Feeling relaxed

Who in your life is very relaxed – it could be an Elder, a baby, a friend, perhaps a pet? In my life, I’d have to say that my cat seems most relaxed. It’s not that she doesn’t have any stress in her life. She and the neighbour’s cat don’t always see eye to eye. Sometimes she’s locked inside at night when she’d love to be outside instead, exploring and hunting. And as for visits to the vet…

Still, when she’s curled up on the couch, or under the bed on a rainy day, it’s hard not to feel more relaxed just looking at her.

I’ve met babies who seem to gaze into the world with serene eyes, and Elders who have learned, over the years, to live with an open perspective to life which doesn’t get them bogged down in every small little stressor. Just as stress can be infectious (we all feel it when someone’s having a bad day at the office), so can relaxation. I feel more relaxed just looking at my cat when she’s fast asleep, and I feel more at ease when I’m in the presence of someone who radiates calm and compassion.

Sometimes we might feel – ‘I don’t have time to be relaxed, there’s just so much to do.’ Yet even when life is busy, we can benefit from slowing down the pace a little; and we can also choose to build little ‘relaxation moments’ into our day. We might not be able to linger for an hour over our afternoon cup of coffee, but perhaps we can take three minutes to pause, breathe, and really savour the drink. If we notice our breath is becoming shallow and our shoulders are really tight, we can roll our shoulders back a few times, and say to ourselves in a kind voice, ‘breathe, relax.’ Perhaps a bird is singing outside, and we can pause for a moment in whatever we’re doing, and allow ourselves to feel nourished by the bird song. In our everyday life, there are countless of these small opportunities for building more relaxation into our lives. They may not seem like much, but over time they make a noticeable difference to how each day unfolds. It is one of the kindest things we can do for ourselves – and it’s not only we who benefit, but those around us enjoy the contagious effect of being around a more relaxed person as well.

Weekly practice idea:

Choose one small relaxation practice (either one of the ones mentioned above, or a practice of your own choosing), and commit yourself to pause for this practice at least three times a day for the next week. What do you notice?

Anja Tanhane

The resource-seeking system Part 1

So far, we’ve looked at the first of Paul Gilbert’s three emotional systems – the fight/flight system. Over the coming two weeks we will explore the second system, which he calls the ‘drive- and resource-seeking’ system. While the fight/flight system is all about here-and-now survival (trying not to become the tiger’s lunch, so to speak), the second system is also survival-based, though not quite as immediate. We’ve managed to avoid becoming the tiger’s lunch, but we still need to find lunch for ourselves, as well as shelter, medicines to keep us healthy, protection for our children, and so on. This second system is all about ensuring we get the resources we need in order to survive and prosper. When our distant ancestors lived in the savannah, food and shelter were the main priorities. Nowadays, in order to thrive in our society, we may also need a car to get to work, a smartphone to stay in touch, a computer, a house and so on. While there may be legitimate debate about just how much ‘stuff’ we actually need, the reality is that we can’t hold down a job if we only have one item of clothing made of old sacks, can’t wash ourselves, have no way of getting to work, or can’t keep in touch with the world around us. And of course we also want the best for our children, and to give them every opportunity to feel safe, to thrive, and to belong.

The resource-seeking system is what motivates us to get out of bed each morning, to work hard, to accomplish our tasks, whether small or large, and to strive for excellence. We can derive a great deal of our meaning in life, as well as joy and a sense of achievement, from this system. It is based on rewards – each time we achieve something, or get something, whether it’s a promotion, a like on Facebook, a new car, or praise from a family member, our brain releases a little rush of dopamine to help us feel good, and to motivate us to keep trying. The resource-seeking system is a very active and engaged system, and it can be highly energising. It’s certainly a wonderful part of our life, and, like all three emotional systems in Paul Gilbert’s model, it plays an important part in helping us live well. However, there are also some potential pitfalls when we invest too much of our life into this system – when our life becomes out of balance. Next week, we will look at some of the shadow sides which the resource-seeking system can bring with it.

Weekly practice idea:

Write down a list of potential problems that an over-reliance on the resource-seeking system might bring about in our life.

Anja Tanhane