This article addresses relaxation and tension in interpersonal relationship. Relaxation and tension need to be talked about together as they are flip sides of the same coin. Our physiopsychospiritual journey comes down to a common denominator. Are we relaxed or not? A relaxed system experiences itself differently than a stressed system, both in relation to self and to other. It is a matter of degrees: of where we are in the continuum at a given moment, acutely or chronically. Health in its most profound landscape is a system that is relaxed and, thereby, poised to interact without unnecessarily protecting itself.
Human beings are social animals and need social support to be healthy. What happens, though, when foundational social relationships provide more negative experiences than positive ones? How does healing happen when the underlying physiology of relaxation is not a felt experience in the body? How does one reconcile and bring in new learning to a belief, and experience, that social exchange is more costly than supportive?
For the purpose of this article, I am defining tension as a way an individual knows how to support one’s self in times of stress. Many times earlier in life, these coping mechanisms worked to “get the job done”. It may have meant pushing down one’s emotions of fear, anger, despair or/and anxiety. It may have meant experiencing numbness in the inside, while a smile on the outside prevailed. It may have meant “pulling up one’s socks” or “keeping it together” or “”pushing through” or “holding it in”. It may have meant pushing others away through rage and bitterness. In short, the individual learned the ability not to feel pain.
Each emotional state also has a corresponding physiological conglomeration. This may mean the belly is held in tightly while the throat is constricted in an attempt to choke back tears, and, the heart is wrapped a particular way as not to feel its vulnerability. It may mean a heated body. Whatever structures one adopts, they become familiar and habituated to the extent that they feel natural. It really isn’t natural, however. Rather, it is a learned reaction to a situation or/and person, repeated over and over again. It may be the safest and most valued way to hold one’s self: as a child, in order to survive, or, as an adult, in a life threatening situation.
This way of holding may not be the best way to be, yet it is the best that the individual body/mind knows how to do at the present moment. When one is in stress, one holds one’s self a particular way so as not to “fall down” or “fall apart”. The irony of this is that by not "falling into", one actually separates one’s self even more by solidifying one’s structures and becoming denser. This density provides a sense of protection. It is similar to embracing one’s self to keep the self together. The identity of self and other is even more pronounced.
When there is no external support, as with the loving presence of another person, the individual finds other ways to support the self. The effects of a life-long habit of holding in one’s self and not feeling pain, however, have their costs.
When one is physically and safely embraced by another, the accumulated tension of internal bracing can transmute. One can allow the feeling of contraction within the supportive embrace of another. The power of two, instead of one, meets the tension. One feels safer. One can let go of the ability to numb and disassociate. One can feel the heart. By falling into the loving and supportive embrace of another, the tension can release through shaking, rattling, whimpering or sighing.
To be met, held and not demanded to be other than what one is at that moment, translates to being supported in safety. It is not solely an emotional support. It is a physiological relational reality. The parasympathetic nervous system responds. One naturally allows a full breath, because, at that moment, one experiences trust in falling into the web of life where one is held. The individual relates to connection, to the oneness to which we all belong. One embraces and is embraced by the flow of the life force, by its influx of cycles. The feeling of self is of generosity and spaciousness.
A fundamental relational experience of relaxation is essential. Once the experience of support is felt as a basis, one can meander into social exchange as opposition and still be relaxed. Dancing with another force helps us connect with our strength and grace, not just with grit and armoring. The other supports the self in the uniqueness of being. The experience of self as whole is not so easily threatened. Trust is rooted.
My name is Kathrina Peterson and I invite you to participate in this forum around awareness and movement. I have been a Buddhist meditator for over 20 years and have been exploring in depth what it means to develop as a human being: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. This is my passion, both on a personal and a professional level. I welcome you to share thoughts around what it means to be awake.