• Dr Mark Atkinson

The Forgotten Art of Resting

Rest means not doing. It’s about having unstructured ‘empty’ periods in your life (ideally on a daily basis). This is, of course, an unfamiliar experience for most of us, since we tend to rush from one thing to another, constantly filling our time with ‘stuff’. But rest is designed to keep a check on that, to prevent us from getting too absorbed in doings and to help us cross over from ‘doing’ to ‘being’.

During rest or empty time, you have no intentions, expectations or plans whatsoever – this is the key. You essentially trust and stay with the present moment and allow yourself to be guided by the creative impulse of the moment.

One thing to be aware of is that often the ‘doing’ mind will attempt to regain control and make suggestions for you. For example, you might have a thought to watch TV or call a friend. As a general rule, if an activity stimulates you, emotionally arouses you, increases tension or reduces your inner sense of calm then that is not rest. What actually happens during this empty time will really depend on you; what nourishes you might be very different for another person. Rest for me can sometimes be simply going for a walk, daydreaming, watching, meditating, lying on the grass, writing something or just simply sitting. I go with the moment and allow it to take me. If I get a thought, which I often do, of cutting short my rest period, I just notice it, let go of it and return my attention to the moment. In my experience, introducing regular periods of rest can help not only to rejuvenate the body and mind, but, as importantly, to open up channels of creativity and insight.

Tips for Rest 

Try a seven-day experiment in which you commit to giving yourself some empty time each day. The exact length will depend on what works for you, but you should aim for ten minutes plus. Write these times into your diary and remember not to fill them with anything! I have found that this seven-day approach works well for my patients in terms of motivating them to try it, but if seven days sounds too much, go for three (or, if it sounds too little, go for a month). Stick with something that is realistic and achievable.

Find a label for your rest period that gives it personal significance and meaning. Call it, for example, ‘me time’, ‘quiet time’ or ‘prayer time’.

Make sure you won’t be disturbed during your rest time. Of course this is not easy if you have children.

An attitude of playfulness, openness and curiosity can help the ‘rest’ process.

Start your rest time, by sitting still and focusing on your breath. When you are moved to so something and/or if you get a thought to do something ask yourself, ‘Will this increase my sense of calm and spaciousness and nurture me from within?’ If the answer is ‘Yes’, allow yourself to be moved to do it. If not, just wait patiently and something will come. If your ‘doing’ mind kicks in, or if you start judging yourself or your experience, just gently turn your attention back to the present moment.

Whatever happens allow yourself to enjoy the experience.

Once your rest period is finished, reflect on your experience and how you are feeling. What did you learn about yourself? What insights did you get? How enjoyable was it? How motivated are you to give yourself another rest period?

If possible and practical, why not allocate half a day or even a full day to rest. Just go with the flow and see what happens.

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© 2020 by Dr. Mark Atkinson.