“The practice of mindfulness should not be tiring but rather, it should be energizing. But when we recognize that we are tired, we should find every means possible to rest.”
~Plum Village Website
“Scientists are coming to recognize the effects of the mind on physical health. The sense of relaxation associated with inner peace involves not only being physically at ease. If you are nagged by worry or seething with anger, you’re not really relaxed. The key to relaxation is peace of mind. The relaxation gained from alcohol, drugs or just listening to music may seem attractive, but it doesn’t last.”
– His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Resting is a very important practice; we have to learn the art of resting. Resting is the first part of Buddhist meditation. You should allow your body and your mind to rest. Our mind, as well as our body, needs to rest.
~Thich Nhat Hanh
“When you begin to see life from the point of view that everything is spontaneously arising and that things aren’t coming at you or trying to attack you,’ in any given moment, you will likely experience more space and more room to relax into.
Your stomach, which is in a knot, can just relax. The back of your neck, which is all tensed up, can just relax. Your mind, which is spinning and spinning like one of those little bears that you wind-up, so it walks across the floor, can just relax.”
There is a beautiful word—relax. It promises the feeling of ease and release. Another equally valuable word is rest. We know that the opposite of relaxation and rest is tension and exhaustion. These conditions bring on stress, but Americans as a group resist resting, both physically and mentally. We have a disease of busyness. Thich Nhat Hanh (1998) writes that “There is in us what we call the energy of restlessness. We cannot be at peace with ourselves. We cannot be peaceful. We cannot sit; we cannot lie down. There is some energy in us to do this, to do that, to think of this, to think of that, and that kind of restlessness makes us unhappy. That is why it is so important for us to learn first of all to allow our body to rest” (Lions Roar, Resting in the River). We cannot keep running and expect to be calm, centered, and at ease. The amount of hurry and restlessness in the mind is also held in the body. The body and mind are interconnected and inform each other.
If our bodies are tight and constricted, the brain receives a message that it is in danger. This activates our efficient and lightning fast protection system and we fire up the cortisol and the adrenalin. This cascade of stress hormones and neurotransmitters tells the body that the situation is really unsafe. The body reacts by further tightening and we are caught in a stress feedback loop. These types of interdependent reactions can lead to long-term anxiety, adrenal fatigue, depression, and despair.
The body needs rest to repair and prepare. The mind needs rest to have the emotional and intellectual capacity to be present and available, but something so basic and essential as rest takes low priority in our online, constantly connected lives. In a commentary on the Sutra of the Full Awareness of Breathing, Thich Nhat Hanh (2008) observes, “Human beings have lost confidence in their body. We don’t know how to rest. Mindful breathing helps us to relearn the art of resting. Mindful breathing is like a loving mother holding her sick baby in her arms saying, “Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of you, just rest” (p. 56, Breathe, you are alive!). Our bodies desperately want us to listen. They speak to us constantly, but often we are too involved in our projects or we are unwilling to listen. When we practice stopping and listening to the body, the body responds. The body can relax when it knows it is cared for.
This ability to stop, to rest, and relax is critical to our ability to be peaceful. On retreat a few years ago a young person asked Thây how do you create a calm mind. Thây answered that he relaxed his body. Something so simple can have profound results. When we attend kindly to the amount of tension or ease in the body, we develop the muscle of relaxation and calm. The body needs to know it’s considered and the mind needs to stop, attend, and embrace any difficulty in the body.
Here’s a link to Sister Jewel leading a 45-minute total relaxation. If you have time, lie down, close your eyes and take a vacation from doing. Let yourself listen to what the body is asking for, send the body love and compassion and let it know that it is safe. When the body receives the message that the world is safe, the body softens and can rest and heal. Scientists have found that something so seemingly insignificant as a smile, triggers inhibitory neurotransmitters and increases our wellbeing. Smiling actually makes us happier and deactivates our bodies defense system. We all have time to smile, even if we can’t stop doing. Try some mindful smiling this week and see how it makes you feel. Maybe someone will smile back and then two people will be smiling.
May we all trust our light,