Many of you are stuck in your houses right now. Some of you are twiddling your thumbs as we speak. Twiddle, twiddle, twaddle... Well, don't let me stop you. But hear me out whilst you twiddle away.
This national timeout is actually a wonderful opportunity. Most westerners are chronically incapable of resting. We work hard and play hard, but never rest softly. Becoming stronger is about pushing your body slightly past its limits and then resting while the body rebuilds itself to better handle these difficulties in the future. It's essentially controlled damage followed by strategic rebuilding. But stress without the rebuilding is just plain, old damage. Sometimes you need to tear down an old house to build a better one, but you are defeating the purpose if you tear it down, and then tear it down again and again every time the new one is being built.
What I'm saying is that a huge portion of our health problems come from a love of pushing our limits and an equal inability to recover and rebuild once those limits have been pushed. That's why this is such an important opportunity. When else will there be a legal mandate to stay home and rest? If we use this time to learn how to cultivate rest and healing we can come out much stronger than we were before.
I expect many of you know this. The greater questions is how?
We love to build, expand, conquer, persist, achieve! Where does rest fit into that mindset?
I want to set it straight right now. Rest is not something that you can conquer, you will never "achieve" it. Please do not try and dominate your mind into calmness. Rest is the opposite of these things. It is doing nothing, achieving nothing, attempting squat-diddly, being content to let the moment pass as it is. That being said, if you rarely relax into peace of mind, there are certain steps you can take that will make it more likely to sink into a calm state.
Why do lumberjacks eat enormous hunks of flesh while monks eat small, vegetarian meals? It is because of the energy requirements of each profession.
A lumberjack runs around the woods heaving huge logs around, while the monk sits quietly on a rock calming his mind. Everyone knows that rich foods give you energy, but what few realize is that rich foods require you to use that energy. Digesting a fatty steak unleashes an enormous amount of energy into the body, which is just perfect for hard physical labor, but totally inappropriate for a day spent watching TV. The energy has nowhere to go!
One of two things will happen: the energy will be stored in the body's bank as fat, or it will be transformed into tension and then anxiety. How could a monk sit calmly in the woods all day while filled with the urgent energy of a steak and coffee? Their vegetarian, low-energy diet not only keeps them calm, but actually prevents excess anxiety or excitement. There is simply no extra energy for it.
I am not a vegetarian, nor would I recommend it for someone with a physically active lifestyle. But, for now, if we would like to be peaceful like a monk, let's eat like one. Vegetables, rice, and nourishing soups. If you're like me and would rather starve to death than eat tofu, then stick to small portions of light meats: seafood, turkey, lean chicken. I promise you, this will tone your energy down and make chilling in your house so much nicer.
When you do get energetic, and you will sometimes, be sure to use it! Go out and garden! Or do a workout - not to exhaustion (because that can be agitating), but just enough to leave you pleasantly relaxed. We can transform any excess energy into wholesome activity, so that it never has a chance to ferment into anxiety. Imagine your energy as a clear mountain pool. The pool is still except for the occasional wind rippling across the surface, and the red rocks resting at the bottom sparkle with sunlight, even 8 or 9 feet below the water. Up from some dark, quiet place bubbles a steady stream of pure water, and out from one of the edges a trickle bounces down the moss-covered rocks to feed the plants and animals below. The end result is equilibrium.
A coffee and an action movie is the spring flood that overwhelms the pool and gushes down the hill. Running a marathon is the mudslide that washes away the walls and lets the water pour out. Either way, it will be a while before balance is restored and the pool can continue to support the life that surrounds it. The idea is that we are modulating our energy input and output so that we can be calm. It should be clear that there are certain activities that calm us and others that stimulate us. We want to steer ourselves towards the soothing activities.
Ok, so sit down then for a Terminator marathon, right?
Wrong, John Connor! Come with me if you want to live.
TV is a compromise between a mind that loves to be stimulated and a body that is too tired to be out doing things. The mind gets to pretend it's blowing up the enemy compound and the body gets to lay there. TV may be a sedative, but it is rarely restful. At worst it can be highly agitating. Seeing sex and explosions and drama is extremely stimulating, but because this energy has nowhere to go it becomes tension. I think we can all relate to the sexual frustration of seeing hotties on the boobtube or the paranoia that comes from watching murder movies, or worse, the news.
Instead, engage in activities that are truly calming: a walk in the woods, a pleasant conversation, a warm bath. When you are doing something, pay attention to what is making you calm and what is making you excited, and steer yourself to the aspects that cultivate calmness.
If we soothe ourselves through this time we will come out the other end better and more prepared than we were before