How do we find true rest in this age of perpetual productivity, ceaseless diversion, and the endless sense of things needing to be done? Finding pause may be closer at hand than we often imagine it to be; in fact, it’s waiting just outside our door. Being out-of-doors, whether deep in the woods, or basking in the sun on the stoop, is the invitation to slowness we all desperately crave. Nature—the outside world—the animal kingdom—is our ultimate teacher in showing us that things take the time they take. Nothing is hurried; nothing is delayed.
Take, for instance, watching birds. Sit in a chair or lay on the grass or lounge in a hammock and let them come. Hang a feeder and watch them eat. How carefully they find just what they need, without greed (most of the time) or worry. To watch a bird—to really slow down and observe a wren or a heron or a hawk in all its glory—is to practice perhaps the easiest, most accessible kind of meditation. It is getting outside of one’s own thoughts to see how another lives, how it soars, how it goes on in its bird life so contentedly. What is simpler, or more satisfying, than seeing other creatures be completely their creaturely selves? There is a deep kind of rest in being reminded that it is possible to live so unselfconsciously and so trustingly that life will provide us just what we need, right when we need it.
Rest can be found not only in the sitting, watching, and waiting, but also in the doing of activities that have no bearing on our estimations of self. We don’t wear these accomplishments as a badge of status. Instead, they are the rituals that give us rest of the mind—not necessarily of the body. These are the slow, methodical acts of attention on a seemingly mindless task: chopping wood, raking leaves, picking weeds, hanging laundry in the sun. Taking up the axe over and over again, moving the broom back and forth—these practices transport our minds to a less busy place. If we give our full awareness to the task at hand, we find the gift of pause from our need for productivity. Yes, splitting wood is perhaps something we have to get done for the sake of the fire. Or the laundry needs to be hung to dry—but these to-dos rank quite differently in our minds than, say, emptying the inbox. This engagement with nature, in nature, gives us the raw sense of being fully ourselves once again, without the trappings of feeling a tiny cog in the wheels of society, endlessly turning round and round without reprieve.
If you don’t know what I mean, just try it for yourself. Get yourself to a body of water—outside—and let yourself go. I mean, really, let yourself lie there, heavy in the water, arms outspread. Sink for a moment if you need to. Whether hot or cold, water shocks us back into our deepest senses and sensations, letting everything else peel away for a time. It’s this peeling away that gives us the pause we need from the cult of busyness; the endless thrum of civilization vying for our attention, our earnings, our loyalty. What a relief if we were only accountable to nature and our complete enjoyment of her; our total tranquility within her.
And so, the outdoors wait patiently for you. Whenever you need a long pause in the song and dance of life, nature offers herself to you, freely, to rest in and recharge. To remind you how small, how capable, how human each one of us is. Whether sun or cloud, city or country, warm or cold, the gift of calm is lingering just beyond your walls. Be kind to yourself, and go find it.
Julie Pointer Adams is based in her hometown of Santa Barbara, California, where daily life is tucked between mountains and sea. Her work and passions centre on home, nature, and community, but she is forever just trying to spend another hour outdoors, under the sun.