Resting in Mindfulness –      by: Muthu Sivagnanam

When we are not well and seek medical treatment, the physicians, sometimes, advise us to have bed rest so that the ailment could be cured easily and quickly. This rest helps revitalize our body so that we can recover our strength.

Most of us believe that we can enjoy a rest by lying on a bed or on a mat or sitting on an easing chair and stretching our legs and hands to be at ease. We stay motionless and take rest when we become weary after having walked for a long distance or having worked hard. Hardly do we realize that our mind is not in the habit of resting though our body is not doing anything. Our mind tends to be doing a lot of things while our body refrains from exerting itself. 

This partial resting of only our body is not healthy because our restless mind will affect our body in numerous ways. It bodes well for us to understand that our mind needs rest just as our body does. There are physiological and psychological factors that dictate the need for real rest. We should have a complete wholesome rest in order to ensure physical and mental well being.

What does wholesome rest mean?   

Wholesome rest means allowing our body and body to rest involuntarily in unison. We have experienced our mind struggling with agitating thoughts, emotions and impulses that make us feel restless though we try to keep our body at rest. 

Letting our mind and body rest is the technique that allows our body and consciousness to naturally heal the wounds and pain in them. 

Animals heal wounds through rest

It has been observed that animals lie in rest without even taking the trouble of searching for food when they are wounded or suffer from some ailment because there is no one in the jungle to treat them. They quietly rest without eating anything until they feel well enough to move. Their illness or wound becomes cured due to the wonderful healing power of rest. 

The other important aspect is that the animals do not make any effort to rest. They effortlessly sink into the position of rest and keep restlessness at bay.  

Why do we find it difficult to rest?

However, we humans find it difficult to rest because of our energy of restlessness which makes us struggle all the time. We tend to do that and this, most of the time mindlessly, acting rashly.  We cramp our life with numerous activities and become restless. This generates anxiety and nervousness in us and we become mentally and physically unwell.

Negative effects of Restlessness

The restlessness we experience affects the quality of the work we do because of the mistakes we are liable to make while performing a task in a rush and the resultant wastage of time and resources in re -doing it.

The energy of restlessness in us also has a negative impact on our relationship with others. As we act with reckless speed, we become agitated by even a minor provocation by others and react or retort in ways that spoil our relationship with them. 

The restlessness renders us not systematic and un-organized in carrying out our day to day activities. For example, we adopt a clumsy way of keeping our things for later retrieval. We forget the place where we have kept something and become even more restless when we need that thing but, cannot recollect the location of the thing we mindlessly tossed away; we get confused and resort to an exhaustive search, turning everything topsy-turvy.    

How can we become skilled in performing our day to day tasks properly with ease?  

If we allow our body and conscious mind to rest, to heal and to calm effortlessly, they will become refreshed and revitalized by the energy of mindfulness. Then, we will grow skilful in performing all our tasks to perfection as a duck taking to water. We should learn and master the art of resting.

  • Our behaviour is shaped by the energy of restlessness and we develop a habit of struggle. The energy of restlessness has to be transformed into the energy of mindfulness
  • Our body and consciousness, after resting, become energized enough to employ their inherent healing power, which gradually heals the wounds and pain in our body and consciousness. This process reduces the power of our energy of restlessness.   
  • When we develop our ability to recognize a habit of struggle at the very moment it manifests itself, it loses its energy and ability to prompt us to act recklessly.  
  • When we sink effortlessly and get immersed into the state of equanimity of just being, our energy of mindfulness is enhanced and the energy of restlessness is weakened.

How can we sink and get immersed into the state of equanimity?   

Let us look at an example shown by Thich Nhat Hanh to understand it with clarity.

“Suppose someone is holding a pebble and throws it in the air and the pebble begins to fall down into a river. After the pebble touches the surface of the water, it allows itself to sink slowly into the river.

It will reach the bed of the river without any effort. Once the pebble is at the bottom of the river, it continues to rest. It allows the water to pass by.

I think the pebble reaches the bed of the river by the shortest path because it allows itself to fall without making any effort. During our sitting meditation we can allow ourselves to rest like a pebble. We can allow ourselves to sink naturally without effort to the position of sitting, the position of resting.”

How can we adopt this habit of cultivating equanimity to enjoy a real rest?

First of all, we should learn and master the art of being in the present moment. This means living in the here and now. Our life is real only in the here and now; the past is dead and gone; the future is not yet born. Being in the reality of the present moment is what makes sense because we can touch our life only in the present moment.

All our doings, actions and reactions, are in the present moment; it is quite impossible for us to perform our present task while dwelling in the past or future. We run into difficulties and court disasters when we do something while our mind is somewhere else.

When we are driven by a habit powered by our energy of restlessness, we should 

  • Pause and stop doing anything. Not doing anything is not laziness but prudence.
  • Slow down our thinking and 
  • Keep still.

This is known as the practice of No-Practice.

We can train ourselves to this important practice of pausing, slowing down and keeping still by engaging ourselves in mindful sitting, mindful walking, mindful eating, mindful listening etc. When we adopt this habit of doing all our daily activities mindfully, our energy of restlessness will gradually get reduced, enhancing our capacity to enjoy a peaceful rest when we need it.

Feeling a sense of happiness dissipates restlessness

When we experience a sense of happiness and smile, we find it easy to disengage our energy of restlessness. It is important for us to realize that the happiness we seek is right here in the present moment and it is unwise to leave the experience of dwelling in the present moment and rush somewhere else in search of solace and happiness. 

We touch the conditions of happiness when we practise mindful sitting; we become aware that we can breathe without any difficulty. This awareness of our being able to breathe and being able to live is a crucial condition of happiness which makes us feel happy and smile at our breath. We also become aware that our lungs and heart are functioning well; this is another condition of happiness that we touch while sitting mindfully. We also become skilful in handling our emotions and impulses healthily and create conducive social environment for us to live in harmony with others; this is an important condition of happiness that we feel during this key mindfulness practice.  

Likewise, while walking mindfully, we become aware that we have strong legs to carry us to different places on foot; this is a condition of happiness that we touch during mindful walking. Also, we become aware of our ability to see the fascinating scenery unfolding before us, of our ability to hear the soothing sounds and to smell the pleasant fragrance around us. All these are significant conditions of happiness that we touch while walking mindfully. Similarly, mindful eating, mindful drinking of water, mindful listening and any other deed we do mindfully afford a lot of opportunities for us to touch an array of different conditions of happiness. These experiences and sensations help us become calm and improve our capacity to rest like a pebble in the river bed.  

Altering the way we perceive pains and Bouncing back with resilience

We experience what we perceive. It has been proved scientifically that we become more upset by the way we perceive unpleasant or painful happenings in our mind than by the very things that happen to us. There are two parts in our sensation of a pain namely the physiological experience and the psychological reaction to the sensation. Neuroscience has now found that we can make a spontaneous perceptual shift that uncouples the cognitive and emotional reaction from the pure sensation of that unpleasant painful thing. This uncoupling makes the pain bearable and we no longer remain upset because of that painful sensation. Our capacity for carrying out Mindful Body Scan and the other mindfulness practices helps a wedge being driven between the connection that our cognition and emotion has with the pure sensation. Mindfulness meditation cultivates and enhances our capacity to alter the way we perceive pains in order that the perceptual shift becomes possible.

Sense of Purpose and Meaning in our life and Resilience 

Mindfulness meditation inculcates a sense of purpose in our life. If we have a sense of purpose and meaning in our life, we will be able to reflect creatively and reframe the challenging situations encountered by us; this reframing could help us find novel ways that make it possible for us to bounce back with resilience.