As the year winds down for those doing One Word practice, many of us have turned our attention to discovering or choosing a new word for 2021. Because Carolyn, whose blog has guided my practice this year, has been hosting a lively and inspiring conversation about selecting new words, it’s been tempting to let rest fade away quietly in December. But I am a dutiful sort, and I know I owe rest a debt of gratitude and a summation of its impact on my life this past year.
It’s taken me nearly six years of retirement to settle into a slower, more mindful, less frantic pace of life. Old habits die hard—the tendency to say yes and get involved before really thinking, in particular. But 2021 has offered me more open space and more free time, and the word rest has lent focus for settling into a new mode of living.
These days, in both winter and summer, I routinely wake up at around four a.m. and, unable to go back to sleep, get up and begin my day while it is still dark and silent. I’ve watched and photographed many glorious dawns, sat completely still in my cozy den with my dog beside me and a cat on my lap, just breathing and listening to the silence. So, each day begins gently and quietly.
There is always at least one long, slow-paced walk early in the day, amid the beauty of green summer foliage or among stark bare winter branches. I delight in the dog’s excited sniffing, in watching the trees sway, or searching for wildflowers. I try to get outside my head on these walks and observe what is happening around me. Just watch and listen.
After that, work—connecting, communicating, planning, writing, gardening, cleaning, errands, appointments. Following the teaching of the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, I try to do each task mindfully. Of course, it’s going to take many more years of practice to be as aware and attentive as I aspire to be, but I’ve noticed tiny incremental improvements over the last six years, and that gives me hope.
For instance, I now sit down to eat meals most days, departing from my previous practice of grabbing bites between tasks or standing at the kitchen counter and spooning food into my mouth, often coughing after swallowing each mouthful. In summer, I may eat breakfast and lunch in the garden; a pair of clippers and a watering can close at hand so that I can roam from bush to flower, watering, and pruning as needed. When I first sit down at dinner time, I pause and become fully present in the room, at the table, to the person(s) across from me and the food before me. I give thanks and smell the delicious odors. I try to put my fork down after each bite and concentrate on chewing and swallowing. I still eat more quickly than anyone else at the table, but slightly more slowly than I used to do.
Swimming has gotten slower, and I spend more time luxuriating in the hot tub and the sauna after my swim. I often take short naps, sometimes only 20 minutes, but they are deliciously relaxing and bring balance. Though I’ve not read nearly as many books as I would like, I’ve read more than in past years.
These settling changes have come about gradually and naturally, but my mental and spiritual exploration of the word rest has influenced and provided new motivation for them. Using resources provided by Carolyn, monthly check-ins have enabled me to probe the meaning of rest for myself and the world around me. Definitions, synonyms, word associations, visual images, sounds, and watching others have opened new doorways to understanding.
For instance, I spent significant time contemplating balance, juxtaposing effort and rest using this image. I would not know what rest is without exerting effort, and vice versa.
The Roots and Fruits image of a tree with many branches helped me hold all my discoveries about rest together, organically and systemically.
The Foundation and Building Blocks diagram teased out basic concepts intrinsic to my experience of rest.
Living with rest for the last year, reflecting on its meaning, has been not so much an attempt to change as an experience of noticing—observing the gradual transformation happening within me. With intention and practice, with patience, acceptance of failure, and beginning again, I’ve come to a more restful way of being. Watching the process brings joy. Discerning progress, however small, gives hope.
I still have a long way to go. My habits are tenacious. But I am not leaving rest behind. Indeed, I’ve chosen next year’s word(s) to take me further along the path to accepting, letting go, and resting.
Links to my previous posts on rest in 2021.