My friend Kathy Kolbe, behavioralist extraordinaire, often wears a T-shirt that says DO NOTHING WHEN NOTHING WORKS. If nothing's working for you, if you feel as though you're pushing forward against the grain, the most productive and proactive thing you can do is nothing. Nature is turning you inward, to gain power through peace, rather than outward to gain power through activity.
If this feels alien to you, watch animals. When nothing's working for them no matter how hard they try, they curl up or stretch out and surrender. They love the valley of the shadow: It's a dim, quiet, perfect place to gather strength. In Africa I watched a pride of lions, tired from an unsuccessful hunt, lie down and purr like tractor engines for hours. One of my friends observed, "You know, they rest like they mean it."
Most humans, by contrast, rest in a state of anxiety, guilt, and unease. We don't mean it. This keeps life's downtimes from fulfilling their natural function, which is to restore and heal. I'll never forget the day a client told me she was "de-e-e-presssed," speaking so slowly that I heard "deep rest." This was accurate: Even grief, when accepted fearlessly, is restorative. Some therapists call it "the healing feeling." So, though we often see life troughs as the universe's conspiracy to ruin us, they're actually our own true nature inviting us to lay down our weary heads.
I learned this from a man named Dan Howard, who spends his whole life teaching people "intentional resting." After half an hour's instruction, Dan's presence and simple methods melted me like butter. I think I was purring myself. You can learn more from Dan's Web site (IntentionalResting.com), but for now, I'll summarize.
When to rest? When you feel even a little bit like Rachel did during her recent ebb, or like I did struggling through travel hell, life is inviting you to sink into rest. To some degree, you'll feel blocked, tense, joyless, weepy, weak, and hopeless. Strangely, you'll probably feel certain that simply resting—doing nothing when nothing works—would be disastrous. This is the lie of the crazed human ego, resisting the natural peaks and troughs that define all nature. See through it.
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