The Buddha calls the body the very greatest blessing a human being can have. Yet for me, it is it so easy to disconnect and spend days just in my head, trapped in the fast-motion commands to work faster and do better. At such times I wonder, what happened to the pure joy we felt as children, frolicking in lakes and streams, seeing the bright sunlight dancing in the grass? We weren’t stuck in the mind then, but in touch with a grandeur in the very beatings of our heart. But in what unfortunately is normal adulthood, we submit to regimentation into routines that stifle creativity and deprive us of the capacity to live in our body-that is, to be fed and nourished by the universe around us. Summer is the perfect time to begin. So here are five ways we can once again learn to listen, notice, enjoy, watch, and feel intently, not with our brains, but with our bodies:
Getting more sleep: The body thrives on sleep. Few realize that, until the advent of electricity, the average adult slept nine hours or more a night. People did not stay up late into the candlelit night; they used it to nourish their bodies with sleep. A couple of centuries later, many of us are sleeping just six hours or less and working much longer than eight hour days. The body has not evolved for this rapid shift. So when you think of how to plan your evenings this summer, give sleep a high priority. Travel and social get togethers are great joys, but don’t let them cheat your body out of the sleep that will help it regain equilibrium and give you the greater quality of awareness the next day.
Rediscover play and fun: long, warm, relaxing days offer the perfect backdrop for letting down your guard and having innocent and rollicking fun. If you have kids, try joining them in the soccer games or hide and seek, not in a competitive spirit, but just for the pure joy of playing. One summer, for example, I began allowing an extra half hour on my trips to the health club. I would go in the middle of the day, when it was not crowded, and spend the half hour after my workout just floating in the pool, doing flips and gently dancing in the water. The manager of the club asked me one day, “Mr. R., I see you here a lot. Do you actually do anything?” The more we follow the body and sense its needs, the more we will see that happiness is not complicated, but simple, and within reach of us all.
Making time to do nothing: the greatest enemy of the mind that traps our consciousness is relaxation. Summer is the perfect time, wherever we are, to absorb the joy of nature around us and relate in the fullness of love to our friends and family. In the modern world, we have been encouraged to drive ourselves mercilessly. We endeavor to get more and more done in less and less time and we don’t mind working twelve hours a day to do it. We become a human doing and not a human being, who can relax, laugh, and just be. Believe me, if you try it, see how loud the mind screams if you just lie down or sit quietly and do absolutely nothing. Watch the birds bathing in the birdbath, or observe the undulating patterns of the sea lapping onto the shore, and you will begin to feel stirrings of a similar energy in your own body. As your body reawakens, blocks fall away from your vision, and you will rest and be nourished like a child by the universe around you.
Vacationing in a slow and not a frenetic destination: gas prices are up to unbelievable levels, yet we are still encouraged by the travel industry to see as many new places as we can, preferably quite far away, or to go to very crowded resorts to stay in large, impersonal hotels there. This kind of vacation is very much an extension of all the rest of our year, spurred on by the mind to go, go, and keep going. The body speaks a different language. Where can we go, our deepest self would ask, to boat out on the lake and dive off the rocks into the welcome cool water, or sit in a hammock between palm trees sipping our daiquiri or tropical smoothie? Or to find simple village folk who nod and smile at us as we walk by, and invite us into their homes? Mark Twain once said, “I would love to go on a vacation, if only I could leave that fellow Mark Twain behind.” Summer is the time to leave the mind-driven workaholic behind and relax in beauty, sunshine, and the warmth of humanity.
Finding that place of comfort in ourselves: When we are led by simple pleasures and relaxing activities, we find that, wherever we are, we can find a home within our own bodies. It is a home that we can visit wherever we are, whether in Cancun, the Rockies, the Riviera, or just in our own garden and back yard. When people ask, “Where did you go this summer,” the best answer would be that we just relaxed into our bodies and found that place of comfort permanently within ourselves. We followed the wishes of our own body there and said goodbye to the harsh commands of the mind forever. Our whole being then reverberates with the words Mahatma Gandhi once said: “I am always on vacation.”
About the Author:
Dr. Stephen Ruppenthal is the author of The Path of Direct Awakening: Passages for Meditation. He is also the co-author of Eknath Easwaran’s edition of The Dhammapada and the author of Keats and Zen. He has taught meditation and courses on Han Shan at UC Berkeley and San Francisco State University. Dr. Ruppenthal has published numerous articles on such sites as Beliefnet.com and Healthy Wealthy nWise Magazine. Visit Stephen’s work at www.directawakenings.com.