Ideally, we would all have space in our diaries to rest, recover and replenish our energy – all those delicious words starting with ‘re’. In real life, many of us are trying not to be crushed by the weight of our schedules and our responsibilities. As a recovering under-rester, let me share some Gentle Buddhism secrets of my own journey towards rest, and give you some advice on how you can start resting today even if your diary is groaning.
First, the bad news. My own journey towards my much-more-balanced diary has taken decades. Over this time, many things have helped me to untangle the knots that have tied me to over-working. I’ve made lots of little adjustments over the long-term and this has allowed me to work a little less, or to earn my living by doing different things. I’ve put in a lot of work, including therapy, looking at the parts of me that feel unworthy unless I’m productive and successful. I’ve put my spiritual practice at the centre of my life, as an antidote to our culture of capitalism and individualism, and as a source of clear wisdom.
The good news is that I’ve enjoyed the journey as much as the destination. I’m not ‘there’ yet either – my days are more spacious now, with time for writing and resting as well as a retreat day every month and regular holidays. I confess that I still sometimes over-schedule my days, and sometimes I need weekends (or more) of recovery after spells of working too hard.
Starting where we are
The even better news is that the best time for me to recalibrate myself and re-find my centre isn’t by making rest plans for tomorrow or next month (although this is also an excellent thing to do) but by taking a breath right now.
I often mention the advice of Rev Gyomay Kubose, who said that our days consist of ‘one thing after another’, but that if we do them one at a time with a complete break between one and the next, we can navigate a full diary without becoming tired. His son, Rev Koyo Kubose, offers a tool called a ‘centering breath’ which is a simple breath-long pause that allows us to settle back down into calm. One thing after another with a breath in between – simple!
The second thing that helps me is to always be a student. If I am still neglecting myself in various ways, then there is something going on inside me that needs my attention. When life gets tough, which it does for us all sometimes, we will need to ‘suck it up’ for a while and do our best to look after ourselves as we go, but in my own experience at least some of my suffering results from choices I make. When I can be honest about these choices, and get curious about why I made them, then I start to learn.
The third thing that helps me is to notice when I am beating myself up and softening towards myself. This includes forgiving the parts that make me do too much as well as the parts that are upset with me for doing too much. From my work as a psychotherapist, I believe that we always have good internal reasons for doing the things we do, even if they seem crazy at first glance. Remembering this and, if I’m still struggling, imagining seeing myself through the Buddha’s eyes, immediately takes some stress out of my system like letting air out of a over-blown balloon.
I am writing all this from a place of privilege. I live in a country in the Global North, and I haven’t ever had to question whether my needs for food, shelter and warmth will be met. I got a good education and I have been surrounded by opportunity. These practical advantages are real, and many are less fortunate than me. If you’re holding down three low-paid jobs and bringing up your child on your own, then what? If you are consumed by worry about how to pay your next heating bill, then what?
Sometimes life sucks
Life can be horribly tough. That sucks and I hate it. And, we can all take a breath. We can all take a moment to notice the way the clouds are layered like piles of fluffy blankets. We can all do one thing at a time, and then the next. We can all notice when we are being hard on ourselves, and shift towards kindness – just a tiny bit.
We can all learn to go gently. We can notice bigger shifts over time, and keep the faith that change is possible. We can appreciate moments of peace and beauty, even in the worst of times. We can take a slow, delicious breath – right now.
Will you take it with me?
What one thing jumped out at you from this writing? What one thing might you offer yourself today? What plan might you make for rest? How might you learn more about your own patterns when it comes to over-scheduling or not being kind to yourself? Do share with me in the comments 🙂