Relax

The most important thing

is to relax.

Everything else is a distraction.

I write these words as a reminder to myself.

I had forgotten recently. Caught up in a whirl of ‘what ifs’. What if my contract at work is extended? Should I stay? Should I leave? How / when do I build up a coaching practice if I’m still working? But what if my contract is not extended? I’ll be out of work…blah…blah…blah. Well, I won’t bore you with all the details but I’m sure you know the kind of thing I mean! Repetitive circular thinking, as if running through the various options again and again is going to make a decision easier.

I’ve not written much here recently as I’ve been busy with work (we’ve just published formal proposals for a section of the England Coast Path and are publishing another section in March), and also coach training. My coaching course assessment is getting closer (also March).

This week, in an observed coaching class, I was nervous. I didn’t perform well. I am usually fairly relaxed when I’m working with clients one on one, but when I’m being observed it makes me self conscious and tense. I started to wonder if I’m actually ready for the final assessment.

Nerves and coaching don’t go together. Coaching reminds me so much of my tai chi partnerwork practice. To do both well you must be completely relaxed, completely connected to your partner / the client. Which is impossible to do if you are tense or nervous.

After a few days of thinking about it, I decided that my focus for the observed coaching sessions should be to relax and connect. To let the coaching competencies that I am supposed to be demonstrating sit lightly in the back of my mind. To give up the trying. To give up the idea that I should be doing it perfectly. To give up the habits of a lifetime. Well….I didn’t say it would be easy!

And then, as I did my evening tai chi practice the words came to me.

‘The most important thing is to relax. Everything else is a distraction.’

Thi is true for everything. The work stuff, the coaching, the future, everything.

Everything is easier if I relax. Life flows, unfolds. I follow. I know this. And I so easily forget.

Wishing you all the best for the new decade!

Fighting reality

The moment I accept
the reality of what is,
is the moment
I relax.

Saturday morning, 4.30am. Jet lag kicks in and I’m not sleeping. I should sleep. I need to be refreshed. I’ve crossed an ocean for the annual tai chi workshop and I want to be rested, relaxed. So I worry about not sleeping.

Every year that I attend this workshop I arrive with a suitcase of worries. Will it be too hot? Am I good enough at tai chi to be here? What if the travel plans go wrong? Did I do everything I needed to do before I left work, before I left home? What if I don’t feel well and miss some of the workshop? What if, what if.

And every year, I love it. I have the most amazing time. I learn, I reconnect with friends, I make new friends. I relax, deeply. I gain insights in my practice. Yes, sometimes it’s too hot, occasionally I’ve felt a bit unwell, but I still have a great time.

4.30 am, Saturday morning. I must go back to sleep. I am anxiously awake.

Then a thought pops into my head. Should I really be asleep? Really? Is that true? No. I am awake. That is the reality.

What would happen if I just accepted that I’m awake? That it’s OK to be awake at 4.30 in the morning and it won’t ruin my whole week?

So I did. And suddenly I’m just lying awake, relaxed, in a comfortable bed. I just enjoy lying there in the darkness, listening to the first tentative notes of the foreign dawn chorus.

And all the other things I am worrying about just dissolve in the dawn.

There is such ease to be found in living life this way, accepting what is instead of fighting reality.

This is my new practice.

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Poems to download

I’ve been feeling a little frazzled today; working, preparing for house guests who arrive tomorrow and getting ready to go on a tai chi workshop next Wednesday in the US. All good things, just they have given me a rather long to-do list!

So, I spent some time reading old blog posts instead, turning to some relaxing poems to calm me down.

And then I decided to quickly turn them into a little ebook, for you to download.

Poems to bring a little calm and relaxation to your day.

And now I’m off to do some tai chi in the garden.

Enjoy

x

Letting life unfold

Sitting quietly, doing nothing,

spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.

Basho


I have loved this haiku ever since I first read it. Twenty-five years ago I wrote it out on a piece of card and stuck it over my desk when I was revising for my final exams at university.

I felt instinctively that the words were true, yet I was stuck in a life where I had to strive to make things happen; work, and work some more, worry, then work harder, in order to get a qualification, so that I could get a job, so that I could carry on working hard.

The end was never in sight, just a life of effort and busyness.

I longed for a life where I was like the grass, biding my time and then growing when the conditions were right.

Or a life where I was just sitting, observing, not worrying or striving to control the grass (a pointless task!). Just relaxing, waiting for it to grow in its own sweet time and trusting that everything would unfold as it should.

Neither of these were true for me at the time, instead I was full of anxiety about the future. But I always felt that Basho was speaking across the centuaries to me, pointing out a better way to live.

I’ve been drawn to the haiku again recently as I talk to friends and coaching clients and think about my own life.

The idea of something happening, growing, reaching fruition in its own time and when the conditions are right. Of not knowing what the outcome will be, just letting life evolve and grow.

So often I’ve asked the question ‘now what should I do with my life?’ or ‘what should I do next?’ and expected an answer, fully formed and shiny, a new goal.

What happens when no goal appears, when I’m not sure what to do next? Can I allow my life to unfold naturally, following my interests and passions to see where they take me, without expectations?

My biologist self looks at the grass growing by itself and knows that it is only growing because of the coming together of the right conditions for grass to grow; warmth, sunlight, rain, suitable soil, the right numbers of grazing animals, strong roots that have survived the winter, viable grass seed.

So how can we create the right conditions in our own lives?

Sit quietly, do nothing. Or go for a walk, or whatever allows us the space and time to listen. We need the equivalent of sun, rain and sweet time to let us grow.

An idea nudges us in the quietness, whispers in a small voice ‘this is what I want’.

More ideas emerge, possibilities reveal themselves, action unfolds because it feels effortless, the right thing to do.

It takes faith and courage to let things evolve, to see where your path of life leads. Sometimes it can be a lonely road, it seems that not many others are taking it. But they are.

And eventually a goal emerges, a path appears in the undergrowth. There is a map and someone has been that way before. It might take some effort, risk and persistence to follow the path, but it feels right.

You just have to start walking through the grass, which is growing all by itself.

Morning routines

 I sip my first cup of tea
surrounded by birdsong
as bees breakfast on the columbines.

Now that warmer weather has arrived, I have started having breakfast outside in the garden instead of mindlessly slumping on the sofa in front of breakfast TV news.

We’ve had a run of lovely mornings; blue sky, sunshine, fresh cool morning air.

I find this so calming. The immersion in nature relaxing my body and mind. The felt sense of my belonging, my need for this outdoor world.

I resolve, even when the weather is bad and I have breakfast indoors, to stay away from the morning TV news with all its negativity and trivia, telling me things I don’t need to know, ignoring the things I consider to be important. It gives me the impression that the world is a dangerous place, when just outside my window the world itself is telling me a different story. It sends me into my day with a sense of unease.

There is news in the garden too, much of it in a language I barely understand, passed on in song or bee-dance. Some of it is every bit as sensational as the TV news, tales of life and death. Did the baby blackbirds in the nest in the hedge make it through the night? (its awfully quiet in there). Did the deer eat my broad bean plants? There are stories of growth, news of the flowers most ripe with nectar and pollen, of turf wars between the robins.

Out here there is no clock in the corner of the screen hurrying along the minutes, so I linger, then sit down to work a little later than I planned. I take indoors with me a sense of calm that permeates my day.


What are your morning routines? Do they make you happy?

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Twilight practice

I used to worry.

What will the neighbours think

if I do tai chi in the garden?

This summer I tried it.

What a gift,

being present outdoors

at the end of the day.

Robins, blackbirds,

the wind in the trees,

flowers, bats, hedgehogs, owls,

the moon, clouds, rain,

the setting sun,

a scattering of stars,

mars, even saturn

have been part of my practice this summer.

Who cares what the neighbours think!

The geography of anxiety

We think we know the ‘why’ of anxiety,

Spiralling up from all those things we fear;

pressure; external and internal,

death, deadlines, illness, perfectionism,

unemployment, failure.

So many ‘whys’

But what about the ‘where’?

Where is it?

The geography of anxiety is within the body.

Our bodies become shaped for anxious feeling,

the hunch of a shoulder,

the jutting forward of a chin,

the clenching of a jaw,

the tightness of a belly,

the holding of a ribcage,

like contours on a map.

Anxiety roams this bodyscape,

energy in a landscape of tension.

It lives below awareness,

coming to the surface occasionally

like a fish, silently swimming, unobserved,

leaping suddenly to catch a mayfly.

We hold our bodies in preparation for an unwelcome guest,

trapping it’s energy within.

Not allowing the natural progression of emotion and energy

to ebb and flow and dissipate.

We hold ourselves tight within our armoured castles

in the mistaken belief that we are protecting ourselves,

until the anxiety spills out without a reason

in quiet moments and times that should be happy,

and we feel out of control,

scared of being scared.

Next time the storm arrives, let’s watch it, feel it

let it be the map.

Let it guide us to our tensions,

sherpa-like.

Focus on those sensations and they will pass.

Not easy, when caught in a whirlwind of worries,

and dread.

But worth it.

And eventually, over a lifetime maybe,

relax so the inner landscapes are so calm,

that anxiety can flow straight through

like a river of energy,

leaving us unperturbed.

Peace is always waiting

A rushing kind of a day

Deep within the demands of work

Deadlines loom

So I concentrate

Focus

Get things done

And forget myself

Now it’s evening and

I peel myself away from the TV

Put on some music

Slow down into

Familiar movements

An hour later

I re-emerge

Relaxed

Refreshed

Calm

Reawoken to the truth

That if I slow down

Underneath the rush

Below the fear, the fuss, the resistance

Peace is always waiting

Stillness in movement

Can you find the stillness in movement?

Not by searching, but by the experience

of becoming aware of your body

as you move through this world.

Not by trying, but by doing.

At home within yourself,

not striving, not searching,

not analysing, not judging,

not doing.

Just moving,

until you sense the stillness within.

Tension and relaxation

Tension is who you think you should be,

Relaxation is who you are.

So they say, and I would agree

And I have practiced being relaxed, and gone deep in that practice.

And yet….

And yet….

Despite knowing, in my body, in my mind

How good relaxation feels,

In my daily life tension still wins.

At work, behind a computer,

Trying to get things done, getting irritated by the little things,

Or worrying, or wondering why it’s just not all done better, or quicker.

My muscles tighten as my mind tightens.

This is the real me in so many moments of my life,

The me with tension.

And to relax requires an effort of will, a decision, a choice.

It’s a choice I fail to make, over and over again.

I’ve just come back from tai chi class

And I feel great

The feeling will carry over into tomorrow

Then it will gradually dissolve back into tension and forgetfulness

Using too much effort, and trying too hard.

One of these days I’ll make a different choice. 

Until then, tension is who I am, relaxation is who I am not allowing myself to be.

Sometimes I wonder, as I practice tai chi, 

Just why I keep going,

What I’m achieving

It is me, coming back to the choice between tension and relaxation.

Learning to choose relaxation in each moment,

So that one day I will truly be able to say

That relaxation is who I am.