Day of Rest

cdj03I was on retreat this weekend, an at home virtual retreat with the Open Heart Project that ended this morning. Susan always schedules our time allowing space for creativity and rest, along with dharma talks, meditation, and discussion. Every retreat for me, no matter the type — writing, meditation, creativity, etc. — always brings into stark focus whatever I am currently working with. What I saw on this retreat is that I suck at rest, that I am trying too hard.

How strange that the thing I struggle with the most is ease, that the most difficult part of this retreat was rest, the time we were given to relax. My pattern, my current preference is effort, pushing and striving, when the truth is I need to practice relaxing, sinking, settling, letting go, being rather than doing. And even as I know this, I still strive to get “there.” I think I have to keep moving, that if I stop, even for a second, everything will fall apart.

It’s as if I’m swimming the river, moving as if I’m in a race or being chased by a school of hungry piranhas. I spend so much time and money and effort learning new ways to move through the water. I practice all the different competitive strokes — freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly — read books about swimming technique, buy all the latest performance gear, watch videos of the greats talking about their practice, hire a coach, join a team, take private lessons, dig a pool in my backyard, get up early to swim laps… All to learn the exact wrong way to move. From time to time when I get too exhausted to go any further, I cling to the side to rest, grasping at roots and dirt, gulping air, wondering what I am doing wrong, what trick I’m missing.

I need to learn to float, to lean back, stretch out my arms, relax my legs, sink until the water catches and holds me, my ears just under the surface where it’s quiet, my eyes looking towards the sky, my breath even.

cdj06Instead I continue to struggle, to act out my confusion, my path this particular suffering. I used to be depressed and sad, stuck, paralyzed, and would beat myself up for being lazy, worthless. Then I woke up, started to work, to try, to give, to offer — and here I am still smashing myself to bits for not being enough.

The first thing we often do when we meditate together in the Open Heart Project is to make an offering. This offering can be something literal, like a flower or an orange or incense, anything that would be pleasing to the senses, but the offering can also simply be your current state, like maybe you are confused or tired or hungry or sad, and you offer that. When we meditated together the first time this weekend, my offering was how hard I try. Just thinking about it made me start crying. When I can’t even think about or say something without crying, I know it’s a tender spot, a truth worth being curious about.

Later we practiced loving-kindness, “metta” meditation together. The simplest way to describe the practice is you offer loving-kindness first to yourself, then a loved one, then a neutral person or stranger, then an enemy, and finally all beings. When Susan instructed us to start, to begin to focus on our self, the first thing she said was, “I know how hard you try.” More tears. This is the truth for me right now, I am trying so hard, and I am so tired, and still I am being so hard on myself, and it doesn’t have to be like this.

wherelifehappens“The way you do anything is the way you do everything.” I don’t know who to attribute that phrase to, but I’ve heard it applied to each of my practices, (except maybe dog, but it’s true there too). Practice is never just about what’s happening on the mat, the cushion, the page, or the walk, it’s about everything. I am coming out of this retreat carrying a deep knowing, clear about a fundamental truth — I need to balance my effort with ease.

This came to me today during our creativity session,

Rest in your longing, as the mountains do.
Keep your heart open and wait, like the sky does for morning.
Listen to songs that put you in touch with your breathing.
Hold your love in the stillness of your soft animal body.

I don’t really know how to end this post, maybe because I’m in the particular fog that is post retreat, maybe because I am still living it — but maybe I could say that about everything I write, anything I post here. What I am learning is something I’m still working out. So, for now, I’m going to hit publish and go walk my dog. May you have a day filled with rest, kind and gentle reader.

14 thoughts on “Day of Rest

  1. Kimberley McGill

    I cry reading this. Rest has been so hard for me, to relax, to be. Even when I’m doing nothing at all my body can be so tight, so much going on beneath the surface that I can be exhausted after a long day of ‘rest’. It’s beginning to change, and I feel myself turning toward that floating more often. I wish for you ease, rest, balance and freedom from striving. I wish it for me too. For all of us. Thank you for the offering you’ve made.

  2. Kathleen

    This is so valuable to me even though my striving is different. I’m the one clinging to the rock in the river trying to convince myself that I like it where I am, that it’s enough. But I see others go by, brave adventurous souls, more talented with much more to offer. “Still smashing myself to bits for not being enough” Amazing, thank you.Jill.

    1. jillsalahub Post author

      I’ve been there too, Kathleen. In fact, for a long long time, I sat on the edge of the river, unwilling to even get in! I feel like sharing something with you, as you’ve reminded me of it — have you ever heard the Hopi Elders’ Prophecy? You can do a Google search and find the full thing, but this is the part you reminded me of:

      “There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are torn apart and will suffer greatly.

      “Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above water. And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.

      “The time for the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word struggle from you attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

      “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

  3. Barbara Markway

    This is my biggest struggle too–trying too hard and working too much. I often wonder if I developed chronic pain because it was the only way to slow me down. I don’t really like that explanation, but it pops in my mind quite a lot. Lovely post, as usual.

    1. jillsalahub Post author

      I have suffered from pretty serious fatigue for the past few years, Barbara, and while I don’t necessarily “blame” myself for it, I can see how I am not making it any easier to live with through my behavior, resisting rest. Awareness eventually brings a shift — I trust that. ♥

  4. Sue Fox

    I think we are all ‘working it out’ whilst ‘living it’, the fog, the confusion… but the hitting publish button and sharing is the ‘loving’ bit, ourselves and others! x

  5. Kayce S. Hughlett

    I’m honored to have shared the weekend with you, Jill. I found myself moving between agitation and rest during the retreat. I kept wanting to “finish” things before I moved on… so much focus on product versus process. I consider myself a pretty good “rester” and still I struggle… not all of the time, but… Here are some words I wrote just before our closing session:

    “This lovely rhythm of starting and stopping… following a thought until another occurs… listening in each moment. Moving. Resting. Being. Becoming. Exploring. Allowing it all to be okay. To declare what I’m doing ‘enough.’ To merely stay with the schedule not expecting a product. Allowing process to flow like the rain. I can dry my things out later.”

    Happy swimming, floating, grasping…. wherever you find yourself today.

    1. jillsalahub Post author

      I love retreat so much, exactly because it narrows my focus, and I typically end up seeing something I was too distracted to notice or actively avoiding. It’s such a gift to have that time and space, and to have openhearted people like you to share it with. ♥


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