Rest if you need to rest, dammit
I'm a little out of it these days.
I recently returned from a silent Vipassanna meditation retreat where I lived like a Buddhist monk for a week and a half. It was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences I've had in a very long time. For 10 days I lived in silence with no talking, singing, reading/writing, media consumption, or contact with the outside world whatsoever. I lived by a gong that told me when to get up, when to meditate, when to eat, and when to go to sleep. For the first time in a very long time I had space to simply be with myself.
As you can imagine I freaked out in the beginning.
My body seized up from being so sedentary and my brain would NOT stop chattering and fighting all the stillness. I almost left early.
However something happened on day 4 that made me stay - I accepted the fact that my brain wasn't going to stop thinking and though there was discomfort, my body was OK (my legs were in fact not going to fall off from all the sitting) and I began to rest like I've never rested before. I got into the rhythm of the schedule and found that when I accepted the state of my being, just as it was, I was able to relax more deeply. Though I worked very diligently with the meditation practice and ran up against my own resistance time and again, I left that experience feeling recharged on a level I didn't even realize needed attention.
The transition back into everyday life has been a bit jarring. Spending that much time in silence can leave you quite sensitive. However as I get back into the groove of things, I'm coming away with some profound realizations about how to move in life with a little more ease.
Here are a few of those take-aways:
- Rest when you need to rest, dammit! - I know this seems like a simple concept but how many of you push through fatigue in the name of completing a task you think HAS to get done by a certain deadline? How many of you are actually enjoying the process when you're under that sort of pressure? And how many of you are doing this while also battling a cold/flu/back ache/headache/heartache/etc.? I'm not saying you should just give up, but maybe go take a nap or hide out in your car for like 15 minutes while you focus on your breath. Find a way to pull the whirling mind back into your body, even if it's a little uncomfortable, and be with what is. You'd be surprised how much the body will respond positively if you give it what it needs.
I realize we live in a culture that glorifies being busy, and that finding time to rest may seem difficult. However I know you can find time here and there if you make it a priority. I now challenge the voice in my head that says I'm "failing someone", or being "lame" when I say no to things so that I can have down time to recharge. This can take some practice but I highly recommend it.
- Time away from technology is imperative - During retreat, they took our cell phones and locked them in a safe for the duration of our stay. It was really scary handing that thing over. I'm pretty addicted to my cell phone. But you know what? I didn't miss it at all after about a day. I initially noticed my mind reaching for it on a regular basis because that's just what I've always done. But as the days progressed sans technology, I started to notice more nuanced things about my body and my surroundings, and I was able to be more present. By the end of retreat I didn't even want to turn my phone back on, and found that electronic screens in general made me a little nauseous.
Technology is pretty much unavoidable in my world, but I sure as hell can limit the time I spend on it. I now have a phone curfew of 9PM and most mornings I don't look at a screen until I've been up for at least 2 hours. I also try to take intermittent breaks throughout the day, where I'll put my phone on airplane mode or simply shut it off.
- Mindful eating makes your body feel better - Did you know that digestion actually starts the moment you look at your food? The brain sends a message to your body that it's time to process nutrients. That's why you start salivating. When we skip taking a moment to just be with our food before eating it, we're bypassing or rushing through one of the fundamental steps our body needs in order to process food properly.
I have this habit of eating while doing stuff - eating while driving, talking on the phone, working at the computer, in between teaching classes, etc, all in the name of efficiency. And though I tend to eat pretty cleanly, my belly is upset a lot. I noticed while on retreat, when I had nothing better to do than pay attention to my food while eating, that I slowly started to digest foods better. I wasn't eating anything that differently than normal but I found that my belly aches went away. I also became much more aware of how different foods affect my body, and started to pick up on flavors I hadn't before. Food in general started tasting better too.
I now try to treat meal times like a sacred ritual. I put all technology in the other room, pause before eating, and strive to savor eat bite as I eat. I'm not gonna lie, this one is tough to stick to, but I do my best with it.
- The more you can allow what is to be, the more ease-ful life will feel - Sometimes we're grumpy. Sometimes the body hurts and nothing seems to make it feel better. Sometimes life is really hard, or hectic and we can't seem to catch a break. I'm realizing that this is all just part of the human experience. However when we resist during these times it tends to make things more challenging. I have moments where I find myself stressing out about how being stressed out is bad for me...which only makes me more stressed out. It's a vicious little cycle.
In the Yoga and spiritual communities people love to use the word equanimity, which essentially means non-reaction. I get a little tired of it, as it's become a buzz word, but there's deep truth to its power. When we can be with what is (even when it's not really what we think we want) and not react, and simply pay attention, there's more ease to life. We start to realize how strong, wise and resilient we are, and how we have this innate ability to stay calm. We realize that there's joy amidst the discomfort.
But here's the kicker - we gotta practice it.
The whole point of the meditation practice we worked on at the Vipassana retreat was cultivating equanimity. We'd move our awareness through our bodies, noticing sensations and not reacting to them as best we could. It was really challenging. However the more I dove into this technique, the more I started to understand the impermanent nature of things and my capacity to be with what is. The more I felt it in my body, the more I understood it in my heart and mind, the more I could translate it to my life.
Meditation works, guys! I cannot stress that enough. I encourage you to find a practice, even if it's only for 10 minutes a day, and stick to it as consistently as you can. I promise you'll see results.
So as I ease my way back into "normal" life and into the heart of the holiday season, I plan to be a bit quieter, a bit softer, and to give myself permission to say no to stuff so that I can rest when needed. I'm allowing myself to be exactly as I am for as long as that needs to last.
I encourage you to do the same.
We only get this one body in this one life. Why not find a way to move in it with ease, and rest when you need to rest, dammit. You're worth it.