“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” Chinese proverb
In the effort to become who we think we are supposed to be we carry around a lot of tension (both emotionally and physically).
And the more tense a person becomes, the less aware they are of how they are turning into someone else. In the case of our muscles, this is physiological fact; muscle sensitivity decreases as tension increases.
Given this inherent unreliability of our own senses it is very useful to have a second opinion.
This is one of the reasons why I enjoy Argentine Tango. Unless my awareness is both in the present and in the room my leading will suffer and my partner will suffer accordingly. The result is that ‘we’ are no longer dancing together. Instead 'we' turn into two people who happen to be in the same place.
If I try too hard, or worry about the next move instead of attending to the present one, the result is an unwarranted level of tension and an immediate deterioration in performance. I have found it to be the same when running. I have been told it is the same in music; you can literally hear when the musician is either stressed or “elsewhere” – they become someone else.
These forms of feedback are therefore of great value. Jerzy Kozinski happened across one in 1983 (and subsequently wrote about if for The Observer).
Last year, while vacationing in Bangkok, a Venice of the Orient, I became aware of the ease and freedom with which the Thais approach the water.
One day, at my hotel, I saw a middle-aged Thai lower himself into the deep end of the pool, but just when I expected him to start swimming, he brought his feet together, placed his hands along his thighs and with his head above the surface, he began to float upright as if standing on a transparent shelf.
Approaching the pool, I examined him closely – several feet of water separated him from the bottom – and there was no device to keep him afloat.
“Excuse me,” I asked, perplexed, “Why don’t you sink?”
“Why should I?” said the man, “I don’t want to.”
“Then why don’t you swim?”
“I don’t want to swim,” said the man.
“What do you do to buoy yourself like that?” I asked.
“Can’t you see?” said the man, “I do nothing.”
“But what’s the trick?” I asked, watching his every move.
“Being oneself. That’s the trick,” he said, shifting in the water. His thighs spread, his feet tucked under him, his hands clasped his shins, he became motionless, gently bobbing with the movement of the water. “Being oneself – that’s all?”
“That’s all,” he agreed.
“But when I’m myself and do nothing I drown,” I objected.
“To drown is to do something,” said the man. “Do nothing. Be yourself.”
“Easily said! Is there a place where I could learn it?” I asked.
“There is,” he replied, a bit impatient. “Water.”
“But do you know someone who can teach me how to?”
“I do. You can teach yourself,” said the man with emphasis, as he turned away.