Monday, September 29, 2014

The Discipline of Rest

"Desert Garden"

Yesterday my wife and I spent a relaxing and refreshing day strolling through beautifully cultivated desert gardens located on the grounds of a sprawling estate not far from where we live. Historically, this estate has served as a place of retreat for most of the modern-day U.S. presidents who have often come there for rest and recreation - sometimes to meet with Heads of State. I can see why, this is such an iconic setting for peace and calm, an ideal place for getting away from it all.

Yesterday as we gently walked in the gardens, fountains gurgling, birds singing, we stopped to sip a glass of iced tea under a shade tree as a cool Autumn breeze refreshed us - a welcome relief from the intense summertime desert heat.  It was at that moment that I had a flash of insight about the vital importance of "resting" for the heath of body, mind and spirit.

As I sat there in the shade, I realized that I wasn't praying, I wasn't meditating, I certainly wasn't working, I wasn't even thinking - I was simply "resting," and in doing so I could literally feel my energy being renewed, my "batteries being recharged."

I sometimes wonder if "resting" may have become a lost art in a culture where everyone seems to be so focused on always "doing" something - always so busy at work, busy going to class, busy shopping or taking care of the kids, busy writing an email, sending a text, checking the phone.

I think that sometimes people even think of their own spiritual practices as being a busy time of doing hard work - busy going to church, busy saying prayers, busy meditating, counting breaths, intentionally working at being "mindful."

Some may think that when you "rest" you aren't doing anything,  or perhaps when you rest you are being lazy. I think the opposite is true. I believe that "rest" is in fact a spiritual discipline and a necessary ingredient on any path toward living a full life.

The Buddha talked frequently about the importance of resting in the living of everyday life.  He taught his disciples:

If you toil without rest, fatigue and weariness will overtake you,
and you will be denied the joy that comes from labor's end.

In the creation poem of the Hebrew Scriptures even "God" took a period of rest after the hard work of creation, and in the Gospels Jesus frequently takes his disciples away from the pressing crowds to put up their feet under a grove of trees. Jesus even offers himself as a source of rest for those who are weary in their journey through life:

Come to me all you who are weary and heavy burdened and
I shall give you rest.

When Saint Benedict wrote a "Rule of Life" for his monks to follow in their everyday living, he told them to divide their day into the practice of four "balanced" spiritual disciplines: "Pray, study, work, and rest." Each of these disciplines are equally important on the path to finding deeper peace.

This is probably good advice and important wisdom for any of us on a spiritual journey.

I am reminded of a lighthearted little story from the ancient Christian Desert Mothers and Fathers:

When a wise old Abbot was asked how he dealt with
any brother who fell asleep during public prayer, he replied,
'I put his head upon my knees and help him to rest.'


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