The Art of Relaxation
Relaxation is often conflated with passivity; how inaccurate. Anyone who has ever tried to totally and completely unwind knows what patience it takes, especially when compared to the visceral immediacy of stress. To fully shift your being into stasis - emancipated from the drive to always be moving forward, doing, making - can be both difficult and revelatory.
This are notes on rejuvenation's other half, relaxation.
You’ve probably heard of the popular psychology term ‘flow’. It describes the experience of immersing oneself in a task that inspires energised focus, full involvement and enjoyment. Rather than about endurance or goals per se, entering flow is happily invested in process.
Artists often describe making art as conducive to flow. Even the artist’s vocabulary suggests this: they have a ‘practice’, a term that decentres outcome in favour of process, habit and incremental betterment. It is in flow, in a state of practice, that productivity and relaxation unite.
A strange aspect of relaxation is its kinship with chaos. It is only in contrast that relaxation is enriching – only after a storm, do the skies seem miraculously clear. In her novel ‘Pond’, Claire-Louise Bennett’s protagonist takes a bath while a storm rages outside. The juxtaposition between the still waters lapping around her knees and torrential rain outside is integral to Bennett’s image of relaxation.
This aesthetic distance is also observed in John Olsen’s ‘Foggy Morning’ (below). Choppy waves and dense fog envelop the Sydney Opera House, its sublime peaks as jagged as ocean rock. Yet, contained in Olsen’s mind, the effect is less frightening and more warming, like falling asleep to the wind’s howls.
Relaxation does not have to occur in solitude. Rather, this long weekend is an ideal opportunity to wind down with family – to shed the masks we wear at work, in the supermarket and at dinner parties to enter a state of shared openness.
In 'Maternidad (Motherhood)', Fanny Rabel captures a moment of silence between mother and child. That the quiet is likely skirt by all the chaos a new child invites only makes it sweeter.
After a sabbatical from the frenzy of everyday life, you may find yourself more capable of creativity. Indeed, creativity thrives in balance – between activity and stagnation. Relaxation, a refuge from stress and step before stagnation, is the perfect place to cultivate it.
You don't need to be an artist to be creative. Inspiration can spark in the kitchen before a simmering pot or immersed in dirt in the garden, tending to the ebb and flow of ecosystems. These activities, which recall flow, are grounding. They are productive without economic return – the casserole will be eaten and the flowers will wilt, reviving the following spring.
You may also find that creativity strikes before art, relaxed yet engaged.