BY DAVID PIEPLOW – contributing writer –

A guy goes into the doctor’s office and says, “Doc, I keep having these alternating, recurring dreams.  First I’m a teepee; then I’m a wigwam; then I’m a teepee; then I’m a wigwam again.  It’s driving me crazy.  I can’t get any sleep and I’m a nervous wreck.  What’s wrong with me?”  The doctor replies, “It’s very simple.  You’re two tents.”  There’s a diagnosis that applies to each of us.  We are, have been, or will be too tense.  We can even label our two “tents”…fear and worry.  What we’re not afraid about we worry about.  And we wonder why we experience so much anxiety and live tension-filled lives!  We are a mess!  Why?  I believe it is because most of us don’t have the first idea how to skillfully do nothing.  Relaxation has become a lost art.  We simply don’t have the time to learn this lost art of relaxation.  We have to make the time.  Our ability to relax can actually change who we are and clean up the messes we have made of our lives.  Learning how to skillfully do nothing can effectively manage our fears and worries, stress and anxieties while controlling our anger, irritability, depression, burnout, medical problems, and more. So, how do we change this blueprint for disaster?  Three steps…

  1. Discover what relaxation is not (STRESS) and its source.
  2. Believe that we need to do something IMMEDIATELY.
  3. Commit ourselves to a specific course of action.

An article from the Dartmouth College Student Wellness Center tells us:

“Stress is a basic part of life.  Our responses to stress help our minds and bodies to prepare for difficult challenges, and to react appropriately in a time of crisis.  Stress adds flavor, challenge, and opportunity to life.  Without stress, life could become quite dull and unexciting.  The problem is that too much-continued stress can and does seriously impair relationships, lead to self-blame, self-doubt, and feeling burned out or actually becoming clinically anxious or depressed.”
So, where does “too much stress” come from?  Its foundation is found in environmental, social, and physiological factors such as excessive noise, bad weather or natural disasters, financial problems, family conflicts, or sickness/death, alcohol or drug use/abuse, accidents, or sleep disturbances.  But where anti-relaxation or stress really begins to affect us is found in our thoughts or perceptions of our life situations.  An old Chinese proverb says,

            “Tension (stress) comes from who you think you should be.
Relaxation is who you are.”

When we perceive a situation as dangerous, difficult, or painful and believe we don’t have the resources to solve or even cope with the problem, we experience too much stress.  In other words, tension, anxiety, even fear and worry all begin with our perceptions of things… “who we think we should be.”

All of us desperately need to relax; to skillfully do nothing.  Our darkened and overburdened souls need to be enlightened.  Why do we let the perceptions of our daily situations and circumstances be in charge of our lives?  This is what creates stress and in the process, destroys our ability to relax.  We have to WANT to fight back and dial down our perceptions, our “busyness”, and the intensity of our lives that prevent us from relaxing.  If we believe that relaxation is a waste of time, silly, trivial, or meaningless, we will never commit ourselves to any course of action that helps us truly relax.  From A Philosopher’s Notes by Brian Johnson, there is a journaling exercise called “The 110 Year Old You”:

“It’s quite simple and we can all do it… Imagine that the 110 year old version of you came from the future to see you and had only 2 minutes to share some profound wisdom with your current self.  What would he/she say to you?  What would be shared?  Right now, get a pencil and write down those words (or do it later, but don’t forget)”.  Here’s what I wrote:

“David, slow down!  You are acting foolish.  Life is not a race or competition.  Enjoy every moment of every day.  Stop worrying about the past or future.  All you have is right now.  Learn how to relax.  Stop doing and start being.  Be quiet and listen.  Open your eyes and observe.  Smile, laugh, cry, taste, and smell.  Each day should be savored like rich chocolate, fine wine, or a fragrant flower.  When it’s time to work, get busy and do your best.  But don’t forget to play, sit, and rest.  Please relax, David.  You have earned it.  Be proud of yourself.  I am.  I believe in you!”

If we are ever going to skillfully do nothing, we need to discover what works for each of us.  Here are a few suggestions from an article in Psychology Today by Dr. Will Meek from Vancouver, Washington:

  • Develop a daily relaxation routine (meditation, prayer, yoga, exercise, reading quiet time)
  • Give yourself “Me Time” (daily nap, funny movie, special food, hobby)
  • Find a support system (friend, family member, pastor, teacher, counselor)
  • Get organized and take charge of your life. Plan your time, make a “to do” list, establish priorities, keep a journal.  Learn to say, “No!”
  • “Accept the things you cannot change, change the things you can and take time to discover the wisdom to know the difference.” (The Serenity Prayer)

But above all, SLOW DOWN!  We will never be able to discover the lost art of relaxation until we reduce our “life speed” and learn how to linger.  David L. Weatherford captures this idea so beautifully in his delightful poem “Slow Dance”…

Have you ever watched kids on a merry-go-round?

Or listened to the rain slapping on the ground?

Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic flight?

Or gazed at the sun into the fading night?

You better slow down.  Don’t dance so fast.

Time is short.  The music won’t last.

Do you run through each day on the fly?

When you ask: How are you?  Do you hear the reply?

When the day is done, do you lie in bed

With the next hundred chores running through your head?

You better slow down.  Don’t dance so fast.

Time is short.  The music won’t last.

Ever told your child, we’ll do it tomorrow?

And in your haste, not see his sorrow?

Ever lost touch, let a good friendship die

Cause you never had time to call and say, “Hi”?

You better slow down, don’t dance so fast.

Time is short.  The music won’t last.

When you run so fast to get somewhere

You miss half the fun of getting there.

When you worry and hurry through your day,

It is like an unopened gift thrown away.

Life is not a race.  Do take it slower.

Hear the music, before the song is over.”

I have to go now.  It’s time for my nap.