How to Deeply Rest on Your Days Off

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A day off from work is a beautiful thing. This is our time. It’s our time to play, relax, reflect, meditate and rest. It’s our chance to regain balance.

 

In my life coaching sessions, I have encountered clients who, again and again, have difficulty with fully relaxing on their days off.

 

At first glance, this might seem preposterous. Why would it be difficult to relax? Shouldn’t it be easy to rest?

 

Well … no. In our fast-paced Western culture, we have not been trained in the art of relaxation. Instead, we have been trained to work, work, work, do, do, do.

 

Our media gives us subtle (and not-so-subtle!) messages about how noble it is to stress out and overwork. It tells us how we must achieve and succeed in order to be a worthy member of society. It tells us that we must be constantly be thinking, planning and analyzing.

 

In recent years, the concept of “self-care” has become a buzzword. But, ironically, the fact that this seems like such a “new” concept is testament to how truly off-balance our culture has become.

 

So many of us are glued to our phones. We are texting at red lights. We are surfing the web during meals. We are always connected, always “on.” Our calendars are full. Busyness has become a social norm.

 

But … is this the best way to live?

 

In my experience, the happiest, most deeply fulfilled people are the ones who know how to take a break. They know how to harness the deeply healing power of rest. They are able to give themselves the gift of a full recharge. They know the power of meditation.

 

In my own life, when I began to make the transition toward prioritizing rest and meditation, a whole new world opened up. I began to heal a number of pervasive chronic illnesses. I began to value my own innate worthiness as a human being. No longer was I dependent upon notions of constant busyness or outward “success” as a benchmark of my own intrinsic value. No. Rather, I began to feel, truly feel, how I am perfect exactly the way I am.

 

I began to appreciate myself for simply being.

 

Diving into the sweet waters of rest is deeply transformative. It will change your life in innumerable ways. It will make you healthier and happier. It will help you to be a more generous and compassionate person.

 

Why?

 

Only once your own cup is overflowing, can you share with others.

 

Only once your own battery is fully recharged, can you help others plug in.

 

Indeed, rest is not optional. It is crucial for a balanced, socially-responsible, happy life.

 

In the remainder of this post, I will offer you three tips for ways you can deeply recharge on your days off. In truth, this list could have hundreds of points (I find this subject so fascinating!) … but, for now, just to get you started, we’ll begin with three. Please comment below if you’d like to see future posts on this topic, and I’d be happy to share more ideas with you.

 

  1. Enter a meditative state for the day.

This does not mean that you need to sit for three hours in the lotus position or chant mantras all day. Rather, this is simply a mindset you can adopt.

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When you wake up in the morning on your day off, set a clear intention. Set the intention to view the entire day as a time of peaceful meditation. Remind yourself that this day is for you: for your personal upliftment, for your personal healing, for your personal growth.

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In the morning, remind yourself that you intend to be as present as possible throughout the day.

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As the day unfolds, continually return, again and again, back to the now moment. Move your body slowly, with tenderness and grace.

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Notice the feeling of breath. And notice the sensory impressions:

  • What does your food taste like?
  • What are the smells wafting into your nose?
  • What are the sounds from your window?
  • How does this bath or shower feel upon your skin?
  • How does the soft fur of your dog or cat feel on your fingers?

 

When you are in a meditative state, you are the observer. You are the witness. You notice, but you don’t judge as “good” or “bad.” You don’t analyze. You simply feel. You simply witness. You are not planning for the future or thinking about the past. You are here now.

 

  1. Give yourself a rest from screens.

 

Technology and social media are beautiful tools. They help us connect. They help us collaborate.

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However, technology and social media also have a shadow side.

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We can easily become addicted to our screens, to our social media. We can become unwittingly chained to them.

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Do you find yourself checking your email or Facebook messages multiple times throughout the day? Do you find yourself looking at your phone when you’re in line at the grocery store or bank?

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Too often, continual exposure to screens can create a feeling of restlessness and agitation.

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Yet, it is possible to find balance. It is possible to harness the incredibly awesome power of screens, but also have harmony and peace in our lives.

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I invite you to try an experiment during your next day off. Flip off your phone, computers, and all communication gadgets. Unhook yourself from the demands of screen-communication. Free yourself.

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After you unhook, take your phone-less self to the park. Enjoy the movement of your legs and arms. Enjoy the sun on your face or the chill in the air. Enjoy the wildness of the birds, squirrels, deer, or whatever local animals are presenting themselves to you. Notice the flowers. Breathe deeply.

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Notice any sensations that come up within you. And then breathe deeply some more.

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My dear sweet friends, we live in an overly-stressed, overly-stimulated culture. While our screens do help us to carry out vital professional and social functions in our day-to-day lives, they can also massively stress out our nervous system.

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In my own life, I take one day per week to rest from screens. I call this my “unplug day” or my “screen-free day.” Remember in the movie The Matrix when Keanu Reeves literally unplugged himself from the cords that were feeding on his life? This idea of taking a break from technology is a similar thing.

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When we have the courage to unplug ourselves from our communication devices, even for just a few hours, we are recharging our own internal energy systems. We are giving ourselves freedom, and allowing ourselves a deep rest.

 

  1. Cook your meals at home.

 

At first, this advice might seem counterintuitive. Isn’t cooking work? Well, that entirely depends upon how you view it.

 

I agree with my Zen friends: cooking can be a wonderful form of meditation.

 

Cooking is a very grounding, physical activity. We are very much in our bodies when we cook: chopping, stirring, smelling, tasting. We are of the Earth. We are here now, fully present.

 

When we are cooking, it helps to release all notions of whether the final outcome will taste good or bad. (This is especially helpful advice if you are a novice cook!) Simply view the whole cooking experience as an adventure … mix a little of this, a little of that … browse a recipe or two online … ask someone you love to help out… etc. Just have fun! Play!

 

If you can view your cooking experience as a living art form that you can eat, then the energy of relaxation and meditation will enter the molecules of the food. And … who knows? You just might surprise yourself. You just might you’ve fixed yourself an amazing meal.

 

Let’s Learn Together

Dear friends, I could probably write a whole book on this topic—but for now, I hope these three tips are helpful for you. As always, if you’d like to hear more on this topic, please let me know!

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For those of my readers who already know the joy of rest, I’d love to hear from you. What relaxation strategies do you enjoy on your days off? What self-care or meditation techniques work for you? How do you heal your body and mind? How do you regain balance? Please comment below, so we can all learn together. Thanks!

Meditation is a Practice of Dying

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Meditation is a practice of dying.

When we close our eyes to meditate, we drop our lives. We drop our names, our wants, our goals, our to do lists. We drop relationships, work, play; we drop it all. We drop.

When we sit down on a cushion to meditate, we chart a bold new path—into the unknown.

Meditation is not simply a way to relax or de-stress (although these reasons may have initially driven us to the practice); rather, meditation is a way to meet and experience Divinity.

Whether we were raised in a religious family or not, the path to Divinity, to Source, to God, to All That Is (whatever term you want to call it is fine; the label does not matter), is a path that comes when we have grown weary of the material world’s false promises. Maybe we have tasted fame, fortune, success, or even deep love in a marriage. And yet…and yet…there is this thing inside, this craving that is never fully satisfied.

What is this thing? This thing is the longing for God.

When we sit down to meditate, we say goodbye to our lives as they have been, and we invite the unknown. We invite Divinity to enter us.

When we sit down to meditate, we drop it all, for a few minutes, and we enter into a state where the mind is allowed to dissolve.

People fear death, because it is the conclusion of the mind’s accumulation of facts and figures of one particular lifetime. People tend to believe that what the mind has stored, all the facts and figures and stories and moods and memories is what makes up a “life.” Thus, when the mind ends at the time of death, people are often terrified. What happens when we lose the mind and the body that has defined our very existence? Is there life after life? Do we just cease to be? Indeed, the death process is terrifying to most people.

Ultimately, people fear meditation and are reluctant to try it because they fear death.

Death is an unravelling of the mind.

Meditation is also an unravelling of the mind.

Even though meditation is not yet mainstream on our planet, more and more people are waking up to the need for meditation in their daily lives. They are starting small: with five minutes every day, and then gradually devoting more and more time to the practice. They are beginning to taste grand moments of peace, and even happiness or bliss.

Meditation is the practice of dying. We die to all that we have known and all that we thought was real. We put down our identities, and we allow ourselves to be swept into the unknown.

Through this brave act of dying, day after day, we move into the light. We move towards the purest kind of freedom. It is the freedom of pure Consciousness—the knowing, the experience, the absolute certainty that all is One. That there is, in fact, no death at all.

Entering the Moment, Entering the Universe

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When my brother Terry was twelve years old, he began an apprenticeship with my dad, an apprenticeship in plastering. When Terry was in his fifties, I asked him to do some plastering in my house. He obliged. At this stage, he’d been plastering for forty years.

Watching him plaster the wall was like watching someone do T’ai Chi, and I asked myself: Is this his meditation practice? I’d been meditating for about seven years, and knew the look: the soft shine in his eyes, the half-smile on his lips, his face glowing – the look of simple joy. Terry, wall, the flow of hands, tools, and plaster, all formed a totality, a time of pure being. So, was this his meditation practice or was meditation something else?

Prior to this, I had been meditating with the Western Buddhist Order. My teacher’s teacher Sangharakshita had described T’ai Chi, yoga, dance, and painting as indirect methods of meditation, as indirectly working on the mind, whereas meditation proper was directly working on the mind. I was sure that Terry, and practitioners of other arts, achieved meditative states, but if I’d have asked Terry whether he was meditating, I’m sure he would have said no, just plastering a wall.

In direct methods of meditation,  you set about to deliberately change, transform, improve, and refine the functioning of the mind. However, meditation is not simply just mechanical technique: like Terry’s plastering, it becomes an art.

On one hand, Terry was not meditating; on the other, he was.

One way around this puzzle is to reflect on the state achieved: a state of absorption. When we are meditating, we become absorbed in the object of concentration. This absorption arises naturally from following a meditation technique, but it may also follow from any of the indirect methods, such as dance or painting or plastering.

One Buddhist meditation technique for cultivating absorption is the Anna Panna Satti—or awareness (Satti) of ingoing breath (Anna) and outgoing breath (Panna), usually translated as the Mindfulness of Breathing. Bringing our awareness or attention to an object, observing how we are distracted from it, and figuring out how to sabotage the distracting tendency.

Another absorption technique in Buddhism is the Metta Bhavana—or cultivation/development (Bhavana) of loving kindness (Metta). Bhavana also means becoming, so becoming loving kindness. This technique also has an object of concentration, our emotional response, and the aim is to strengthen our warm, positive emotional responsiveness.

For over twenty years I’ve been practicing Zen meditation. I was drawn to it because of its sublime simplicity: one practice covers everything. The essence of this style of meditation is simply the art of being present. Somehow we know that to be present is enough, so we give ourselves fully to the practice of being present.

Perhaps Zen meditation best falls into the category of indirect methods, but there is something direct about it too—the effort to be present. This can lead to absorption and to insight. But in Soto Zen (the Zen school in which I teach), even insight is not the point. When you are fully you, fully present, everything has been set right, you have found your place, you have entered the universe, the universe has entered you. There is nowhere else.

It is wonderful to come to this awareness…and with it, I’d say yes: Terry was meditating.

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Ingen is a Soto Zen priest and teacher in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, having received ordination and dharma transmission (2000 and 2009) from Zoketsu Norman Fischer. He was Shuso at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in 2002 with then Abbess Zenkei Blanche Hartman. Ingen has been practicing Buddhism for over 25 years and lived in community for about 14 years. He has led sesshin and retreats in England, Sweden, Italy, Ireland and California, and is a member of the Soto Zen Buddhist Association of America. He now lives in his home temple, ‘Ingen-ji‘, in Co. Clare, Ireland.