Exploring Nourishment, Rest and Downtime
Thursday, June 3, 2010
Dear Still Water Friends,
Twice recently I came across the same passage:
Rest when you’re tired.
Take a drink of cold water when you’re thirsty.
Call a friend when you’re lonely.
Ask God to help when you feel overwhelmed.
Many of us have learned how to deprive and neglect ourselves. Many of us have learned to push ourselves hard, when the problem is that we’re already pushed too hard.
Many of us are afraid the work won’t get done if we rest when we’re tired. The work will get done; it will be done better than work that emerges from tiredness of soul and spirit. Nurtured, nourished people, who love themselves and care for themselves, are the delight of the Universe.
They are well-timed, efficient, and Divinely led.
from The Language of Letting Go by Melody Beattie
I often am afraid the work won’t get done if I rest when I’m tired. I also know from experience that the work I do when I’m rested, nurtured and nourished is much likelier to be connected to my heart and to bring me satisfaction and joy than the work I do when I’m tired.
When I think of “rest,” my ideas often are limited: lying on a couch or a bed usually comes to mind first – and perhaps that’s what I need. On the other hand, perhaps an informal (or formal) outdoor walking meditation would be wonderfully nourishing and restful. Or perhaps reading an inspiring story or two would replenish me.
I’ve noticed that when I’m tired, I’m usually hungry. My experience is that my sensations of hunger – when I’m truly hungry and when I’m actually tired – are often identical. When I eat in response to my tiredness-hunger, I do feel somewhat replenished. If I do it too often, though, I find myself making less than healthy food choices. I also find myself off balance and more likely to become ill.
Being tired also brings up my resistancewith semi-conscious thoughts like: “No, it shouldn’t be this way. I hate being tired. It’s not OK with me. I’m just going to push through this.” If I act on those thoughts by pushing through my tiredness, I’m certainly not being kind or compassionate with myself.
I’m guessing that most, if not all, of us also experience the short-temperedness that sometimes (or often) accompanies tiredness. I certainly see it in myself and my grandkids. I find myself saying things I regret – and saying them in ways that I regret – when I’m tired.
I’ve been playing lately with questions such as: “Can I rest in this [particular] work?” At least once, with the assistance of gentle mindfulness, I was able to rest in some challenging work, and the mindfulness itself nourished me. I’ve also been trying to bring more mindfulness to my sensations of tiredness and to experiment with what nourishes and replenishes me.
This Thursday, after our sitting and walking meditation, we’ll explore our relationship to nourishment, rest and downtime. We’ll have a chance to share and listen from our hearts within the mindful, supportive community that is the Sangha,
I invite you to be with us.
Related excerpts from a May 2010 interview with Thich Nhat Hanh by Marianne Schnall are below.
Also, this Thursday is the first Thursday of the month. Beginning at 6:30 p.m., we will offer a brief orientation to mindfulness practice and the Still Water community. If you would like to attend, it is helpful to let us know by emailing us at info@StillWaterMPC.org.
Namaste and blessings,
Marianne Schnall: What effects do you see on your own daily life regarding your relaxation and meditation practices?
Thich Nhat Hanh: The therapeutic power of meditation is very great, as modern scientific studies are now showing. The practices of mindful breathing, sitting meditation and walking meditation release tensions in the body and also in the mind. When we give ourselves the chance to let go of all our tension, the body's natural capacity to heal itself can begin to work. Animals in the forest know this; when they get wounded, ill or overtired, they know what to do. They find a quiet place and lie down to rest. They don't go chasing after food or other animals they just rest. After some days of resting quietly, they are healed and they resume their activities.
We humans have lost the wisdom of genuinely resting and relaxing. We worry too much. We don't allow our bodies to heal, and we don't allow our minds and hearts to heal. Meditation can help us embrace our worries, our fear, our anger; and that is very healing. We let our own natural capacity of healing do the work.
* * *
I know some members of Congress who practice walking meditation on Capitol Hill. One of them says that when he goes to the floor to vote, he always practices walking meditation, stopping his thinking completely. His office is very busy; every day he has to answer many questions, to deal with so many different things. So the only time during the day when he can really stop his thinking and get a rest is when he goes out to cast a vote. He focuses his mind entirely on his breathing and on his steps, not thinking at all, and he says it helps him a lot to survive the hectic life of a Congressman.
It's very important that we relearn the art of resting and relaxing. Not only does it help prevent the onset of many illnesses that develop through chronic tension and worrying; it allows us to clear our minds, focus, and find creative solutions to problems. We will be more successful in all our endeavors if we can let go of the habit of running all the time, and take little pauses to relax and recenter ourselves. And we'll also have a lot more joy in living.
MS: What do you think the effects are on people who feel they are having relaxing time using electronics, i.e. computer, TV, tweeting?
TNH: This reminds me of something I've noticed with people going on vacations. The purpose of a vacation is to have the time to rest. But many of us, even when we go on vacation, don't know how to rest. We may even come back more tired than before we left. What's that about?
Relaxation is essential for our physical, mental, emotional and relational well-being. Because it's so important, I encourage our readers to check in with themselves before and after they engage in activities they do for fun and relaxation, and see whether or not they actually feel better or more relaxed after the activity than they did before. Then they can experiment with sitting meditation, walking meditation or total relaxation practices, and see how they feel after those.
* * *
MS: People often say they are too busy for relaxation time. What simple techniques would you offer to them?
TNH: We don't have to schedule a trip to the monastery to enjoy the benefits of stopping for bells of mindfulness. We can use many "ordinary" events in our daily lives to call us back to ourselves and to the present moment. The ringing of the telephone, for example: many of my students pause to breathe in and out mindfully three times before they pick up the phone, in order to be fully present to themselves and to the person calling them. Or when we are driving, a red light can be a wonderful friend reminding us to stop, relax, let go of discouraging thought patterns and feel more space inside. Taking five minutes to play with children or animals, to walk outside and look at clouds or wildflowers, enjoying our breathing we can already release a lot of tension, relax and refresh ourselves. Identify your own favorite bells of mindfulness, and let them remind you to enjoy being alive!
I actually have just written a short book, now in the editing stages, all about this very subject. The tentative title in English is Peace Is Every Breath: Daily Practices for Our Busy Lives and we expect it to be published in 2011.
* * *
When people's bodies and minds are relaxed, they are much less likely to speak or act in violent ways. We also can access many insights and a wellspring of energy we haven't had since childhood. Women and men throughout history have accomplished seemingly impossible things. The truth is, there's no limit to the positive changes we can make for ourselves and for our society through mindfulness meditation. We just need to begin, where we are, right here, right now.
MS: How can we balance being engaged with the world while nurturing our inner life?
TNH: We must be willing to challenge the assumption that time spent in relaxation and meditation takes away from our realizing other goals, such as a successful career or successful relationships. My own experience and that of my students has been that, as paradoxical as it may seem, when we take time for meditation we actually gain in the other areas of our lives.
For example, in our work life: one really innovative idea can make a huge difference to our bottom line, whether we're selling vacuum cleaners, writing legal briefs, or reducing sick days or other losses of resources. In relationships, both at work and at home, having a relaxed, spacious, alert presence allows us to refrain from saying the fiery words that first pop up in our minds when we get angry.
Relationships are like a forest: it takes a long time to build up precious trust, but one really thoughtless act or remark can be like a lighted match that destroys everything. Those of us who practice have seen very clearly that meditation and relaxation are the most effective ways of promoting creative, innovative thinking, intelligent choices, success and satisfaction in all areas of our lives.