Rest and relaxation is a lost art. When I was a kid, I had a BFF in my neighborhood who was always available to simply hang out. I would call him on my red rotary phone and ask him, “What are you doing?” and he would typically answer, “Nothing.” So I would respond, “Wanna do nothing together?” and he would always enthusiastically say, “Absolutely. Let’s do nothing together!”
Not only was this a true sign of friendship, but it was also an opportunity to hang out together, discover our next adventure and sometimes do very little. I don’t know about you, but I don’t really have friends like that anymore, but the principles remain the same. How do I hang out with myself (or with others) and practice R&R in a quality way on a regular basis?
Recently, I spent time with my family of choice in the San Juan Islands off of Seattle. It’s become a summer retreat where I get to do nothing for a week. As a matter of fact, I work really hard to do as little as possible. Because I tend to be a to-do list kind of guy, it takes mindful effort to decompress and truly relax. And this has become an integral part of the rhythm of my yearly calendar.
You see, I don’t see these retreats as optional anymore. They help me push the re-set button so I can do what I do as a healing professional. I know this goes against the Puritanical work ethic many of us learned so well, but unwinding and decompressing is a necessary part of my work which gives me the capacity to be more present and more refreshed when I return to the office.
In the rooms of Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, they refer to top-line behaviors as anything that feeds the soul and encourages emotional sobriety. It’s not just an exercise to develop a list of possibilities, but a mandate to start practicing them on a consistent basis.
For example, one of the top-line behaviors I regularly practice is daily meditation. For many years I dabbled in meditation but never found traction with a regular practice. What finally worked for me was enrolling in a Mindfulness Meditation class with a focus on stress reduction (aka MBSR). And this class provided structure, accountability as well as the motivation of a financial investment. All of these things worked well for me, and after a few months of practice while having a teacher encouraging me, it finally stuck.
My morning ritual is simple. I sit quietly on my cushion in a designated space in my home. Then I read one page from an inspirational book as well as a morning prayer that resonates with me. I then sit for ten minutes. As a recovering perfectionist, I try not to beat myself up for not sitting longer, but instead I try and honor myself for the time I do commit to sitting.
This is the tone-setter for my day. I feel the difference when I skip my morning ritual, and my day tends to flow easier when I engage in this sacred morning space. For me, mindful meditation is one way to regulate my nervous system and to breathe into the knowledge that I’m simply a living, breathing organism just like all the other human beings on our planet. Humbling, but true.
I forgot to mention that my cocker spaniel, Bowie sits (or sleeps) in the room with me as he patiently waits for our morning walk, and his presence is also quite regulating for me and my nervous system. Whether you find ways of self-regulating or mutually-regulating, your system relaxes when you feel more trusting of yourself, others and your environment.
Another simple tool is to monitor your work habits. As a recovering workaholic, I try not to do anything work-related on Sundays. That is my day to rest and relax, and I encourage you to stay away from your computer, work-related activities or anything task-driven. These are simply a few tips to unwind, decompress and push the re-set button. It’s taken me a long time to get to the point where I truly prioritize R&R, but now I know it’s a requirement to live the life I choose to live. You may stumble and fumble along the way, but give yourself the space for rest and relaxation and see what happens.