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Rest and presence

Updated: Jan 24, 2023

Most of my writings will focus on the topic of inquiry, but an equally important aspect of doing shadow work is allowing rest (connecting with presence). I would go as far as to say that presence is even more important because it’s actually the whole point of doing this work. Doing inquiry will allow your system to rest deeper in presence and for longer, which is why we feel more free, lighter, and at peace. We’re not just doing this to do inquiry all the time forever, right? We want to actually feel content and enjoy life, and that always happens here, in the present moment.

There are two important aspects to rest:

First, allowing rest outside of practice. This means noticing the tendency to stay busy and making a purposeful effort to pause throughout the day and come back to the present moment. Most of us stay habitually busy all the time, and then we ‘rest’ by doing something stimulating like watching TV, playing games, talking, etc. Fun and excitement can lead to some relaxation and pleasure which can be confused with rest. But this is not actual rest since there’s still mental activity occurring and a lack of presence. Tuning out is not rest.

In order to actually rest, there needs to be the intention, the willingness to pause, slow down, and just be with yourself. When we rest, we feel more space and presence because we are not actively escaping this moment and trying to get somewhere, which is our usual activity. We feel more connection with our senses and will start to feel an actual sense of contentment with what is here, which we usually never feel because we’re so conditioned to always be seeking something else.

You may notice the tendency to feel sleepy if you rest. This is normal since our minds are very conditioned to be active all the time and stimulated, and we are all under rested to some degree. Slowing down can seem very boring at first. But the more that you allow yourself to explore this state of rest, the mind will adapt and see the benefits of being calm and present.

Rest can occur in any state really, like eating or walking, but I do recommend letting both body and mind rest every day even for just 20 or 30 minutes by connecting with thought-free presence. You can if you want make this a ritual with lighting candles and making your space cozy (hygge), or just give yourself some time with yourself before you usually start watching TV at night.

If it helps, feel free to put on some relaxing music or nature sounds. Lie down and start with feeling your body and doing some slow deep breathing. Then just stay here, let your attention relax, and let go of the need to control or do something.

Let everything be as it is and just rest in the here and now.

If thoughts carry you away, notice that and come back. That’s it. If you fall asleep, great. You probably really needed it.

Secondly, when we are practicing inquiry, we need to be allowing for moments of rest. Whenever there is a release, there is also a sense of spaciousness, relief, or peace. Staying with that spaciousness and melting into it can lead to profound rest and peace. Inquiry can be a lot of ‘doing’ so we need to balance that with moments of ‘not-doing’ or simply just resting. The more that we do inquiry and release habitual patterns, the easier it is to simply be here. But at first, there has to be some intention to rest due to the compulsive nature of our conditioning.

So, simply just notice during inquiry that when there is release, there is also spaciousness and a sense of presence. It is perfectly ok to trust and relax into this spacious presence. Allowing those moments of expansion and staying there is rest, and doing this is very nourishing for our nervous systems which are so deprived of rest.

I always begin my sessions on my own or with a client with resting in presence. We start by stretching and getting comfortable, feeling in and noticing how the body is doing, purposefully slowing down (not pushing away thoughts, simply noticing them), and then connecting with the sense of spaciousness that is always here. This only needs to be done briefly, and we feel grounded pretty quickly this way. From there, doing inquiry is quite easy. But if we try to do inquiry from a busy scattered place, it won’t really work. We will be too disconnected from our bodies and won’t really know if we’re actually connecting with our feelings. So feeling in and being present is quite essential not only for enjoying the benefits of inquiry but being able to do it properly in the first place.

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