How to Rest: field notes

I enjoy being engaged in life. Very much. And, I notice that this has often translated into being busy with exciting commitments and activities. Prioritizing a particular kind of engagement – pleasurable social activity and satisfying professional training – I sometimes I find myself feeling maxed out, or depleted. I’ve noticed that resting, being still and quiet as a form of engagement, has been a more remote and somehow, strangely taboo country – a place I have visited from time to time but not where I have chosen to reside. It’s as if I have believed that it was “not okay” to regularly simply be, as if doing was somehow more acceptable or was a kind of responsibility. This seems pretty odd, but also congruent with the dominant cultural narrative in America, that equates being busy with being successful or adult.

Recently, however, I have made a stronger commitment to offer myself a morning practice of engaging deeply in the here and now through stillness and quiet: to engage with life through conscious rest for body, spirit, and mind. I have flirted with this sort of practice in the past, but have not made it a deep and consistent priority. Until now.

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In service of this new commitment I created a simple spot in the garden devoted to stillness. Over the past couple of months, I’ve gathered some field notes about how to help myself rest more reliably and with greater ease:

  • Being Outside: It’s become very clear to me that letting my body and mind rest through sitting quietly is far more simple and compelling when I am sitting outside. I feel held, supported, and engaged in the midst of the natural world. The trees offer steady companionship in stillness. The sky offers endlessly novel dynamic change to witness and experience. The birds provide a consistently surprising soundtrack. The grasses in the wind teach about letting go of tension. Settling into stillness while accompanying all this movement in the natural world feels more effortless and pleasurable. There is something grounding about that balance of my stillness in the midst of that tapestry of varied movement woven by the plants, animals, and the elements.
  • A Constant Space for Practice: The simple arrangement of a bench that stays put, reliably holding space for stillness and quiet, which I can see from the windows of my home, offers an evocative invitation that is somehow far more exciting than the cushion in my bedroom.
  • The wind! Let’s talk about the potency of the wind. Whether blowing gently or with gusto, the wind is an enlivener. Sitting outside, with the shifting air currents, my whole system feels more awake and relaxed. (Interestingly, there is some research that suggests that being in the wind increases our oxygen intake and our serotonin levels – Michael Terman, director of the Center for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms at New York–Presbyterian Hospital).
  • A Canine Companion: Ava the standard poodle is a wonderful teacher of this simple but nourishing practice. When we sit together in the meadow IMG_8185on our land she is steady, still, and an anchor of engagement with the world around her. She is fully present with the sounds of the birds in the sky, the sheep grazing across the road, the squirrels jumping along the branches of the trees. Seems that when hanging out in stillness it can be helpful to voyage with a teacher who knows how to be a here and now witness, a teacher who has mastered letting go of thoughts about the past or the future. Dogs are masters of this art form.

Some impacts of this practice? I feel calmer, more spacious, more steady, and happier. Seems to me that a little bit of stillness and rest, reliably practiced, goes a long way.

 

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