One of the more popular uses of AVS is to assist with relaxation. Contemplation and meditation are also popular and each relies on relaxation as the foundation.
Relaxation is difficult in the world of today. Relaxed people don’t feel the need to rush around spending money, thus every effort is made to keep us stimulated. Those who can while away hours in relaxed, contemplative or meditative states are not useful economic units. The ability to disconnect from worldly concerns is contrary to the interests of those who profit from frenzied gratification.
The medicalisation of many modes of human experience has also done much to diminish self-worth and belief in the individual’s unique character and right to be. As with all things, human experience covers a gamut, generally according to a bell distribution. For the purposes of manipulation it is desirable to have the market pressed into a tight band of conformity. There’s a lot of money to be made keeping people compliant.
Depression and anxiety are valid responses to the ways of wealth and power imposed upon us. Attention deficit disorders are to be expected with 24/7 stimulation from the earliest of ages. Self-medication, use of non-prescribed psychoactives and alcohol, is unsurprising given the ineffectiveness of typical therapies and heavily marketed pharmaceuticals. Mania is a curiosity – too much of a good thing? Psychosis seems reasonable when that referred to as “reality” is so often itself surreal. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) provides a smorgasbord of descriptions of human expression to describe any behaviour that sits uncomfortably with others – one of my favourites is ODD (oppositional defiance disorder) which describes a tendency to not do what is asked, quite appropriate I think when so much of what is required of us is senseless. There isn’t a person on the planet who doesn’t fit one or more of these absurd, clinically meaningless, descriptions of “mental illness”.
Many of us find it difficult to find enduring pleasure. It may be said that we become bored easily. I’m inclined to think that many of us become bored instantly. One of the first steps towards relaxation is to accept boredom as a useful pause marker – every minute of every day does not have to be filled with activity, meaningful or otherwise.
All of this leads us to the way in which many of us approach relaxation. First, it seems to be something we should do. Next, there is the expectation that it will be a profound experience (even more so when progressed to contemplation or meditation). That the quality be measurable. Each of these points is in direct conflict with relaxation.
Relaxation as it is now known had no place earlier on in the march of civilisation – what we have now is a product of unwell society. Using all and any means to persuade the mind that all is well when clearly it isn’t seems, to me, counterproductive. Thus it is necessary to frame relaxation/meditation within a realistic perception of reality. When all distortions and deceptions are allowed for relaxation becomes useful again.
Thus we have the keys to relaxation in our world of today.
- Consciously acknowledge your worries. If there are any worries that can be dealt with, deal with them first.
- Consciously acknowledge distractions. If there are any distractions that can be eliminated for the duration, do so first.
- Ensure that you are free for the time desired. If it is likely that you will be called upon, pick another time.
- Learn to keep still. The last three points can be considered while getting comfortable. If you are distressed or agitated by things that can be dealt with immediately then it is not a good time to attempt relaxation. Those things that cannot be dealt with immediately need to be dismissed for later consideration – this is an important skill in any attempt to calm the mind – well expressed in the Serenity Prayer used by AA – God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.)
- Ensure that you are safe, warm, comfortable, adequately but not over fed, suitably hydrated. None of these are really necessary – contemplative states are commonly attained under the most adverse conditions.
- Ensure that any relaxation aids, such as AVS and biofeedback devices are unobtrusive and will not require intervention.
- Close your eyes. Open-eye meditation is a whole different thing.
- Keep still. Fidgeting, blinking, scratching and so on all activate parts of the brain that are best quiet when relaxing. On the other hand, if something is bugging you, deal with it – don’t suppress a need to scratch an itch, scratch it then begin from the beginning. In time bodily intrusions will cease intruding.
- Don’t think. Thinking is the deliberate process of fishing out bits of memory or sense data and critically examining or modifying them. Thinking has it’s place in some contemplative practices, but not in relaxation. An aspect of ordinary life can be a focus for contemplation. Any of the states from alpha through to delta can be helpful in weeding out circular thought and unproductive prejudices and predilections. That said, it is useful to learn to relax quietly before inviting in worldly matters. If you have brought a matter for consideration, stay with it – if your contemplation degenerates into a mental free-for-all then it’s probably best to end the session.
- Allow thoughts to rise and view them as you would passing scenery in a moving vehicle. If you find yourself engaging with your thoughts, have a couple of attempts at starting the process from the beginning and then get up and get on with sorting out whatever it is that demands your attention. This can be as simple as grabbing a pen and paper an adding the matter to a to-do list.
- If you’re using AVS you are aiming for a state where you see without looking and hear without listening. Looking and listening are both beta activities which will inhibit the alpha/theta states associated with relaxation. Depending on your nature, beta states may be perfect for relaxation – feel free to try relaxing with any or all of the sessions your device offers.
- If you are using biofeedback, don’t make it a competition. Higher relaxation “scores” don’t necessarily mean that you are becoming more relaxed – there are numerous acts of will that can induce particular brain rhythms/biological responses. Entrainment itself can create the illusion of a particular mental state even when the brain is not being used for the function associated with that state.
- Avoid thinking of relaxation (or contemplation/meditation) as virtuous in itself. There is no intrinsic virtue or value to any particular mental state. In a more reasonable world we would fulfill all of our mind’s needs in the natural course of night and day.
- Avoid thinking of relaxation as a chore.
- Regardless of any technology you may employ to assist you, you will know when it’s happening for you. If you have to ask then it isn’t.
- Maintain awareness – sleep is a different thing.
These points are largely specific to passive/inactive relaxation. Many people are “active relaxers”. Allow your uniqueness to be expressed in your relaxation practices – if it works for you then it is perfect.