Spring wouldn’t be spring without a long winter’s rest
One of my “pandemic projects” last May was creating a shade garden. Almost exactly year later, I am watching my garden spring to life with a mixture of amazement and awe. The long winter’s rest was very, very good for my “baby” plants.
Their long sleep under a blanket of earth, mulch, and snow seems to have inspired the little perennials and ferns that I tucked into the ground last spring to a burst of energetic and creative genius. Each plant is already easily double the size it was at the peak of last summer. Their colors, which were lovely last year, are nothing short of brilliant – countless shades of green, almost shocking splashes of white, deep eggplant, and bright purple.
The last year has been a little like a long, long rest
As I walked along the edge of the bed this morning, marveling at its daily development, another thought crossed my mind. The garden itself is a fruit of a surprising, extended time of rest. As the world slowed to an almost-stop last March, I (a little like my plants over the winter) dropped into a deep, long rest unlike any I can remember in my adult life.
I stopped setting my alarm clock. I ate when I was hungry. Sat down when I was tired. I read because I wanted to. I practiced yoga when I felt like it. I started sitting in meditation every day. It took several weeks of resistance, but I gradually shifted from a “human-doing” to a “human-being.”
Today, now that I’ve inched a little ways back toward the “doing” end of the spectrum, I cannot quite imagine embarking on a project like my shade garden. Looking back, the fact that I had the energy required for a project of that size fills me with almost as much amazement and awe as I feel when I watch the garden’s growth.
It’s not just the thought of the physical work that makes me pause. I look at the garden and wonder at the creativity behind my vision, the beauty that resulted, and the faith I had in my instincts. Clearly the rest I took during the first months of the pandemic nurtured me on many levels.
Rest is necessary for health and happiness
Heather Cherry writes on Forbes.com that “rest is a fundamental part of success, health, and happiness.” If my plants and I are any indication, she has identified a powerful truth.
While being forced into another weeks-long mandatory rest is unlikely, it would be wise for each of us to prioritize regular intervals of real rest in our lives. Times when we deliberately step away from “doing” – another word for stress, productivity, and even physical exertion – and take some time to be.
Three ways to get quality rest without going to sleep
While a good night’s sleep and even a regular nap are great ways to get rest, there are ways to rest while still awake. Practicing silence, mindfulness, and breathing all lead us to the kind of rest that I inadvertently found in the early months of the pandemic – rest that creates deep healing, inspires bursts of creativity, and offers clarity.
These three “practices” are quite accessible and can be done individually or simultaneously. The next time you head out for a walk, turn off the podcast or music. Choose, instead, to meander in silence. Resist the urge to fill the silence with outer or inner sound – whistling, humming, or even lots of thinking. Experience the welcoming stillness that comes with silence, even as you are moving along.
As you walk in silence, practice mindfulness by paying attention to the details of the world you’re moving through. Look closely at the face of the person coming toward you – smile. Feel the breeze on your skin. Notice your posture, the grip of your feet within your shoes, the directions that your mind wanders.
Notice your breathing as you walk. Are you breathing through your mouth or your nose? Can you shift to nose breathing? Can you feel the difference in air temperature between your inhalations and exhalations? Can you slow the pace of your breath down? Notice how settling it is to pay attention to your breath.
Silence, presence, and breath offer rest no matter when and where we make the space for them. On a walk through your town or city, sitting in the backyard, hiking in the woods, even driving your car. When we choose silence, become mindful, or breathe deeply, something deep inside of us stills and we receive the benefits of rest – a sense of well-being, a burst of creativity, or a sense of clarity.
Regular rest will sustain us as we spring into action
Let’s promise each other that, as we awaken from the long, slow “winter” of the pandemic, we will spring into action mindfully. Let’s promise each other to set aside regular moments of rest so that we can – at least much of the time – exist as humans being rather than humans doing.
These rests will reinvigorate us so that our presence in the world will be as lively, fresh and bright as my garden is this spring.
Sometimes we need a friend to keep us accountable to our intentions – whether it’s to rest or to start or finish a project. This is one of the many benefits of working with a spiritual director. You can learn more on my website.