This is adapted from the Dharma Ocean podcast of a talk given by Dr. Reggie Ray at the Blazing Mountain Retreat Center in Crestone, Colorado.
The physical tension of the Western person is not situational. It actually goes the other way. We have a tremendous investment in being uptight, tense, and rigid. And because of that, we keep busy. We’re not busy because we have to be busy—we’re busy because being busy is the only way to avoid relaxing. Busy-ness becomes an ego maintenance situation. If we actually give ourselves the time and space in our lives, apart from being preoccupied with agendas and projects, we start to relax. And many of us don’t want to do that because we are hanging onto a limited view of ourselves that is comfortable, secure, and small.
When we talk about relaxing, it’s important to understand that this means letting go of tension, which means that our rigid, solid, tiny view of who we are is going to begin to dissolve. We’re going to run into a much bigger space and discover that there is much more to “us” than we ever imagined. We might say, “That sounds good. I want to do it.” But, the thing is, we may discover things that we don’t want to discover. We may discover that maybe we’re very anxious people. Maybe we’re paranoid. Maybe we have a tremendous need to control ourselves and others. Maybe we are using our “warmth” and “friendliness” to control the social space we are in so we remain safe, secure, and comfortable.
We have little glimmerings of things that don’t fit our positive view of ourselves. The minute you start relaxing, you run into all kinds of things. You realize that there is a completely freaked out five-year-old in there, or a teenager who hates authority is there—maybe an eight-year-old who will do anything to please their parents is there. All of these parts of ourselves that we have marginalized and pushed into the shadows come back. We start to discover that everything that we see in other people is within us. All of the positive qualities, absolutely. But also the negative things. What we hate in others is what we hate in ourselves.
When we talk about discovering ourselves, we’re talking about reclaiming the totality of the human experience. Every person that we’ve ever met that we liked or didn’t like is a reflection of something in us. So when we talk about relaxing, we have to realize what’s at stake. From a certain point of view, it’s a huge joke. But from another point of view, it’s not a joke. And we are, by relaxing, giving birth more and more to the totality of who we are with all of the light and shadows.
It isn’t that the whole journey is painful, but often it’s those unacknowledged things we have been holding at bay that come up first. It’s been universally recognized that the unconscious is in the body; this means that all the experiences of our life that we have not acknowledged are retained in the body, even down to the cells. When we begin working with the body, the unconscious begins to offer up to us each moment of our journey, and each moment is becoming more and more whole. But there is a cost, and the cost is the challenge and the pain, and also the sorrow, involved in the process of reintegration.
It’s as if you are sailing in a sea that no human has ever seen before—the ocean of your own life. And this process of working with the body with a method like Somatic Meditation is truly a moment-by-moment process of unique, unprecedented discovery. You can feel it. It is hugely inspiring and exciting, but it is also terrifying in a kind of refreshing way. You can read all the books in the world, but they won’t tell you what you’re going through. They won’t tell you about your own journey. And they won’t give you any coordinates of how to think about it. So your body becomes your guide. In relation to what is going on in your actual somatic experience, what is geography? What is the texture? What is the weather like? You might think, “How can we possibly have the courage to make this journey ourselves? How can we be willing to be so alone? How can we be so much in charge of the situation of our own life? How can we be faced with discoveries that no one knows about and no one has ever seen, and no one has ever written about?”
The answer is that the need to make that journey is something that is already within us. We have the capacity, and we don’t feel truly at home and truly ourselves until we’re actually making that journey. So it’s an interesting process that as we begin to work with the body in this way, opening our hearts and our minds to the unfolding that begins to happen, even though each moment and each experience is something we’ve never seen before, strangely enough, we begin to feel so very aligned with the depth, as if we have finally found our true place. Doing this Somatic Meditation bodywork, people will often say, “You know, I feel like I’ve come home.” And yet, it’s not a stable home. It’s not a solid situation, but it’s who we are.
We are truly beings in the process. And we are truly beings with an appetite and need to make this journey. You see this in small children. If they haven’t been through horrible experiences too early, you can see their appetite for life; they want to try everything, and they’re so curious about everything. That’s the truth of what human beings are. There’s a sense of daring and courage in small children and almost a lust for being alive. That’s actually who we are—it’s there from the beginning. That sense of confidence and delight, because children have tremendous confidence unless it’s beaten out of them too early, it’s there. It’s not based on causes and conditions. It’s just an unconditioned natural way of being.
We talk about recovering the wonders of childhood on this journey. People make jokes about the inner child in the new age movement, but there’s an element of truth there. That child’s innocent, fresh intelligence, and appetite are actually in us. And through the journey, we peel the layers away, and we begin to discover that it’s always been there. And the more we uncover it, the more we can blossom, and the more resources we have to sail in the unknown sea of our own life, the unexplored territory.