebalancing intends to bring to the body.
Many yoga classes evoke this awareness between effort and ease. In each posture there is an opportunity to both hold and relax – even in a simple standing pose, from the facial muscles to the shoulders to the buttocks and feet, one is invited to check in to what the muscle groups are up to. Is there clenching? Are you able to release while maintaining the form? I have observed the challenge of that balance in myself as well as in others. And it’s no wonder. Our culture doesn’t support or encourage it. Our very cells aren’t certain that it’s safe to let go. When the mind starts wandering, the body tightens up to defend itself, just in case. When the mind is otherwise engaged, the body protects itself as best it can.
There is a dance between will and surrender in just about every aspect of our earthly existence.
As a writer who learned with Susan Lynn Reynolds, Barbara Turner-Vesselago, Pat Schneider, and Ellen Bass, I understand how the ability to let go in trust affects the quality of the writing. Barbara Turner-Vesselago advises to ‘go fearward’; to write what you don’t want to write. Pat Schneider edges us toward our ‘original’ voice; that first tongue that is vulnerable and true. Ellen Bass suggests a ‘long-armed’ approach to our poetry, which requires a broad, open mind; a wild mind, as Natalie Goldberg named it. Elizabeth Gilbert calls it ‘big magic’ – that untethered flight, or ‘freefall’ as Barbara has termed it, where anything is possible. In order to follow these marvellous invitations, one has to be deeply relaxed and open, to agree to switch course if the energy calls for it. You may be writing one thing that seems important or interesting but when an image or impression or memory surges to the surface you allow it to flow into the tip of your pen.
Beginning with relaxing the body before moving into writing or any creative endeavour for that matter is an ideal method to still the mind enough for the important stuff to arise. It’s in those quiet moments that the mind is distracted enough from its own well-worn paths that our habitual tension can take a little holiday, and space is created for real magic to emerge.
For me, those are the moments of true pleasure.