This practice is definitely a case of teaching what you need to learn: I've been working through a big bucket of tasks lately with little chance to rest. I console myself with knowing that the bucket is emptying a lot faster than it's filling with new tasks.
Sometimes you can really feel what you need to do by feeling what's happening for you when you don't. "Don't" -- that is: ease up, unwind, recharge, put your feet up, take a load off, just chill. Because when you don't rest, you wear out, wear down and start running on empty. Then you're not much good for yourself or anyone else.
But when you get some rest and get more rested, you have more energy, mental clarity, resilience for the hard things, patience and wholehearted caring for others.
I promised my wife this would be my all-time fastest "Just One Thing" to write, because I really need some rest!
And you do, too.
Tell the truth to yourself about how much time you actually -- other than sleep -- truly come to rest: not accomplishing anything, not planning anything, not going anywhere. The time when you don't do anything at all, with a sense of relaxation and ease. No stress, no pressure, nothing weighing on you in the back of your mind. No sense of things undone. Utterly at rest.
Probably not much time at all, if you're like me.
Also acknowledge to yourself any unreasonable beliefs or fears about resting -- for example, that if you rest you'll lose your edge, things will fall apart, you'll let people down, others will judge you.
Now imagine a kind, wise, fearless friend looking over your shoulder and knowing both how little time you rest and your "reasons" for not resting more. What will your friend tell you? Similarly, listen to your own innermost being about you and resting. What is that still quiet voice saying to you?
Imagine the benefits for you and others if you listen to the support and wisdom of your dear friend and innermost being. Then commit to what makes sense to you, in terms of nudging your schedule in a more restful direction, refusing to add new tasks to your own bucket, taking more breaks or simply helping your own mind be less busy with chatter, complaints about yourself and others or inner struggles. For example:
1. Upon first waking, bring to mind your fundamental purpose in life, whatever it is, and rest in the felt knowing of it, in giving yourself over to it, like resting in the warm cradling current of a great river.
2. At meals, pause for half a minute with your food before you start eating.
3. Be aware of that little space between the end of an inhalation and the beginning of an exhalation (or vice versa). From time to time each day, notice that space and rest into it.
4. When you complete a task, take a break for a few seconds or more before shifting gears to the next one.
5. Promise yourself that you'll take a minute or more each day to sit quietly and remain present with yourself while doing nothing (this is an essential type of meditation).
6. Have real times each day when you truly "clock out" -- no longer on task or accountable to anyone.
7. Encourage your mind to come to rest at least occasionally. Tell yourself you can worry/problem solve/grumble later. The mind/brain is like a muscle, and it needs to stop working sometimes to replenish and rebuild itself.
And when you rest, sink into its pleasures, its rewards, and sense them sinking into you, like a warm rain falling on thirsty ground.
Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and author of the bestselling "Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom" (in 21 languages). Founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom and Affiliate of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, he's taught at Oxford, Stanford, and Harvard, and in meditation centers in Europe, North America, and Australia. His work has been featured on the BBC, NPR, Consumer Reports Health, and U.S. News and World Report. His blog -- Just One Thing -- suggests a simple practice each week that will bring you more joy, more fulfilling relationships and more peace of mind and heart. If you wish, you can subscribe to Just One Thing here.