In previous posts, I have written about physical and spiritual rest. But today I’m expanding on the concept of rest, taking into consideration mental rest – that is, rest, while awake, but allowing the mind to do nothing, be unstimulated and to simply be in the moment.
Rest isn’t just about sleeping. Sleep is fundamental to being well rested, but it is not the only essential rest. Waking rest allows us time to rest our conscious being, which I believe is necessary for happiness and health. And waking rest is necessary for the body, the mind and the spirit.
Resting your mind is perhaps the hardest form of waking rest, as it likes to keep rocketing on, even when we’ve decided we would like it to shut freaking up! Shutting down the mind is a practice and a skill.
First, turn off the TV, the computer, the phone and give your mental input a rest. Don’t drive or ride a bike. Mental rest is allowing the mind to be in a slow or low stimulus state for a period of time. Some people refer to this as “thinking time”, it’s space to let your deeper self ponder and muse. It can often help to go outside, where you can turn your attention to sunshine, the feeling of grass beneath you, or the sway of a swing back and forth.
In order to find this space in our minds, we must not only stop flooding it with stimuli, but we must also learn to quiet the chattering brain. This is the voice that gives a running commentary in our minds, usually of fear based or negative comments. It’s judgemental, it’s scares you, creates worry and anxiety, it makes the lists of to-do’s and then helps you worry about them. It is always in “Go go go” mode.
Body focused exercises, like just sitting still, closing your eyes and feeling where in your body is there any pain, or discomfort, can help quiet that chatter, because you’re giving your mind something to focus on. Tell the hurting body parts, gently and lovingly, to rest. As you move through your body, onto parts that might simply feel a little weary or unrested, and then perhaps move on to internal organs, slowing giving things the directive to rest, will produce rest in the mind also. This can be very useful when starting out the practice of mental rest.
Here’s another exercise I learnt from Martha Beck – Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and then bring to mind the flavour of your favourite food. I find chocolate works quite well because it has a wonderful, all-encompassing texture in your mouth. As you’re imagining this flavour you love, keep that up while you imagine a scent you love. Now you’re utilising two sense memories. Keeping both of those going, imagine hearing your favourite music, or maybe the sound of waves crashing or cicadas – something you love. You now have three sensory memories activated. Next, imagine a physical feeling – a warm blanket or swimming in cool water or a hug – some encompassing physical feeling that you love, all while maintaining the taste, scent and sound memories. Finally, imagine you’re looking at a beautiful scene, whatever really lifts your spirit – ocean, mountains, fields, desert. All five senses being activated via memory. It’s not easy! But while you’re doing that, you’re out of the use of language, a state Beck calls “wordlessness”. This is the mental rest we are seeking, when the mind stops chattering and the brain can be used only for it’s non-verbal functions.
Of course, this state is hard to maintain, but as you practice quieting that mental chatter you’ll find it easier to sink into this wordless state. Check out Martha’s book Finding Your Way In A Wild New World for more exercises to achieve wordlessness.
Mental rest will restore a greater sense of peace and connection to self and others, and will help increase your interest and energy in life when you’re not engaging in it. And that’s all a great recipe for a life you love living.
Give it a try and let me know how you find it!