Learning to Truly Rest

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Dear Still Water Friends,

In The Miracle of Mindfulness the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh encourages practitioners who are learning meditation to imagine themselves as pebbles which have been thrown into a river:

The pebble sinks through the water effortlessly. Detached from everything, it falls by the shortest distance possible, finally reaching the bottom, the point of perfect rest. You are like a pebble which has let itself fall into the river, letting go of everything. At the center of your being is your breath. You don’t need to know the length of time it takes before reaching the point of complete rest on the bed of fine sand beneath the water. When you feel yourself resting like a pebble which has reached the riverbed, that is the point when you begin to find your own rest. You are no longer pushed or pulled by anything. …

This is your own time. This spot where you sit is your own spot. It is on this very spot and in this very moment that you can become enlightened. You don’t have to sit beneath a special tree in a distant land. Practice like this for a few months, and you will begin to know a profound and renewing delight.

For me, it is helpful to think about true restfulness as located midway between tenseness (strained, full of anxiety) and limpness (lacking structure, without energy or will). True restfulness is relaxed, aware and alive, able to move and respond as appropriate. In Chinese martial arts this absence of emotional and physical tension is called “song” and is seen as co-arises with clarity of mind and vitality. It is not unlike the tender, loving, holding of an infant or loved one in one’s arms.

Thich Nhat Hanh explains in The Miracle of Mindfulness:

In mindfulness one is not only restful and happy, but alert and awake. Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality. The person who practices mindfulness should be no less awake than the driver of a car; if the practitioner isn’t awake he will be possessed by dispersion and forgetfulness, just as the drowsy driver is likely to cause a grave accident. …. Be like a lion, going forward with slow, gentle, and firm steps. Only with this kind of vigilance can you realize total awakening.

This Thursday evening after our meditation period, we will begin our Dharma sharing by exploring what it means to each of us to truly rest and to truly relax. What conditions support or hinder our being able to truly rest? Is truly relaxing something we can do every day?

You are invited to join us.

As is our tradition on the first Thursday of the month, we will also offer a brief newcomer’s orientation to mindfulness practice and to the Still Water community. The orientation will begin at 6:30 pm, and participants are encouraged to stay for the evening program. If you would like to attend the orientation, it is helpful if you let us know by emailing us at info@StillWaterMPC.org.

Two related excerpts from How to Relax by Thich Nhat Hanh are below.

Warm wishes,




Resting and relaxing at the 2017 Still Water Easter Retreat at Charter Hall, Perryville, Maryland.

Awareness Of Breathing

Your breathing is a stable, solid ground where you can take refuge. No matter what thoughts, emotions, and perceptions are going on inside you, your breath is always there, like a faithful friend. Whenever you’re carried away by thinking, overwhelmed by strong emotions, or feeling restless and dispersed, return to your breathing. Bring body and mind together and anchor your mind. Become aware of the air coming in and going out of your body. With awareness of the breath, our breathing naturally becomes light, calm, and peaceful. At any time of the day or night, whether you’re walking, driving, working in the garden, or sitting at the computer, you can return to the peaceful refuge of your own breath.

Stop First

If we can’t rest, it’s because we haven’t stopped running. We began running a long time ago. We continue to run, even in our sleep. We think that happiness and well-being aren’t possible in the present. If you can stop and establish yourself in the here and the now, you will see that there are many elements of happiness available in this moment, more than enough for you to be happy. Even if there are a few things in the present that you dislike, there are still plenty of positive conditions for your happiness. When you walk in the garden, you may see that a tree is dying and so you feel sad and aren’t able to enjoy the rest of the garden that is still beautiful. If you look again, you can see that the garden is still beautiful, and you can enjoy it.