When we rest, we tend to our needs, and show kindness towards ourselves.
Why do we deny ourselves rest? We need it, as surely as we need air and water. Sleep is rest, and we do not get enough of that. We also need to rest when we are awake — from our unquiet minds, and from the tension we hold in our bodies.
There is stillness in rest, and an expansive peace that can turn to bliss. We rest in solitude. We can also rest with friends and loved ones if their presence joins with ours in quiet relaxation.
We must practice how to rest. We knew how to once, when we were children. It is a skill we have to learn again. When we rest, we quiet the internal voices who tell us we have no worth unless we are being useful, or busy, or productive. We accept that we are enough just by being ourselves. When we rest, we tend to our needs, and show kindness towards ourselves.
Wakeful resting is to be present to ourselves, and be at ease. We cannot want to be somewhere else. Irritation, impatience and boredom have no place in rest. We must learn to notice when they are present and let them go. We must give ourselves permission to relax into the peace that lives inside a quiet mind, and a still body.
When we rest, we find respite in the present moment and loosen our attachment to the self, which lives in the past and in the future. To learn how to rest is to prepare ourselves for when we must abandon time and self entirely — and be at peace with it.
It took me a long time to learn how to rest. I learned in childhood to find safety and belonging by overachieving at school. I got into an elite university, and had successful careers in journalism, publishing, marketing and technology. I can’t say I regret any of it. It was who I was at the time. But it was constant striving — for more accolades, more titles, more money, more validation. I had no peace. I denied myself rest. It was a form of self abuse. (There was also the alcohol and the Ambien, but that’s another story.)
Here’s an exercise you can do to practice resting. Find somewhere comfortable where you can lie flat on your back. Place your arms by your side with your palms facing down, or loosely across your middle if you prefer. Bring your attention to your body. Start with the top of your head, and work your way down. Notice where you feel tension. It might be in your neck, in your face muscles, or in your jaw. You might be holding it in your lower back, or clenching your hands. (I’m a clencher.) When you find tension, relax your body and let it go. When you have finished with your toes, take five deep breaths. Inhale through your nose, and blow the air out through your mouth. Notice how you feel. If you like it, do it again!