“Take rest; a field that has rested gives a beautiful crop.” OVID, Roman Poet, 43 B.C. – 17 A.D.
When was the last time you experienced a deliciously refreshing night’s sleep? Or a deeply restful hour with loved ones. Or a quiet moment of solitude relaxing into your spiritual self? If you need to look beyond the past 24 hours for the answers, let me help you rest right now.
Winter reminds us about the value of rest, a critical aspect of growth. “Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books,” wrote English naturalist, Sir John Lubbock (1834-1913). We all know those February tree skeletons are resting, not dead. What you probably don’t know is that winter is their time to strengthen and multiply roots. They are not entirely dormant. They’ve redirected activity from boughs in order to enhance their base. Trees teach us to rest our bodies, rest our minds and rest our relationships, while replenishing our souls, our authentic source.
~ Rest Changes and Renews ~
Robert Louis Stevenson pointed out, “It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon [our] hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanates from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.”
As we sleep, we may be still, but like winter trees, we’re not totally inactive. Nature’s rhythms cycle us through three sleep levels for healing, dreaming and transitions. Much is accomplished during appropriate stages of non-doing. Yet, restful refreshment often eludes us even though we’ve been asleep for eight hours. Rest is about more than getting a good night’s sleep.
Rest is a rhythmical systems shift from outer activity to inner communion. Our hearts rest between each beat. Our lungs rest between each breath. Take a moment right now and focus on the stillness between heartbeats. Feel the natural pause between breaths. Those spaces are paradoxically productive. They are as necessary for living as the spaces between these words are for reading. When I pay attention to those spaces my consciousness does some vital inner work. This creates a new mind-set, which fosters renewal in my larger life.
~ Sense Stillness ~
“When you perceive nature, let there be spaces of no thought, no mind,” writes Eckhart Tolle in Stillness Speaks. “To bring your attention to a stone, a tree, or an animal does not mean to think about it, but simply to perceive it, to hold it in your awareness. Something of its essence then transmits itself to you. You can sense how still it is, and in doing so the same stillness arises within you. You sense how deeply it rests in Being ~ completely at one with what it is and where it is. In realizing this, you too come to a place of rest deep within yourself.”
Indeed, nature is a magical vehicle for refreshing your perspective. Watch a sunset and enjoy the lovely subtle changes in texture and color of sky and horizon. Inspired by Mother Teresa’s recommendation, “See how nature ~ trees, flowers, grass ~ grows in silence; see the stars, the moon, and the sun, how they move in silence,” I bundle up and lay out on a chaise some evenings to watch the bright moon float higher and higher into the starry winter night. The restfulness of these spectacles is always enhanced by the silence they’re wrapped in.
~ Silence Is Restful ~
A crackling wood fire indoors or outdoors induces a similar restful silence in which we can reconnect with our authentic being, from whence comes insight and creativity, which add even more fulfillment to living. Or just let a single candle flame quietly calm your chattering mental committee and coax your spirit forth to celebrate this repose. Meanwhile frantic demands of a speed driven culture soften and fade. Thousands of years ago, Lao Tzu claimed, “To the mind that is still, the world surrenders.” Three hundred years ago, William Penn wrote, “True silence is the rest of the mind, and is to the spirit what sleep is to the body: nourishment and refreshment.”
At my retreat school for holistic healing, each student spends two rest periods during class days at her own special, private creek-side bench. One reported, “I feel quiet, calm, peaceful within, while my senses absorb sweet birdsong, brilliant colors and textures of leaves blanketing the ground around me, rich aromas of air and soil. I feel free; free to be just me. I could stay in this place forever.”
~ Just Being ~
Another student remarked, “Just being! What a delight! At my bench I become energized and renewed. Snowflakes lazily floating down to melt in the brook, a flying hawk squeals gleefully. Suddenly, this is reality. It just dawned on me that I’ve been so busy with irrelevant situations, that life has been passing me by. Now, I choose to discover and express my true nature.”
Through these examples, you can comprehend that rest is certainly not unconsciousness. In Sabbath, author Wayne Muller mentions even more qualities that live in rest, not in speed. Qualities like compassion, sanctuary, kindness, clarity, empathy, gratitude, fidelity, connection, integrity, wisdom, luminosity of spirit, and grace.
“If we forget to rest we will work too hard and forget our more tender mercies, forget those
we love, forget our children and our natural wonder,” Muller writes. He shares a story about a woman attending one of his retreats. She is a potter and spoke of having her pots collapse because she kept bringing the clay too far out towards the edge of her wheel. She realized that she was like the clay.
“She had been brought again and again to her edge, only to collapse. The invitation was clear, to live her life close to her center. Properly centered, the clay would hold,” reports Muller.
~ Small Rests, Big Benefits ~
Rest brings me back to my center. Small restful gestures reorient me and restore balance so I can keep my focus on what’s really important. A few minutes of mindful breathing interrupts
the momentum of metastasizing to-do lists. Maintaining the habit of lifting my eyes toward the sky whenever I’m waiting at a red light broadens my perspective, physically and spiritually. Walking, I imagine my feet kiss the pavement or ground. I read daily passages from five meditation books. I never pass a flower arrangement without stopping to smell a few blossoms. I always thank every salesperson by name. I hang my laundry on an outdoor clothesline.
Rest shows me that I am enough and that I have enough, freeing me to truly enjoy my life. I used to be a workaholic. These restful practices are some of the ones that suit me. I invite you to try a few of them, and add some of your own. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the cumulative benefits of resting.
“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” (Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1809 – 1894)