But what does that feel like? I have a suggestion that people on live retreats and possibly online retreats take the time and preparatory step to understand what it feels like to relax.
Relaxing the bodily, mental, and verbal formations - it feels like a clear space, a pristine, thoughtless space with no craving. Body is relaxed but not slouching. Mind is clear, like a cloudless sky, and thoughts are gone, barely wisps if they are present at all.
When people learn to pinpoint the relaxing of the formations in this manner, they can immediately understand the Relax step, as I have understood it and as it has helped me. The suggestion here is to just let mind be and then intend the relaxation. Relax, relax, relax - then, one is able to see what it means to have that open spacious mind so one can quickly go to it as one lets go of the distraction, then sees that open mind.
Some people seem to associate the relax step with a sharp intake of air and a letting of breath. This is a reactionary aspect of the Relax step, but not the relax step of stilling formations in and of itself.
So, once one understands the feeling of relax, this is what happens.
One's object is Metta. One suddenly thinks back to a time with nostalgia or considers the future or thinks about anything other than the Metta. One RECOGNIZES, seeing the distraction. RELEASING is the immediate letting go of the distraction - not attending to it, turning mind's attention now to the RELAX step - the stilling of formations. Mind is now clear, ready to attend to RE-SMILING, or checking if one is still smiling, then RETURNING to the object of meditation, then REPEATING every time one sees mind has been distracting. All of this, as I've once said before, happens in less than 5 seconds. It is a flow as we've seen, a rolling.
Now, the other thing to consider is that mind attaches itself to the Metta, or Karuna, or Muditā, or Upekkhā.
Here, it's important to pay attention to mind observing - just watching, not becoming the Metta. It's an object, therefore, one is watching it, not becoming it. The feelings that come up from the object must be observed, and 6R'd if they distract. Likewise, one observes that one was distracted - not becoming the distraction by fighting it or ignoring it. Any such effort will only cause more craving and clinging.
Allow the mind to do its work. It will unravel itself.
Observation is not focus - it is the mere watching and seeing what occurs, not becoming involved or identifying with the feeling or the object. This then becomes absorption concentration, too much focus, pushing down insights to arise naturally.
This is why relaxing is important - it provides the mind space required for insights to arise. This is how it is seen from my experience.
Of course, one caveat - one mustn't just relax during the actual meditation. Once understand what it feels like, one uses it as part of the 6R effort. Then, there is development and progress as it is intended. Besides, one mustn't just relax, relax, relax in the beginning because mind then will become dull with no object. It's only after one's mind has reached stability through the jhānas that mind can then watch its own clarity, luminosity, and radiance - the bright, quiet, clear mind, where at this point all crude formations have been relaxed, and now one lets go of the subtler formations.
Written by Advanced Meditator