The Link Between Relaxation and Being Who We Are.

October 12, 2023


There is a Chinese proverb that states, “Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” How does this spiritual proverb apply to those who are grieving? We can feel a great deal of tension while grieving and in mourning, but can we “relax”? How do we relax? That sounds counter intuitive. My instinct is that anything is possible.


When grieving we can feel directly, and indirectly, a need to accept the loss. We use the term acceptance liberally (“I’ve accepted it”, “She needs to accept it”, “His life will be better when he accepts it”) and we don’t always think about what the term means. In simple definition terms, acceptance means the act of taking or receiving something offered. In legal terms acceptance means assent to the terms of an offer. With grief we are “offered” the terms of being without someone we care for. Why would we ever accept that? Let’s shift the language to “relaxing into acceptance of the loss”. In the field of psychology, and specifically grief, acceptance means being ok with not always knowing all the circumstances of what they were thinking, feeling or other details of their death. We must let go of needing to know to get to a place of true acceptance. We can’t let go when we are tense. We can let go when we relax.


It's natural and understandable to feel tension around wanting to feel better. We always want to feel better and may take strides by watching what we eat, exercising, talking to trusted people, and so on.  When we don’t feel better, we can feel tense. Perhaps the tension is around where we want to get to in our grieving process but it’s only when we can let go and relax into the experience that is ours, that we can really start to feel who we are now. We are changed, as all loss will do, but relaxing into it is where we find our new self. Our post loss self.


The opposite of feeling tense is to feel relaxed. When we feel tense, we can start to become more intense in our actions and interactions. The pressure from our culture or community can be we “should be” over it, back to our old self, moved on, etc. We are none of these when grieving and tension rises. We feel tense for not achieving the next stage. Consequently, we get more intense and further away from who we are. For example, this is very true of the dynamic between parents and their children. There is an old expression that a parent is as happy as their least happy child. When a child is not happy (perhaps a non-death loss is at work here) a parent feels tension and can gets further away from who they like to be, want to be, as a parent. When they can relax, let go and accept the moment they can maybe then be the parent they want to be. When we can start to let go (it’s a very long process with no real end) and relax into acceptance of our loss, we can then maybe be the person we now are.