Monday, March 15, 2010

Rest in the Midst of Activity

When we think of resting, we typically think of sleeping, or maybe spacing out watching television.

But we can rest while we are active, too.

Much of what we perceive as effort is simply resistance. What do I mean by this? Often, when we are trying to do one thing, we are doing it because we don't want something else to happen. When we are playing a game, we want to win, but we also want not to lose. When we are investing, we want to make money, but we also want not to lose money. When we are giving a speech, we want not to mess up or embarrass ourselves. And so forth.

In any effort, there is both creative energy and fear. Too often, what really motivates us is the fear. This is why procrastination can appear to be a successful strategy. We wait till the fear kicks in and ride that energy until we get our speech/project/presentation done. Even though fear will do the work, it tends to do the bare minimum. Fear doesn't take many chances. Fear goes pretty much by the book.

When I talk to people about how contemplative practice lessens fear, a lot mention how they are afraid (!) that without fear they would have no motivation. The procrastination strategy would no longer work--they are sure they would become apathetic lumps eating junk food and surfing the Web all day.

In my experience, this is not what happens. Instead, as we become more comfortable with our own fears, our fear of being judged, of taking a risk, of saying what we really feel, gets much less. When there is less of a fear of failure, it is a lot easier to get started. Productivity and motivation actually increase rather than decrease. There is activity in an open space of creativity rather than in a closed space of fear. And that activity, paradoxically, is energizing, as much or more than rest. You become the state of flow, the activity itself.

This is a gradual journey, but over time, there can be significant changes. A first step is to notice when you feel fear. Just be with that fear. Step right into it. As you become more familiar with the sensations, their grip will lessen. Fear will not be as scary as you thought.

I still get afraid. I still wake up at 4 am wondering about the unknown. But bit by bit, I understand better what I am stepping into. And sometimes, I find myself resting in that, too.

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