Utamaro Kitagawa, The Courtesan Hanaogi of Ogiya, Ukiyo-e Woodblock Print
As far back as 300 B.C., the philosopher Chuang Tzu observed that when an archer was practicing, he shot with calming relaxation and skill. When a moderate financial award was placed in front of the archer, he got a little tense, his aim faltered and he often missed the target. When a large award was offered for his accuracy, he became nervous and worried, with obvious results. This led Chuang Tzu to wryly observe that, “He who looks too hard on the outside gets clumsy on the inside.”
In modern times people who play golf find their swing is near perfect when there is no ball to hit. But once a ball is placed on the tee and someone is keeping score, the inexperienced golfer’s swing inevitably fails and the ball goes off its intended path. When a golfer has a drink, he often becomes more relaxed and his game improves. So even though a specific feat can be improved by artificial means, it is at the expense of our being fully present and reduces our ability to respond to other circumstances. Imagine how our performance in everyday life would improve if we could learn to find rest and calming relaxation from within ourselves.
The question is, “How could we relax in the process of living?” or, “How can we have rest in our daily lives? How do we live for the rest of our lives?”
Ohara Koson (Shoson) 1877-1945, Ukiyo-e
Here are six resting points or techniques that can assist us in finding rest and calming relaxation, peace, tranquility, and restoration within ourselves and within the great self that embraces and holds us all. Try one and you’re on your way to the rest of your life.
1. The Breath: Following the rise and fall of your breath can bring you to a peaceful and calm place and restore your energy. It brings you present. Allow your breath all the way into your belly to reduce stress. The key to natural and full breathing is in the exhalation – the letting go. However, don’t force anything.
2. The Nap: It is very underutilized in our culture. Twenty minutes is ideal but even a five-minute nap can be very restorative. Don’t go more than 20 minutes or you may feel groggy. If you only have a minute, try this. Hold some keys in your hands and bend forward in your chair with your lower arms resting on your thighs. As you nod off, the keys will drop and wake you up. Even in that minute, you will feel a little more refreshed. The point here is that taking a little time for yourself for rest, prayer, meditation, or spiritual exercises can profoundly affect the quality of your day. Remember to set your Zen Chime Timer to awaken you gently.
3. The Pause: Learning to pause is a great tool to have up your sleeve. Its value is in bringing you consciously present. You can pause a moment in your daily routine and say, “I am present. I am here, now.” Then allow yourself to be with whatever is revealed. A further refinement is to bring your attention to the pause between exhaling and inhaling. Even doing this once will give you a moment of rest and restoration.
4. Silence: The word “listen” contains the same letters as the word “silent.” Choose to be present and alert and to listen past the inner conversations of the mind. Listen past the sounds of the world and just listen to the silence. Listen attentively to whatever comes forward out of the silence. If things start to distract and disrupt you, bring your focus back to the silence. When you practice bringing your presence into the silence, you will experience a knowing and a wisdom that will start flowing within you. It will usually bring you to a state of peace, calm and clarity.
5. Doing nothing: A great way to interrupt the pattern of habitual doing. It is akin to entering a state of observation, where you perceive things clearly just for what they are. An analogy is watching boats going out to sea. You observe them as they pass you. Then you observe the next one. If you gawk or think about how you would like to be in a boat, you have moved out of observation. Observation is only about what is, not what you know or don’t know about a situation. The power that comes from that, internally, is tremendous. It’s an active place of neutrality. The process of observing what is, is the process that releases and restores us.
6. Meditation – Resting in Yourself: “To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.” Lao-Tzu. When you haven’t developed an intimate relationship with life or with yourself, you’ll tend to look toward having sex or acquiring more money, or to any attractive distraction to fill the emptiness inside. To fill yourself, you have to be prepared to spend time alone – quality time with yourself, not with a good book, not watching television, art or with music. Although those have their place, learn to be quiet with your own inner self. Any time you can bring your focus onto one thing, a flower, a sacred word, a scene in nature, you are meditating. The simplest way to meditate is to observe the rising and falling of your breath.
Zen Alarm Clock, Ukiyo-e Hokusai Wave Dial Face, mediation timer and clock
Adapted from Men’s Health, June 2003 by Paul Kaye, DSS, President of the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness (MSIA)
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