We can pretty easily describe a metaphorical image of what we look like when we are highly stressed. For instance, we may refer to ourselves as a “wild-eyed, wild hair, raging beast” or a “racing tornado just like my mother.” Or we may see ourselves as a “warrior, battling the world.”
It is worthwhile to watch ourselves carefully when we are stressed to spot additional details of this inner character we play when things are not going well. This is not a casual, unimportant imagining of our minds for our minds take this stuff very, very seriously, indeed. The mind, and more specifically, the unconscious, loves this stuff. It is a primary fuel for our inner world.
If we run inner dramas of with us being a wild, barely in control character, we will live that role out. If our go-to role is the harried, I can’t believe nor accept us with every stressor there is no room and no experience playing a different role.
But there are many other roles we can, with lots of practice, learn to act out. We see them in literature and movies:
The Clever, Self-Possessed Hero – These characters range from Sherlock Holmes to James Bond, to Laura Croft.
The Wise Person – Usually associated with the wise, old male, this characterization of a calm person is not limited to men. Many wise women who can see the big picture, hold things in perspective, who are patient can also be found.
The Centered and Detached Sports Person – Think balance-beam gymnasts; professional poker players, golfers.
The Bounce Back Person – We find these not only in literature but in life; the person who goes through tremendous trials but comes right back and keeps on keeping on.
The Immersed Artist/Craftsman/Worker – These people immerse themselves into something finite but seem to get almost infinite vitality, enjoyment, and relaxation from what they are doing.
The Keep to the Simple Person – Look for literary characters who keep a simple life that stands in contrast to the people spinning, busily around them.
How to Build Your Inner Relaxation Self-Image
1. Find an image from the list above (and from your list) the clicks for you. Note, it doesn’t have to be a single inner character. Our stressed out inner image is usually made of a little this and a little that, so you can make your relaxation self-image a little this and a little that, too.
2. Imagine that self-image a little bit each day for a month. We are talking about a few minutes each day. Do this until you feel connected to your image and that it is very clearly in mind.
3. Bring your self-image up in stressful but lower stress situations and start to act as if you are that image. See what you discover.
4. Apply imagining that self-image to memories of stressful situations and see what you can imagine as how you would have responded as that sort of character.
5. Practice, Practice, Practice steps 1 through 5. It takes awhile to develop our stressed-out image, it will take time to develop an inner image we know can pop up on its own when we are facing stress.
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Switching from concern about stress let’s look at the other side of the coin, at relaxation. What is your history of relaxation? What I mean is what has relaxed you? Do you remember? Do you remember several sources of relaxation for you? I know, it is hard to remember, at least most of the time, what has worked for us over the years. No time to look backward we automatically concluded, got to take care of today.
Seriously, what have been things, places, people, and events that have brought you peace and perhaps brought you very positive feeling?. Take your time, don’t rush.
What brought you peace, relaxation within the last six months?
The last year?
Over the last 5 years?
When you were quite younger?
Again, don’t rush it. You don’t have to come up with everything right now, think about adding to your list over the next few days but be comprehensive. Dig deep. Pull hard. Assemble your list of what has worked for you, whether it was large or small, still possible to repeat or impossible to have again, what did it for you?
Look at the list. What was it that gave you that relaxation? What were the qualities of the person, place, thing, event that had such an impact on you?
Which are your top three?
Can you find and experience them again?
As we become more focused on purposeful activities of any sort, we focus our eyes more and more sharply. In the midst of high stress, we develop tunnel vision of a shocking degree (see law enforcement writings). But hard eyes don’t always give us the best results; Extreme focus can be blinding.
Do not look at your opponent’s sword, or you will be slain by his sword. Do not look into his eyes, or you will be drawn into his eyes. Do not look at him, or your spirit will be distracted.
– Morihei Uyeshiba, Founder of Aikido
We are especially blinded to the world if we routinely hold hard eye focus regardless of what we are doing. In effect, as far as our body and brain go, we are holding ourselves in high alert, ready to battle mode. How can this be? All I want to do is get some stuff off my things to do list? That is easy to do. We make each activity something else to: “get out of the way,” “knock off the list”, “get over and done with,” “behind us,” etc. We take this ready-for-battle energy and turned it into the energy for getting things done, large and small.
The body responds in an opposite way if we take some actions that the body is undergoing at the moment, and reverse them. We can slow breathing, slow down our movements, ease our muscles, and reduce our thinking, and, sure enough, the body will go from a state of higher energy into one of more relaxed stance.
From Hard Eyes to Soft Eyes
The goal is loosened up our eyes, both in the midst of a stressful situation as well as generally. Soften eyes comes from tuning down sharp focus on a specific spot to a more open gazing. Peripheral vision is a perfect counter balance.
1. Look at some object at arm’s length or slightly beyond.
2. Notice how you are focused on the object.
3. Now shift your awareness to what you can see in your peripheral vision (no turning of your head, of course).
4. Keep to the sideways awareness for a while then slowly move your vision forward by sweeping gently forward your focus. Do this back and forwards for a few trials.
Now try this in your daily life. As you walk, mix forward-looking to the soft, more diffused viewing affordable by placing your consciousness on your peripheral vision. Play with this for a few days.
When the next stressful event happens, remind yourself to try this.
Les Fehmi, the well-known biofeedback expert, developed Open Focus several decades. Open Focus is a mix of several things, but it involves awareness of diffuse wide-seeing over sharp focus. Fehmi has seen that as people learned how to widen their view, their brain and body let go of gripping day-to-day life, emotional and physical pain. Replacing that was a more restful state that was more open to the moment, open to new opportunities, and generally left people brighter, clearer, and calmer.
Open Focus Training
Effects of life-event stress and hardiness on peripheral vision in a real-life stress situation
The Power of Peripheral Vision
Soft eyes in horseback riding
Excellent collection of writings on soft eyes
Soft eyes and academic study
Peripheral vision in Jiulong