Rest—real rest—can be elusive. With our ever-thinking minds, busy schedules, and life’s shifting terrain, we can find ourselves unable to really settle into a fully relaxed state. To release physical, emotional, psychological holding. To sleep well. To feel restored rather than just OK. In many ways, experiencing a state of deep rest is our greatest challenge.
There are many tools and teachings from the contemplative traditions—in meditation, in our faith, in yoga practices with breath-directed movement—for achieving a state of rest. But do you find that sometimes, these don’t seem to work for you? In other posts, I have talked about a more active approach to rest, like walking or engaging in a flow activity that focuses your whole being on one, usually repetitive activity to calm the mind and body and breath. These can be effective and can be a way to enter into a more rested state.
But to feel fully and regularly rested (or restored or whole or balanced), we need to find moments throughout our days to rest. Yes, sometimes rest is a nap but that’s not practical in the middle of a rehearsal or staff meeting or in a conversation with an anxious singer. I have come to experience a different sort of rest which I would describe as moments of holding goodness in our awareness.
Our minds are more often drawn to negative impressions, setting off our fight-or-flight impulses to prime us for active response to threat. But in a modern world, everything can be perceived as negative, from global threats to health challenges to impending concerts with lots of details and doubts. What if we actively sought to find goodness in the moments of our days and learn to hold these moments of goodness, feeling them almost as a wash of warmth over our being, transcending us, ever so briefly, out of the negative to something more whole and reassuring?
This seems mysterious but once we are aware that goodness moments are all around us and we begin to experience their effect on our system and psyche, we make a significant shift toward regular moments of rest. In those moments, we stop the mind chatter and focus on one thing. We recognize something or someone that supports or pleases or calms us and makes us smile. We become grateful and recognize wealth of a different kind. We feel reassured or remember what is most important. We see the big (GOOD) picture. We understand our unique opportunity and gift and recognize what we have done well, instead of self-criticizing and always reaching for more. We feel sufficient, part of the larger fabric of life in a most satisfied way. We begin to even our breathing, reset our nervous system, and create a felt sense of balance.
These are some of the goodness moments I have held in recent days:
- Hearing, as though for the first time, the singers that always enthusiastically say “thank you” at the end of rehearsal.
- Happening on a casual, coats-still-on, hallway conversation between my amazing collaborative pianists and snapping an informal picture to capture that smiling moment.
- Sitting with my mom in the ER as she waited for X-rays after a fall, grateful she was not in severe pain and knowing I could reverse our caring roles by being with her to support and comfort.
- Seeing four of my singers in a student-directed theatrical project and learning from the beautiful human moments they created.
- Taking time in rehearsal to go deep, even when the surface stuff (notes, cutoffs, matched sound) still needs to be worked out.
- Looking into a singer’s eyes above her mask, reading her anxiety and then, reassurance, from my compassionate words spoken to her as a human, not as a category (alto).
- Recognizing that the decay at the end of a well-rehearsed musical phrase was for the first time, sung for its musical rightness instead of its technical requirement.
- Passionately talking all-things-basketball with one of my singers and bonding over our March Madness hopes and our hometown team’s future (it’s all about defense).
- Getting to know colleagues better over our shared frustrations in academia and then, making a mutual and heartfelt commitment to working toward a smarter future.
- Reading a grateful response to an email of encouragement I sent to someone who is shouldering a heavy burden.
There are many more I likely missed. But these were powerful moments of goodness, brief but restful, that allowed me to feel less drained at the end of the day, less negative or fearful, and more expansive. Moments held that made it easier to “come down” and experience deep rest. Moments that led to the reassurance that, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well” because in those moments, all was well. (Words of Julian of Norwich, 14th century mystic.)
These moments are all around us. Will we be open to them? This week, allow yourself to see and hold moments of goodness and experience the rest they can provide.
“If we could learn to balance rest against effort, calmness against strain, quiet against turmoil, we would assure ourselves of joy in living and psychological health for life.”
(Josephine Rathbone, 1899-1989, physiologist and founding member of the American College of Sports Medicine)
Dr. Ramona Wis is the Mimi Rolland Endowed Professor in the Fine Arts, Professor of Music, and Director of Choral Activities at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois and the author of The Conductor as Leader: Principles of Leadership Applied to Life on the Podium. Dr. Wis is a 500-hour CYT (Certified Yoga Teacher) with training in yoga history, philosophy, meditation, energetics, pranayama (breath work), anatomy, Sanskrit, and the teaching, sequencing, and adaptations of asana (posture-based) practice. Reach her at:
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