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Everything I know about rest, I learned the hard way

Wednesday, November 20, 2013 by Marianne Elliott

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I grew up on a dairy farm where there was always more work to be done, so I was raised on the virtues of labour. Spending an afternoon on the couch with a book? Woefully indulgent. Even today it takes a lot of discipline for me to rest.

But I’ve learned the hard way that the less I rest, the harder it is for me to drop beneath the stormy waters to the calm ocean below.

Wellington Sun

So I’ve become an advocate of doing less, at least some of the time.

In Zen Under Fire I tell the story of going home to New Zealand for my sister’s wedding. By this point I’ve realized I have a problem, but I’m not really sure what the problem is and I certainly don’t know quite what to do about it.

When I go home, I book myself in for some private lessons with a yoga teacher. I have the idea that yoga can help with everything I’m experiencing in Afghanistan. In fact, it is already helping, but I’m not very good at it. If I can only get a little bit better at yoga, surely, it will help even more.

So I ask Jude, the yoga teacher, to watch me do a basic yoga sequence and tell me how I can improve it. She agrees to watch, and as she does she asks me a little bit about my work in Afghanistan.

Once she has watched me practice for a while, Jude makes a proposal. She’ll help me work on my alignment in the sequence, but wants to teach me some other poses as well. These other poses mostly involve lying around on cushions and blankets. It doesn’t seem much like yoga, as I know it, but Jude tells me this is restorative yoga and that it’s exactly what I need.

Intellectually, I’m unconvinced. I don’t see how lying around under a pile of blankets can do anything for me. I need to be up and moving, burning energy, building strength, doing something!

But my body knows better. After an hour going over my sun salutes, Jude gets me to lie on the ground with my legs up the wall. She covers me in a blanket, gives me an iPod with some relaxing music to listen to and then leaves me there for half an hour.

For the first ten minutes, my mind resists the stillness. But I’ve made my deal with Jude, which means I need to stay where I am until she comes back. Once I accept that I’m not going anywhere, I find a steady rhythm in my breath and in the music that I can use to rest my attention. By the time Jude comes back to check on me, I’m feeling more relaxed than I have in a very long time.

The truth is, very few of us get enough rest.

We spend so much of our day working hard, and are juggling so many different things most of the time, that even when we do rest, it’s hard to switch off and settle down.

This gets even harder at certain times – in times of extreme hardship, when family emergencies arise or during the holidays when suddenly we expect ourselves to fit in event and or travel planning on top of everything else we were already doing.

A few years ago I found myself in late November feeling disconcertingly ill-at-ease. I was living in Wellington, not Afghanistan or the Gaza Strip, but despite my relative comfort my heart rate was elevated, my thoughts were accelerated and my sleep patterns were all over the place.

The problem was that I was rushing all the time. I could never do enough in a day to feel satisfied, and I never seemed to make it to the end of my To Do list.

That year, I shared a simple ‘Holiday Yoga’ practice that did myself whenever I needed it through the holidays. The next year, around the same time, I noticed the same incessant rushing was creeping back into my life, and the life of almost everyone around me. So I created ‘Zen Peacekeeper Guide to the Holidays’ a 30 day guide to find a path of ease and peace through the holiday season.

About 180 people joined me that first year, and here’s what some of them had to say:

Christmas time comes hand-in-hand with stress for me. Making the decision to take this course put me on the path to peace. I’m sure I’m only at the beginning of benefits it will have for my life and for others in my life. It really did give me peace. I notice I have more patience and compassion for myself and acceptance that I’ve done enough. – Lydia

The thirty day’s you’ve shared with us has been incredible! I don’t remember when I’ve had such a lovely, low key, stress free holiday season. – Amy

Last year we did it again. And even more people joined me for a peaceful path through the holiday season.

What a wonderful series, Marianne! Thank you so much for all that you gave to us through these notes. I’ve thought so many times this last month that I feel more peaceful and awake because of them. – Kristin

I loved Zen Holidays! Sitting for ten minutes at the start of each day made a world of difference to how I feel. – Hannah

This year I’m doing it again. Zen Guide to the Holidays begins next Tuesday.

If you’d like to join me, but are having trouble spending $50 on your physical and mental health through the holiday season, you are not alone. Which is why I’ve decided to offer $10 off for everyone who uses this code: holidaygiftIn order to receive the discount, be sure to enter the promo code when you register for the course.

If you can, I’d love to have you join me in my peaceful revolution.

Let’s change what the holiday season is remembered for, restoring some sanity amidst the silly season and coming back to the true heart of the holidays: connection, compassion and goodwill.

Whether or not you can join me for Zen Holidays, for today can you find 3 minutes to sit in silence and do nothing at all? Simply breathe, and rest.

If you find that hard, you are amongst friends. Resting is harder that hard work for many of us. But rest is essential to everything else we want to do in the world, so do what you can to find 3 minutes today to rest.

Enjoy, and remember to be kind to yourself!

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