A Note on Relaxation
(Maurice Nicoll, Psychological Commentaries on the Teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky)
It is a long time since we spoke about relaxing. On several occasions in the past we were told that we had to relax and to practise relaxation every day. Of course this has become a familiar word having no meaning nowadays in ordinary parlance, but when the Work speaks about relaxing it is speaking about something quite different that we should all practise. Let me remind you what the work says about relaxing. It says that all relaxation must begin with the small muscles, such as the small muscles of the face, the fingers and the toes. We were taught to begin with the face and to put internal attention into the small muscles of the face and to relax them–the muscles round the mouth, the muscles round the eyes, and even the eye-muscles themselves.
Now if we speak about relaxing we have to speak about internal attention. We have two kinds of attention, one external and one internal. For example, when one observes oneself, one’s moods, thoughts, and so on, one is using internal attention–i.e. attention not directed toward any external object, visible, tangible, or audible, through the senses. Self-observation is not about anything that the senses can see, hear, etc. but about what only the internal sense can observe. This is internal attention. In regard to placing consciousness through attention into different parts of your body, you must begin this gradually. For instance, can you become conscious through internal attention in a particular part of your body, let us say, your left foot, and then switch it over to your right foot, and so on? It is quite useless to try to relax unless you have some idea of what internal attention directed towards a particular part of the body means. As I said, the Work teaches that relaxation begins with relaxing the small muscles of the face. It would be no good trying to relax if your eyes were screwed up and your mouth pursed and your jaws clenched. For this reason it is necessary to become internally conscious of the state of the muscles in your face to begin with. And this act of internal attention will produce in you the right condition for relaxing the whole body. The point however is that you have to do it. As you know, most people have no time to do anything like that. They are always carried on in the life-stream of useless thoughts, anxieties and worries. And people even think that to interrupt this purely mechanical stream of things that occupy them the whole time is something that they should not do, that is quite wrong, and so on. But this is not the case. If you can interrupt this mechanical stream that governs you, the stream of life, this cinemafilm, that is always running through you, even for a moment, you will begin to get force. So try to begin with putting your internal attention into the muscles of your face and notice how much attention is lying there.
Mr. O. once said that modern life is always producing tensions in our muscles, anxious expressions, hurried movements, and all this wastes an enormous amount of energy. But, for Heaven’s sake, do not try to relax the small muscles of your face when you are crossing Piccadilly Circus. This would be a great mistake…
Imagine standing still amid the traffic and trying to relax the small muscles of your face and then if you are run over complaining that you were told to do it. This is merely foolishness comparable with the foolishness of people in the early Work who were told to go against mechanicalness and thought it would be a good thing to eat coal, or to stand upright in empty buses, or to eat with the knife in the left hand and the fork in the right hand. All these efforts are useless because they are not intelligent. This Work is about intelligent effort.
We asked a question the other day at one of the meetings here: “Have you studied your Being yet at all and have you noticed what in your Being you should change in the light of the Work?” Supposing you have never observed your Being at all and keep on trying to do this Work just as you are told, will it do you any good? Will it connect itself with yourself? Supposing, for example, you never notice your negative emotions, your envy, your jealousy, and so on, and yet you always try to work on the Emotional Centre in a theoretical way, will it do you any good?
Inner Life Exercise
Behave consciously for a small part of one day in your life.
Because everything we do affects us forever, a single moment in which one is conscious is enough not to behave mechanically.