Natural rest essentially refers to being present or living more in the moment. But how do we do that? Our minds and bodies seem so wrapped up in the past and future. In order to get a clearer sense of what natural rest is all about, let’s break it up into three parts, which can be seen as three practices:
Rest includes taking moments repeatedly throughout the day for thought-free presence.
Rest includes noticing thoughts (words and pictures in the mind) come and go, without judging, analyzing, or commenting on them.
Rest also includes bringing attention directly to bodily energies (emotions and sensations) and allowing them to be as they are, without trying to change, neutralize, or get rid of them.
Brief Moments of Rest
How do we experience brief moments of thought-free presence? Below, I’ve provided some portals.
Three to Five Seconds
Relax for three to five seconds right now and simply be, without any conceptual labels for what’s presently happening. Stop thinking for one moment! Right now! It’s easier to start with just three to five seconds at first. As you practice these brief moments repeatedly throughout the day, it gets easier and the moments become naturally longer. It’s like riding a bicycle: At first you may be able to stay on the bike only for a short time, before you fall over. But after practice, you are able to stay on the bike and ride for much longer periods of time, until eventually riding a bicycle is second nature.
Awareness of Breath
If you find it difficult to stop thinking for a few seconds, focus your awareness on your breath. Breathe through your nostrils, not your mouth. Take a few deep, long breaths, keeping your attention on the breath the whole time. Watch your breath move all the way down the body into the stomach area, then watch it move all the way up and out of your nostrils. Focusing on the breath helps to stop or slow down the mind.
Noticing Thought Followed by Thought-Free Rest
Another portal into thought-free rest is the noticing of thought. Notice that you have the capacity to be aware of thought. Remember, thoughts are either mental pictures you see in the mind or words you hear or see in the mind. Notice the words or pictures that are currently appearing. Look directly and gently at the thoughts and watch them fade away naturally on their own. Notice them from a quiet, witnessing space, without judging, analyzing, or commenting on them. As they fade completely, simply rest in the thought-free space that remains.
Inner Body Awareness
Inner body awareness can also be an effective way to experience a brief moment of thought-free rest. Bring your attention into the felt-sense of peace or stillness within your chest or stomach area. As you bring attention there, you will likely notice some sensation, but you should also notice that, as attention is drawn away from the mind, there is a subtle sense of peace or stillness in the inner body. Rest your attention in that area for a few seconds. As you experience the peace or stillness within the body, expand your attention to notice that peace or stillness all around the body and everywhere else.
It doesn’t matter which portal you use; the key is to notice what a brief moment of rest feels and looks like.