Doing nothing often leads to
the very best kind of something.
*Winnie the Pooh, in Christopher Robin.
Walt Disney Pictures. 2018.
Interestingly, the English words "respect" and "respite" share the same etymology. Providing respite for ourselves is an act of self-respect. When esteeming our self-care enough to prioritize spiritual rest as among the things we must do, not as something we do apart from all else we must do, we will find this daily rite a blessing to engage and enjoy such restorative, even worshipful, moments.
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Buddhist monk, Ajahn Brahm, shares the following wisdom story, in his Who Ordered this Truckload of Dung...
The monsoon in Thailand is from July to October. During this period, the monks stop traveling, put aside all work projects, and devote themselves to study and meditation. The period is called Vassa, the Rains Retreat. In the south of Thailand some years ago, a famous abbot was building a new hall in his forest monastery. When the Rains Retreat came, he stopped all work and sent the builders home. This was the time for quiet in his monastery. A few days later a visitor came, saw the half-constructed building and asked the abbot when his hall would be finished. Without hesitation, the old monk said, “The hall is finished.” “What do you mean, ‘The hall is finished’?” the visitor replied, taken aback. “It hasn’t got a roof. There are no doors or windows. There are pieces of wood and cement bags all over the place. Are you going to leave it like that? Are you mad? What do you mean, ‘The hall is finished’?” The old abbot smiled and gently replied, “What’s done is finished,” and then he went away to meditate.
Brahm comments, "That is the only way to have a retreat or to take a break. Otherwise our work is never finished."
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When working in my last Hospice, we had a Care Center. Patients would be admitted mostly for one of three reasons: when nearing death, for comfort measures; to provide caregivers a break from the exhausting task of caregiving; to manage symptoms, usually pain, which warranted a brief stay in the Center. Respite care was the provision of rest for the caregivers.
Wisdom traditions have provided guidance on our need for providing respite for ourselves. Respite, here, meaning intentional rest from our usual activities. One such teaching is the Sabbath in Jewish religion. Sabbath, in the biblical Hebrew, essentially refers to cessation from our usual engagements, not a stoppage of all activity. This shift is to restful, worshipful action, apart from our usual functional activities. In the Jewish faith, this includes ritual of collective worship and family togetherness, not least at sabbath mealtimes.
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Many now shun and even speak ill of traditional religious rites. Yet, while one may not be traditionally religious, he or she is speaking ignorantly, when not discerning the timeless wisdom in much of the traditional practices. This is one such example of the wisdom of traditional faiths. We all need sabbath time, traditional or not in practice. And, we do not have to think of it in religious or even spiritual terms, but we still need it.
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We can engage this respite daily in many ways, and we can, based on felt-need and opportunity, create our own respite rites.
For me, after spiritual readings and quiet meditation today, I sat on the back porch and enjoyed lunch in quietness, as well as the delight of the lovely view onto the land behind the cottage. Another sabbath rite was a walk along a trail into the wood, alongside the marshes and river, followed by a casual bike ride up the dirt road from where I live, then back. To me, all these were graces of respite, not inactivity but activity restorative, replenishing. I do not do all these every day, and over my life, what I have done has shifted with time and opportunity. Still, some 22 years ago, I resolved to prioritize daily time and alone to nurture spiritual self-care, and I am thankful I did, for it has blessed me, mind, body, spirit.
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Even one moment of relaxation, just being-present, can be an interlude for self-care and worshipful being. With intention we may discover we have many little windows of opportunity to relax, rest, and enjoy the gift of breathing. These moments can moor us back to a sense of balance, perspective, and being-present, as well as invite the body into a restorative quiet.
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I can only conclude the society in which I live, and that most humans now live, is antithetical to such self-care. Yet, the increase of such matters as yoga, contemplative living, and mindfulness, as well as leanings toward Oriental wisdom, such as Taoist philosophy and Buddhism, indicate an aspiration for balance, self-care, and a more in-depth, spiritual way of living. This all, rather than being dispersed and inundated in the surface details of what many, sadly, now see as normal. Hurried and harried is not normal, is not healthy, and is antithetical to living an in-depth life.
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A first step in this direction of living-depth and self-care, is your decision to engage, even more, to enjoy, intentional respite. Society has socialized many of us with a ready excuse, which is only an excuse, nothing more: "I don't have time." My response, "You do have time, for it is not a matter of time, but of priority." I am sure you are intelligent enough to adjust as needed to prioritize this practice of self-respite in spiritual self-care.
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As in the story above, to be finished does not mean all is completed. To live deeply, to grow spiritually, we learn how to say, "For now, this is done." When the needs and longings of the soul become the priority, you and I will accept the self-responsibility to develop a life wherein we find our way for this sabbath taking. We will not wait for others to give us permission or validate our choice. And, yes, we are blessed if we have a tradition that provides such for us. Regardless, whether as part of a tradition or not, we will find relief, balance, and a more in-depth life, as well as a more vivid connection with Spirit, through this finishing, for now, what can be finished later.
And, we may discover with Winnie the Pooh, doing nothing leads to something wonderful we could never have received through our effortful doings. Truly, what sabbath teaches us is how to be a restful openness for receiving grace upon grace.
*Copyright 2018, Brian Kenneth Wilcox