Tag Archives: learning to relax

trusting that moment of release

Relax_harderWe push ourselves hard to relax right. We give ourselves too little time after too long working too much for too many days in a row, and then we expect ourselves to relax at the drop of a hat. Relax, damnit! There’s only these two days of weekend before we have to get back to work! Hurry up and unwind! The pressure to unclench just adds more stress, when we’re supposed to do it both correctly and on a timeline. We tighten more, knot up a little harder, and can’t understand what people mean when they talk about self-care. Who has time to relax? we want to know. There’s just so much to do. And what does relax mean, anyway, for those of us who tensed up as a way of protecting ourselves from the violence that forced its way into our bodies? Don’t those “Just Relax” people know that, for us, being clenched was our radical self care?

What can relax mean for us, then, when being curled into a tight ball was the safest position? What does it take for us to unfurl what has been bound and rigid within ourselves, to trust that we can be safe when we are exposed?

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We’ve had two floating-wave days, two too-hot-to-walk-on-the-sand-let’s-get-back-in-the-water days. Days where I’ve been in the water enough that the sea’s rhythm finally entered my blood. Last night I sat on shore, at dinner, lay in bed, and something in me was still swaying, pushing out and sucking back in. Just now I feel it in my shoulders, around and through the deep part of my chest.

This morning I was out in the water at 9am, the beach still relatively empty; the only other people in the water were the surfers, seal-slick in their wetsuits, and a lone paddleboarder who lay prostrate on his board like he was a reverent welcoming the sun. I stretched my body out in the buoyant salt water and did the same, offering myself to sun and undulance, offering myself to morning-soft air so thick it clings to the skin in droplets, offered myself to the tiny minnows flashing around my ankles in their flickering schools. Offering myself to tern screams and sea gull cries and the waft of plover wings as the body of their flock drifted low over the nearby shore. A few minutes later, some neighbor kids came out and took their place in the water, four of them, at first with nothing to arm themselves against the waves but their bodies — the boogie boards came later.

Here is where I lean again into learning to trust being present and relaxed at the same time. My head dropped down below the surface, ears filling just so and what I hear is not the cheers of the surfers catching a swell or the screams of the kids in the midst of their morning ablutions, but the swish of undercurrent waves, my own breath, the roll of water all around me. I close my eyes, just for a moment (I know better than to keep my eyes closed on mother sea) and just let myself float. Just let myself be bouyed up. For a moment, I imagine two hands, I imagine the body of the sea as mother — of course I do. I imagine this as a place where I can relax, a place I can trust. Just for a moment, I lean all the way in. I relax my arms, legs, quit treading water, I just float. Just for a moment.

That one moment, that deep relax, makes all the difference to me, is what I search for during these days at the water. It’s akin to that moment when I’m on the dance floor — you know that moment, when everything is in sync: the music and the gathered dancers, the bass is perfect and I am in flow, my body sweating hard, I am grinning, I am nearly panting, it’s maybe the better part of the way through the night but the dj has been on a roll and every song is good, every song is so good that I can’t bring myself to step off the floor for a second, I don’t want to miss a moment of it, and the energy of everyone is charged and joyful, and I feel my whole body, my whole self, engage. The rest of everything else falls away. Anything else falls away. Nothing else matters but these beats this circle of muscle and sweat and joy this urgency this well-oiled press forward. Something clicks into gear, we are just in the right now, and in this right now, everything is all right. Everything is better than all right: we are safe enough to be all right, we are alive and alive and alive.

That moment of unfurling into the water’s hold is like that, that moment where everything else falls away, and for a second, you don’t have to worry about the to-do list, you don’t have to worry about taking care of anyone else, you don’t have to worry about everything that’s wrong with you or all that you regret or all you haven’t yet accomplished in  your life. In that moment, you are sheer delight, sheer pleasure, sheer gratitude, sheer presence.

You know — of course you know — what it means to allow ourselves to trust anything or anyone enough to lean in and let down our guard, put away the Watcher that hangs out over our shoulder or at the backside of our consciousness and worries the bones of us with its panics and reminders of all that is still wrong, all that is not safe, all that is not healed, all that is still broken — what it means to give ourselves that moment of peace and ease.

That good moment — I got to soak into that today. And it sunk all the way down into my bones.

undoing the weapon of relax

(whatever will happen, don’t turn back!)

(yes again: some language of sexual violence in here – just be easy with you.)

It’s 9:30pm, and people in the neighborhood are still out for their evening walks — kids on bikes and scooters, couples with happy, wagging dogs on leashes, everyone moving slow, leisurely. There are pop-pop-pops in the distance, and at first, I wonder if they’re gunshots, and then I remember the fireworks we saw above a copse of trees on the way home from the ice cream stand. The mosquitoes came out tonight, as did the first of the sand dollars — we found a mid-sized one this morning, and then two babies tonight: tiny grey sand dollars smaller than the tip of my pinkie finger. The ocean was cold today, colder than it was yesterday or the day before — I can’t understand how that happens. The ocean is itself, no? There was something I wanted to tell you this morning, but it’s gone now. Do you know how thoughts fade like that? I finished the Terry McMillan and have moved onto another beach novel. Today we talked with friends, supped with family. I didn’t have any incest thoughts or rape theorizing. We had sun all day and soaked in it. This was my theme song. My legs are mottled with salt, my skin tacky with sweat and sunblock and bug spray. I fell asleep on the sand — a nap! — and woke up not feeling sticky and gross inside, not feeling as though someone had painted me from belly to brainstem with the residue of  incest dreams (damnit. I guess I was wrong, what I said before).

Mostly, naps haven’t treated me well, as an adult. I’m not much of a napper. My stepfather always encouraged us (or just me? I can’t say more than that) to nap after the “sex” we were forced to have with him, at least he did if it had happened in the time after we got home from school and before our mother got home from work. Just rest for a bit–relax, he’d say, with a weird kind of encouraging or even parental smile that looked like maybe you could trust it, even though you absolutely knew it would be a mistake to do so. And so I slept, waking what had just been done to me, what I had done, into the deepest places of my unconscious, severing my conscious body from its reality — and when I woke up, I would have to occupy a third self altogether, the one that put itself together with penny nails and torn fabric and whose lies duct-taped inside, the one that was made up for the mother.

Relax, he said.

How many ways can relax be used as a weapon?

Then relax becomes entangled with violence and tense becomes the safer place to live.

That is to say, relaxation has been an unsafe place to live, and naps, in particular, have not treated me well as an adult. They have been sites of difficult dreams and slithery body memory with no words attached. I don’t nap, I told people unequivocally.

I’ve napped several times since being here, however — always on the beach, my belly pressed to warm sand, the sun resting gentle and steady on my back — and have awakened without having to wade through the tarry old murk. Who knows why this is so; today, I refuse to interrogate this gift. In the late afternoon, when I woke from my little cat nap, I bounced to my feet and ran headlong into the cold water, diving into the shallow waves of still-high tide. It wasn’t to rinse the nap out of my synapses. It wasn’t even to celebrate a nap well done. It was the animal in me, seeking this particular pleasure – rest now, now cold plunge and salt, now — ok, now — ice cream.