A Kadampa Buddhist practitioner for 25 years, this guest author is a self-employed, healthcare business owner who practices Asian Medicine in the rural American South. She claims that she can provide a stainless example of the trial and error of integrating Dharma into a busy modern life. Her disclaimer: “My observations are neither new nor unique, but I can sincerely share what it’s like to NOT use the power of rest and relaxation!”
This morning, I woke up aware (again) of a self that starts the day thinking, “TIME TO GET GOING!! SO MUCH TO DO! … Better HURRY!”
Yeah, so maybe this is not necessarily a bad thing … IF the energy of these thoughts were used with positive spiritual intentions. They could be quite valuable to motivate and energize a self to get up out of bed.
But, usually, if you are anything like me, this starts up mental PUSHING.
The voice of this “I” or self has some strong belief that I need to push to “get through” the day.
And, the gaping agenda of any given day: the household chores, the email, the messages, the work tasks, ah, the ToDo List … and, not to mention, getting on the meditation cushion … I will have to push myself to get to it all. It can certainly feel like it’s not “okay” to relax my mind or my body.
However, what I have learned in over two decades as a Kadampa practitioner is that I have a strong identification with a uncomfortable limited self, one I have drolly named “Nagatha”. She “nags” me on. She schemes and plots, always pushing me — she is never satisfied. Her list is never done and, although she “lets” me have some daily formal meditation, it is rare that she allows for much satisfaction for some inner peace.
Reading the more recent Kadampa Life posts HERE about self-hatred and being self-critical, I started thinking about how this very critical-nagging-Nagatha self takes a lot of license to keep pushing me around. Nagatha wants to keep me believing that I have to push for the energy to “get through” the day. But, sadly, it’s never enough for her. And the overall “I” or Self that gets reinforced is the one who believes she’s never been enough, she’s not enough now, and she never will be enough.
How easy it is, then, to start to hate that self, to believe that “she” is a failure, day in and day out. This further fuels Nagatha, of course, to keep on criticizing, nagging, and pushing.
I realize more and more that this is the very opposite of what the enlightened beings have long been saying to us. Geshe Kelsang has spelled out in many places the importance and power of rest. My Nagatha tends to stay busy overriding and drowning out his words. She bullies me into believing that I will be able to rest my mind when (and only when) my ToDo List is finished. I call this the “Unfinished Business of Busyness” — which Nagatha is determined to make me DO.
When someone in my clinical treatment room looks at me wearily and elaborates on how exhausted they are, I usually find that they also don’t believe that they have permission to stop, to rest. Even the mention of making “time to meditate” seems like just a really cute little ideal. “Yeah, right, like I have any time to stop or sit still! … I can’t do THAT!”
But there’s always much to do and many things to pay attention to (read: distractions). Our family, our culture, and our world all make for plenty of evidence. However, no amount of evidence alters Buddha’s verdict. This inner battle we create — between our striving and pushing self and our wiser, more peaceful self — has never delivered lasting happiness.
We continue to engage in a kind of inner ‘Warfare” instead of developing inner ‘Well-fare’. It doesn’t make for a healthy day — much less a healthy experience of the spiritual path.
Geshe-la says, actually, in How to Transform Your Life (free for download HERE), that we need to:
take care of ourself and look after our needs…otherwise we undermine our capacity to benefit others. … Moreover, others may conclude that we are imbalanced and consequently will not trust us or believe what we say … so we will not be able to help them.
He also says that if we are
not happy with ourself or foolishly neglect our own well-being, we will have neither the confidence nor the energy to effect radical spiritual transformation.
Sounds to me that this masterful spiritual teacher of mine is directly highlighting something I have definitely experienced along the way: that if I am going to be self-critical or neglect my own need for rest and replenishment, it will set me up for failure. A failed self who wishes to be of benefit to others. I won’t be able to provide authentic or lasting assistance (right again, thanks Nagatha!)
In the past I was able to override basic physical needs for much stopping or resting … and eventually it caught up. What was also terribly disheartening to discover was that it began to threaten and undermine my confidence in my potential — my Buddha nature — which is inexhaustible in its power to benefit others.
Nagatha’s pushing kept feeding the self I would normally see and then believe: the self who is never enough, doing enough, having enough, being enough.
So, I had to check: Who IS this self or “I”?
And is this really the self I am going to ask for permission to relax and be happy?!
If I keep on asking Nagatha, can I really expect to be granted time to stop, reflect, regroup, or refuel for a positive, relaxed, much less joyful daily life?
I don’t know about you, but I found that I would rather find and listen to someone who has a bigger mind than I do. Who has seen and explained that rest itself is a power — it is one of the four essential powers of joyful effort. And, after all, Buddha seems pretty darned positive, relaxed, and joyful!
Geshe Kelsang explains very clearly in Joyful Path of Good Fortune that if
we relax at the right time we shall soon be able to apply new effort again. … Timely relaxation maintains the constancy of our practice. … If we neglect the need for rest we become overtired and we are not able to apply effort again with joy.
I have seen over time that following the advice of the self I normally see makes not only my day, but my spiritual life path, a less than joyful one. Instead it can become all about pushing, hurrying, and busyness. And the self who lives that life eventually gets really really tired.
Perhaps we can check in: “Do I need to find ways to rest more?” I am betting that if you’re like me, you will see that resting the body and the mind, even for a few more peaceful moments throughout the day, goes a lot further to fostering more heartfelt presence for others.
A more relaxed mind naturally has more space for kindness, love, and compassion. There’s more available energy to be satisfied and fulfilled in our own efforts. If we ourselves can experience these inner resources, we will naturally be more able to resource others.
Do you permit yourself to take a rest, even a short break from pushing, or from your nagging self?
How often do you make one of your own “ToDo” items Rest and Relaxation? Do you give yourself that permission?
I spend my days at work offering these questions in the spirit of permission. (People actually PAY me to offer some room and time to rest and physically and mentally stop!) Surely this indicates a basic need — one that Geshe-la has always told us about. Not to mention, the enlightened beings themselves don’t seem to be busy hurrying around in a bustle of dissatisfaction!
Maybe, if you will, just think about it. Maybe take a moment to stop and contemplate (dare I say ‘meditate’ on this?) … I am talking to myself here, as well as to those of you who have been self-professed meditators for a long time but are still feeling less than deeply relaxed.
Here are some simple instructions to start giving it a try — a short mental rest break.