The need to check out
Stress and overwhelm seem to be the norm of everyday life. We go, go, go until something stops us. Sometimes what stops us is pain (physical or emotional), sometimes its sickness, and clearly death will bring us to a complete stop. These “stops” are typically not chosen. Instead they are “given” to us by life, to slow us down, so that ultimately we can wake up and become more conscious to greater degrees.
When life forces us to stop in these ways it’s usually an unpleasant experience for us. We don’t want to stop, even though on some level we know we need too. Sometimes we don’t want to stop because we are thoroughly enjoying life, but are not participating with it in ways where we are fully awake and conscious. At other times we don’t want to stop because we are afraid that if we do everything will fall apart. The later is more common.
Whether these “stops” are forced from being so overwhelmed and overstretched, or self-chosen stops, such as sleep or vegging out on the couch watching TV, rest of some kind is inevitable. This is what I call unconscious resting. Your system or body have been on overdrive, or checked out on automatic pilot mode, for such a long stretch of time that when you stop you simply crash and check out. This is often needed to allow the body to recover. Most people get caught in a cycle of stress, stop and recover, stress, stop and recover. When feeling rested they go back to doing their life in the exact same ways and never actually become more conscious and aware through the process.
Rested and conscious
How do you engage with life being both rested and conscious? Being consciously rested is totally different from unconscious resting. Unconscious resting is what we do to decompress or unwind from the activity or stress of our day or life. However you can learn how to consciously sleep, work, watch TV, and do anything including even die consciously. One of the key questions to ask yourself when resting is are you decompressing, “taking a break” from stressful thoughts or feelings, or are you becoming more present and aware?
Being still, not doing, and not thinking are radical notions for most people. Even if you aren’t actively engaged in doing stuff you most likely never stop thinking for more than a few seconds at time. This is still considered activity and creates stress. Silence, particularly inner silence, is a foreign experience for most. Its something that seems to be reserved for monks, meditators or spiritual teachers and seekers.
The thing about conscious resting however is that it doesn’t mean that you need to be totally still sitting on a meditation cushion (though this may help to learn the skill of quieting your mind). Instead it means that you are in an internal state of rest, ease and relaxation and also simultaneously participating in your life. When you start to embody this state you realize that activity does not have to equal overwhelm, disconnect, tiredness and stress. You begin to experience that you don’t need a break or a vacation in order to relax from your life. Instead the real goal is learning to rest and be present in every moment of your every day life so that you are never taking a “break” from anything.
In conscious resting you are fully present and engaging in such a way that it becomes energizing for you, not depleting. Next time you find yourself tired or exhausted notice where you went into simply doing to get things done and ask yourself how you could be more aware and present. Notice what thoughts, sensations or emotions seem to interfere with you being present. The more you do this the more you will learn how to rest consciously and never need a break from your life again.
Dr. Amanda Hessel, Chiropractor, Network Spinal Analysis & Somato-Respiratory Integration, Boulder, Colorado