Radical Rest. It’s a theme that keeps recurring. It came up during a recent retreat I held with my friend Susie on the Gower Peninsular in Wales. It was a Retreat for women, and I do feel that women, the principal carers of the world, are mostly starved of rest. But then, we all are, these days. As one woman said during the weekend, “Animals know how to rest, just look at a cat! Have we clever humans forgotten that we are animals?” If we have, then I propose that perhaps we are not so clever after all and the current state of the planet – of this home that we rely on – backs that up. If we are paying attention at all at this time, we will be asking ourselves, what can we do to redress the balance?
How can we make a difference?
It can seem that nothing will make a difference. No amount of recycling or energy-saving or eating vegan or stopping flying will help. Especially not resting. How, with the world in such a state, can it be time to rest? Surely, it is time to ACT?
I propose that resting is EXACTLY what we need. That resting in and down and staying deep in the wisdom of the inner world will bring forth, when the time comes, a kind of action that is considered. An action infused with love and self-care and compassion and patience – qualities that are sorely missing from our fast-moving, hyper-active, no-time-to-waste modern world.
It’s time. Time to call enough. To feel the pull of the earth that brings us home to rest. Home to nurture ourselves and our tribe. What is ahead of us is unknown, but we can be sure of one thing. That it will be better met after a Radical Rest.
“Resting into the deep comfort zone, we might sense a gathering of energy, of power. So that when the bodymind moves again with intention, it moves from this place of power. This kind of action is grace-full – effective, not wasting energy, every movement just enough – empowered by the practice of rest, and infused with the sacred.”
Meditation as Deep Rest
This experience emerged in the meditation space last evening, where we were exploring what it is to rest deeply, moving against the cultural norm that is pushing us out, out, out beyond our fear. To be forever pressing ourselves in this way… Pressuring ourselves to go beyond our comfort zone, it is no wonder that we also become beyond tired… So far from the well of our source energy that we are somehow dragging our selves through the world.
A couple of years ago, I began a practice I called Mindful Mondays. On Mondays, I decided, I would stay home. Husband would take the car, which meant I could walk, but not drive, and because we live quite rurally, this meant that I was mostly solitary. What I found was that without timetable or appointments, my days floated freely through household chores and more – sometimes much more, sometimes less. Taking the pressure off, Mondays wore a ring around them, like that red cord in the art gallery that tells us some areas are off-limits. I grew to love Mondays.
Meditating Online Together
When I wanted to establish a weekly online meditation group, it made sense to choose Mondays, since I knew I was always at home. Always available. This practice had made me so. And so Mondays had a new commitment, but it felt good. It felt good, too, to use my Monday feeling of availability to offer to hold space for one-to-one guidance, and so gradually, I lost the freedom of non-doing, if in the loveliest of ways!
I learned so much from Mindful Mondays that I feel moved to shift that sense of unpressured beingness to Tuesdays…but what to call it?… and so Timeless Tuesdays is born.
On this Timeless Tuesday, so far I have shared morning tea with Husband, sat for a while with the cat on my lap, and begun to share this story for a blog post. A conversation in my head with a friend in Australia (thanks Rachel) has me yearning to make pesto from all the spring greenery in my garden – kale, broccoli leaves and spinach. Perhaps I’ll pause and do that, then I can tell you how it tastes…
In the meantime, I invite you to make some timeless time for your self. Time to sink deep into your comfort zone, to see what emerges. It might take longer than you think, at first, so be patient with yourself. If you have been experiencing a drought of such self-caring ways, the well might take some filling.
A Month of Mondays – An Invitation
If you feel like sharing this space, or that you need some support, I invite you to join our little group on Monday evenings (or whatever time and day that lands where you are in the world.) Details of how and when can be found below.
End Note : I DID make the pesto. It IS delicious. Try it for yourself!
Recipe : Whizz together green leaves – spinach, chard, or whatever comes to hand, a good clump of oregano or basil, handful of almonds, garlic, chili peppers (go easy!), generous dollop of olive oil, sprig or two of mint and my secret ingedient, yeast flakes! (you can use parmesan cheese if you don’t mind eating dairy). Texture should be juicy, but not runny.
Serve with pasta, crackers, or spread over roasted veggies.
Leaving my house, I feel the breeze whip my hair across my face. In the treetops, a gusty wind plays, spinning leaves through the air like dangerous thoughts. What on earth did we invite, when we said we would do a ritual for grief?
I’ve been feeling out of sorts all day. Activated. Unable to focus. As though something is stirring in my deep self. When I finally get to speak to Cheryl, my co-host, she says she has been thinking of cancelling, so great is her own sense of disturbance. But as well as being a little scary, it is exciting. What’s the worst that could happen? That we might feel sad? Shed a few tears? And what is the best thing that could happen? Some form of liberation? We choose liberation over comfort.
Creating a Space
Over Cheryl’s garden, the sky hovers gray and foreboding. We consider gathering our circle inside and begin to move the chairs around, but I am drawn back to the trees. To the green grass and the billowing clouds. Nature is a part of this show and will not be excluded.
We set blankets on the cool ground and our centrepiece statue in place. Recently acquired, it is a sculpture of people standing together, holding each other in circle. Flat hands against each other bodies, they touch the heart chakra where it opens in the back of the body. It will be our emblem for this evening.
As women arrive, I find myself making my singing bowl sound a long, mournful note. Mentally, I am calling in the ancestors. Calling in the spirits of this place. Calling in all those who need to witness this happening. They float in silently, taking their seat in the circle.
Gathering with Intention
The details of this ritual ceremony are unimportant. We made them up, suiting them to our purpose. For we are orphans of spiritual practice. We have grown up in traditions depleted of meaning and have sought out significance in different places, different religions, in cultures other than our own. No matter. Our intention is to gather in service of our own inner path. To give voice to that which needs to speak. To listen faithfully to what is said. These intentions are what guides hand and heart.
At the end of the evening, we stand for a moment, mirroring the statue, holding each other in a sacred circle of trust and care, before heading inside to drink hot tea and eat cake. In this way, we follow the path of witches and shamans as they ground the energies of their practice and feed life, but really, don’t all good gatherings end with food and drink? The wisdoms we seek are grown within human bodies and cannot be known outside of our embodiment. About this simple fact, the Buddha was clear, but we are not only Buddhist, not only pagan. Following the Christian tradition of Maundy Thursday, we make an offering to charitable causes and I feel a profound awareness of the cycle of giving and receiving. Without opening to give, we remain closed to possibilities of receiving.
In bed that night, I feel my heart settle into a peacefulness that comes from knowing I have been met well. I have connected. With my own deep self, with my friends on this inner path and with Mother Nature herself. The wind has dropped. The trees are still. I sleep the sleep of the blessed.
What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. T.S. Eliot
Almond blossom in January marks the beginning of Spring in Catalunya and today it shows itself, just as we come to the end of The Omen Days. Looking ahead to December, we see the cycle of the year laid out, beginning and ending catching the tail of one another in a cosmic spiral.
And so it is with our little sangha as we end this time-out-of-time together, but not exactly as we planned. Our nine-year old teacher is in bed with flu, so we set up an online meeting, some gathered in one place, some in another. This ending, successfully and joyfully executed, proves to be a way forward. A way to keep supporting each other during the coming year and a way to bring in other sangha friends, both near and far. Perhaps one day you will join us…
In December, may we look back on the year gone by and appreciate the cycle of life, the spiral of spiritual process and the strength of community.
Today is a free day, meaning that our little group chose not to meet on the beach together, but to have an unscheduled day. It’s a well-known phenomenon that too much discipline makes us rebel, so it’s wise to build in some free time before the pressure builds. In Thich Nhat Hahn’s Plum Village, for instance, once a week they have a Lazy Day, where the community is encouraged to rest and focus on being, not doing. So how is it, after my ‘free’ day, that I feel less free?
The Buddha is clear that the only ‘freedom of mind’ is a worthwhile goal for our spiritual practice. Not ‘gain or honour or fame, nor the attainment of virtue, meditative concentration, knowledge or vision.’ (From the Discourse on the Simile of the Heartwood – thanks to Ulla Koenig)
At the end of the day, other members of our group report that they have had an ‘off’ day, that they have missed the gathering of sangha, that the day has been ‘ordinary.’ On this, at least, we are in sync!
What does it take, then, to make our days extraordinary? What does an ‘on’ day feel like? And what is so special about the gathering of sangha? This is a question I will take into #nature… A question I will discuss with the group when we meet tomorrow… And a question in which I invite you to take part…
In November, I may feel a little lost. Can I remember, then, to reach inside and outside of myself for understanding, to turn to my sangha for answers, and to open to the wisdom of my tribe?
(See previous posts for more info about this practice of The Omen Days.)
“Make a list!” she says. It’s our nine-year-old teacher again, asking us to note what we love to do. Children seem connected to play in a way we adults forget. It’s the last day we will meet on the beach. Tomorrow is a rest day and on Sunday, we will complete The Omen Days together with a silent walk in the forest and a picnic. We discuss how to create a container for our practice. One which is connected to what we love to do. After all, if there is noy joy, what motivation will there be to meditate?
As work and life commitments gather pace, it’s easy for the ‘ordinary’ world to suck up all the attention. How can we make every day a ‘holy day’?
In October, I may need to reminded what it is I love to do, and how to integrate this into both my life and my meditation practice.
Surfers ride on the energy of water, but it is air that powers the waves – a wind out at sea that creates swell. Today I have watery energy, relaxed but needing some breeze beneath my wings. So it’s great when one of our group holds a short movement practice before we sit to meditate and for a while, I can let go the reins and be led by the momentum of another.
Taking some time to sit alone, I watch light fall over the scrubland beyond our home. Breath slows, stillness pooling, when from nowhere, a dragonfly appears, finely laced wings shining golden in the setting sun. Her lower jaw moves rhythmically as she chews on a freshly-caught insect and then suddenly, she takes flight, plucks another soul out of the emptiness and lands back in front of me, munching.
In the shamen world, dragonfly’s quick and graceful movements indicate freedom and creativity, while their transparent wings are a sign of clarity and clear knowing. That this one sits still, feeding, reminds me to eat wisely and efficiently, taking care with my energy.
In September, while my vision may be clear, I might be glad of some extra motivation with creative projects.
(See previous post for information about The Omen Days practice of divining for the year ahead.)
As we head towards the finish line, there can be a loss of concentration and we can lose the flow. Climbers are more likely to fall on the descent. Drivers more likely to have an accident near their destination. Creative practitioners make more mistakes as they reach the final stretch of a project. And today, we find our minds wandering off into the coming year, more planning than meditating. Along with some anxiety, tension creeps into my body and I have to concentrate harder to bring myself back to the resting place of presence.
There’s a chilly wind, though the sun is shining as it has been throughout The Omen Days. On the beach, we huddle together, a bigger group of us this morning, offering each other shelter from the harsher elements. Come August, will we be glad of the protection of community?
New year. Warm fire. Cold air. Cold sea. Warm sun. Elements balanced as we summit the midpoint of The Omen Days. It suddenly seems appropriate that New Year is the climax of the Twelve days of Christmas. That we begin on twenty-sixth of December and end on sixth of January. Today, this Celtic practice feels ancient.
Sustained practice brings results as insight emerges. The biologist experiencing oneness as he contemplates how the atoms and molecules of people and places are universally shared. How plant growth depends on both darkness and light – on soil and on sunshine.
Seeds planted now will likely be harvested in July, but we shouldn’t worry if they need a little more time. In my garden, I have chili peppers planted last January that are still fruiting!
Retreats are a wonderful time out of time, but daily meditation adds magic to ordinary life. Diving into wintry water, members of our community emerge joyful into bright sun. We are thankful for deep connection. To ourselves, to nature and to each other.
Here’s Shanti the cat, doing his impression of a panther stretched out on a jungle tree. Moments later, the cat is in my lap, purring, a picture of domestication. Cats never seem to lose that sense of wildness, whereas we, in the process of civilisation, have disconnected from our wild selves. Connecting to nature puts us back in touch with the animal in us, and perhaps, with the human. In the cycles of nature, we see the cycles in ourselves – the ebb and flow of inner moons and tides.
Does our wild nature show more in the shadow self? Primitive emotions like rage and fear would once have saved our lives, but in the absence of mortal danger, the emotions we feel often fail to find their place. One channel for the expression of darker emotions might be through creativity – writing, dancing or painting as a way to understanding.
In June, can I find space and time to give voice to the shadow self through creativity?
(Not sure what this is about? Click through to read more about The Omen Days series of posts – a Celtic tradition of using the twelve days of Christmas to make predictions for the coming year.)
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