5 Tips to Conquer Your Resistance to Rest
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.
When you feel even a little bit weary, 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.
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. Here are some of Dan Howard's instructions for conquering your resistance:
1. Find the spot in your body or mind that's experiencing the most intense discomfort.
2. Instead of avoiding or covering up the feeling, pour your attention into it.
3. Think the word relax. Notice what happens.
4. When you've had about a minute to relax, think the word rest. Offer it as an invitation for your tired feet, your cramped back, your broken heart. Actually say to yourself, "I'm resting for my heart now."
5. Mentally scan through your body and mind, inviting each troubled thing to rest.
I had to do this a few times before it kicked in. Then I felt a visceral ka-chunk, as if a misaligned part of my body had slipped back into place. The more I practiced, the more quickly and deliciously the feeling recurred. The simple intention to rest, consistently applied, turns the valley of the shadow into sweet surrender. Honestly, it's that simple.
When I'm talking to clients whose lives have hit a low point, it's always quite clear that life is telling them to rest. After walking one client through Dan's exercises, she practically fell asleep in my lap. As she's continued to rest, luxuriously doing nothing when nothing works, her body and heart have healed.
Of course, when I'm the one on the receiving end of misfortune, things seem much more dire. I'm quite reluctant to stop struggling, appreciate my way out of fear, and listen to my life saying—sorry, what was that? Oh, yes. Rest. But when that's your only option, as it seems to be mine, I invite you to join me. Until things improve and something starts to work, let's lie down in the cool, shady valley...and rest like we mean it.