The car was out of control. Veering and spinning across the highway, it didn’t respond to the steering wheel or the brakes. It was only going to stop when it ran into some immovable object.
I realized in that moment that there was nothing I could do to influence the outcome. I was entirely powerless.
And in that moment of recognition something wonderful happened. I became entirely calm, entirely still. I knew there was nothing I could do, so I was free from any pressure to do anything. All I had to do was watch and wait.
Time slowed. My perceptions became sharp and vivid. I was curious but not concerned about what was happening, unworried about what the next moment would bring. My mind was clear and open.
Afterward, I thought Why isn’t my experience always like this? What exactly made me feel so free? Is it possible to feel this free all the time? And I set out to find the answer.
You may never have had such a dramatic experience, but I’m willing to bet you’ve had a taste of what I’m talking about.
Have you ever been “in the zone” when playing sports or video games? That same sense of clarity and flow is what I felt.
Have you ever gotten lost in the beauty and wonder of a sunset, a mountain scene, a seascape? That same sense of freedom from care is what I felt.
Have you ever gotten so involved in an intricate bit of craft work or art work that you lost track of everything else, “lost yourself in your work”? That same sense of focused presence is what I felt.
Have you ever been so carried away watching a movie, listening to music, or reading a book, that you feel afterward like you’ve been taken away from yourself on a journey? That’s also what I’m talking about.
All these states of mind are reminders that we are naturally free, that tension and worry are artificial discomforts we impose on ourselves because we’ve never been properly taught how to relax, how to go with the flow, how to be focused without being uptight.
What have I discovered? Those are skills we can learn. In this little book I’ll show you how to start freeing yourself from the tyranny of tension. Let’s get started.
Oh, you’d like to know about my car? Well, after spinning once and flipping onto its side, it did find an immovable object: a lamppost. The car was totaled. I and my passenger were shaken up but uninjured. Then I was arrested and jailed overnight.
But that’s a story for another time.
Each of us has been acquiring tension every day of our lives. Reading about it and gaining insight into the process may help a little, but to truly solve the problem and free ourselves from unnecessary tension requires more. It requires discovering our own built-in Relaxation Solution. The exercises in this book will gently and naturally lead you there.
Many of the exercises are done with the eyes closed. It’s much more effective to listen to the instructions during the exercise, so I’ve recorded them for your exclusive use. You may stream and/or download these on your smartphone or other device. There’s a list of links to the audio files at the back of the book.
Who Am I?
My name is Steve Diamond. I go by the more formal Stephen on the book cover, but in real life I’m simply Steve.
I’ve been teaching stress reduction in person and online since 2013, and studying it for a lot longer. I’ve taught one-on-one and in groups. I’ve taught free classes at public libraries and private coaching clients.
This book gives you a concise, easy-to-follow program containing what my clients and students have found most helpful. If you follow, I trust that you will find it helpful too.
HOWEVER, I want you to hear this loud and clear:
Don’t believe a word I say!
That’s right. Don’t believe anything I tell you when I’m explaining how things work or how things are. I’m not here to tell you how your mind works. That’s for you to discover. I’m here to provide some tools to help you explore your own immediate experience and make those discoveries for yourself.
I’ll make some suggestions along the way about what you may be finding as you use those tools. Don’t take the suggestions overly seriously. They’re just guideposts. If they help you in your explorations, great. If what I say doesn’t make sense to you, or if what you find within yourself is different than what I say, believe your own experience. I can’t emphasize this enough.
In other words, do the exercises and draw your own conclusions.
It doesn’t do you a lot of good to hear about or read about your mind. That’s where many self-help books fail. All they do is try to tell you about you. But you’re the ultimate authority on you. So, don’t believe anything I tell you…unless you’ve verified it for yourself.
Chapter One: The Tension Problem
All Stress All the Time
We’re surrounded by things that stress us out. Rarely do most of us get any relief from incessant noise, news, advertising, and pressure to get things done—in our jobs, in our relationships, and at home. It can feel like we’re constantly bombarded with stressful situations. They’re almost impossible to avoid.
Even when we manage to get away for a night out with friends, a weekend with the family, a few hours out in nature, or just a few minutes relaxing in a warm bath, it’s hard to avoid the long reach of the world that assaults us through our mobile devices, TVs, and radios.
We respond to all this stress by creating tension. We create tension in our bodies and tension in our minds. And all this tension is making us ill. It’s literally killing us.
Why do we make ourselves tense in response to stress? The short answer is that we learned to do it to protect ourselves, but it got out of hand and became an unhelpful habit. Imagine someone is about to punch you in the gut. What do you do? You tense your gut muscles, of course. That tension will protect you when the blow lands. An extreme example is a circus strongman who can deflect a cannonball to the abdomen by tensing those muscles.
This defensive response works well in those particular situations where we see what’s coming and we know that tension will protect us. But what evolved as a useful mechanism against physical threats doesn’t work well when most of the threats we face nowadays are mental. We aren’t likely to encounter a saber-tooth cat in the street. We’re very likely to encounter a demand from our boss or from a bill collector, in which cases tension is not our friend.
So we’ve learned without realizing it to make ourselves tense when it’s not going to do us any good. In fact, it harms us. Stress from a variety of causes—social isolation, depression, unemployment, anxiety attacks, to name a few—can alter our bodies. Stress actually accelerates the aging of our cells in measurable ways that are associated with chronic disease and premature aging. (See Science References at the back of the book for some of the science about this.)
How we respond to these stressors makes all the difference. Do we let them get to us? Or can we remain calm and relaxed in the midst of the storm?
That’s what this book is all about: how to relax. How to relax truly, profoundly, naturally, and effortlessly. How to relax at a level rarely experienced in this modern world.
It’s about discovering our own innate Relaxation Solution. Everyone has it. Finding it is only a matter of a simple shift in perspective. This book will guide you there.