Recently I have learned the importance of rest for the first time in my life. Sure I took holidays and enjoyed sitting in the sunshine reading. But generally, I was always ‘doing’.
For years my friends and family would tell me to rest. But I was one of those busy people who got things done. I fulfilled the saying “if you want something done, ask a busy person”. As I reflect it felt like something driving me inside to achieve and fit as much as possible into my day. As I think about it there was a tightness in me, an anxiety and a slight panic about getting everything right. Always trying too hard, always wanting things to be right. Of course, the more I took on, the more I couldn’t get everything right. Then it turned into a self-perpetuating cycle. Without me really recognising what was going on it all had an impact on my body. My shoulders were like boards and my poor body suffered from the accumulation of stress, as did my whole being. I even ended up with a stomach ulcer.
The concept of resting only came to me when I started practicing mindfulness. In the Mindfulness Level 1 Course we learn how to find our posture, then we begin to settle as we observe our breath and body sensations. Then we invite the body and mind to rest.
It was here I suddenly began to recognise the concept of ‘nothing to do, nowhere to go’ and just being instead of doing. At the beginning I noticed an incredibly messy mind that was darting here there and everywhere. It was definitely not doing nothing. And inside my body I was aware of a tightness as if there were a coiled spring inside me ready to pop up like a ‘Jack(y) in the Box’!!
At the same time as learning mindfulness, I also trained to teach Tai Chi, QiGong and Yoga and began to realise the impact of how stressed my body was. Mindful movement enabled me to tune into my body and where I found tightness, I was able to bring a little softness by gently moving my body with the ancient arts I was learning.
What became very apparent was the habitual behaviours I had learned with my body. As I deepened into my mindfulness and movement practice, I became more aware of the tightness and reactions that were now on autopilot. I had a lot to work with and retrain my mind and body to mindfully respond accordingly to situations rather than react in my usual habitual way.
I also wondered what was going on inside to have developed this behaviour in the first place.
As I deepened into compassion training, I began to learn how important it was to be kind to myself. I had never thought of that notion before. Kindness was the beginning of the unravelling of the habit. When I notice tightness or tension in my body, I bring some kindness to it. Not trying to change how it is, but allowing with ‘soften, soothe, allow’ – a practice from the compassion course. The more I brought a sense of softness and kindness to this body, the more I learned how to rest.
In the Mindfulness Associations Insight Training – Level 3 Seeing Deeply – there is a practice I love. Resting in the Midst. It was here the insight arrived about the true sense of resting. The full realisation landed like one of those delicious ‘aha’ moments that changed my life. Resting in the midst of the total experience became the practice. I began to notice that even though my mind wanted to rest, the coil deep within my body was still whirring away.
In the practice we are guided to feel the ground beneath us, noticing air on our skin, space around us, aware of sounds and the landscape we are in. With a sense of curiosity, each time I practiced I cultivated a sense of curiosity as if sitting back in my body watching. I once learned from a Taoist teacher to sit back in the body as if in a comfy chair watching the movie of your mind on a big screen. Not interacting, just watching and resting in it all. Whenever thoughts pop up, I rest in it all. Whatever is going on around me, rest in it all.
The beauty of this practice is that it became a daily life practice. Even when I noticed the body and mind still wanting to be actively doing, I gently encourage myself to just be with it all. With it came the insight that I had been so busy doing because I was running away from facing the fact that I was unhappy. The busier I kept myself, the less time I had to dwell on the uncomfortable things, so rest was not an option.
And finally, I was able to bring the concept of rest home. These days I make sure I take time to rest, not necessarily meditate, but rest in awareness, be it in front of the fire in the evening, or on a bench in a park, watching my grandson play on the beach, or sitting on a cliff top gazing out to sea. Doing Nothing. Nothing to fix, Nothing to Achieve. Just Rest. Just Be.
Have you ever taken the time to notice if you are stressed or if you are keeping yourself busy to avoid something uncomfortable in your life. If you are, I invite you to take a moment to pause and practice, right there, where you are. Drop into your body, feel your feet against the ground and become aware of space around you, air against your skin, sounds and smells around you. Expand awareness to sensations across your whole body, including the flow of breath. Become aware of thoughts and feelings without entertaining them. Sit in the midst of everything and soften around it all with a sense of kindness for yourself and rest. How does that feel?
Jacky has contributed a chapter to the Mindful Heroes Book entitled “Turning Empathic Distress into Compassion – A Hero’s Journey for Family Carers”. You can hear an extract from the chapter where she talks about the results of her MSc Studies in Mindfulness on Compassion & Family Carers. You can download a free sample of Jacky’s chapter here.