“Then I realized, you know, he’s just working out. How would I feel if somebody come running in the gym bust me in my ass while I’m on the treadmill?” – Agent J, Men In Black
Having just come back from vacation, I wanted to write a post about the importance of rest and recovery. In physical fitness, the necessity of rest becomes obvious after a lot of exercise. Without it, you simply aren’t able to continue: your energy levels remain low and your workouts become less productive. Emotional fitness is equally taxing, and requires a similar amount of rest and recovery. For me, the work of emotional fitness and proper recovery follows a cycle, roughly broken down into six components:
I want to build up compassion for myself, and I use meditation to help. Cultivating this compassion has been critical to allowing myself to better relate to others. Compassion has opened doors, allowing me to experience a stronger love for the people I care about, and a deeper understanding of the world around me. Cultivating a pause and removing judgment has brought down barriers that I had built up in the past. Removing these barriers makes me more at ease in the world, but is very tiring – I don’t have the crutches, those barriers, that I relied on in the past, and these new methods are by no means second nature yet.
By developing sympathy for myself, I can connect more deeply with the people around me. The first step to connecting with others is observing them, being attentive and present with them. Meditation helps tremendously here. Through observing and being attentive, I try to understand the factors in their own lives that drive them. What motivates them? What joys and fears impact their decisions? Being sympathetic allows me to relate to their goals. Even though their motivations may be alien to me, we may have something in common, like wanting to have a good workout.
Through observation and being attentive, I try to understand the concerns that motivate the people around me. Much like understanding my own emotions, this is taxing and sometimes frightening. Avoiding judgment is the key, as much as possible. Simply try to observe. Try not to put up barriers or run from the emotions. This can be very difficult, especially since I’ve spent the better part of my life building those barriers. But if I can spend even a short amount of time observing another person’s life, spending a moment in their shoes, I can open myself to their experiences and have compassion for them and what they do. This creates a positive feedback loop, increasing my ability to feel compassion for the world, and for myself.
Greater compassion helps reduce my anxiety, allowing me to spend more time in the moment. This in turn helps me cultivate even more compassion, and makes the world seem brighter. But like exercise, these emotional activities are incredibly taxing, especially since I’m just beginning and very inefficient. Like trying a new exercise, nothing is second nature – I have to think through every step. This increases the amount of energy required, and definitely leaves me feeling exhausted from time to time.
Being aware of your own feelings is a vital part of self-care. When you feel exhausted, make sure you rest. And when you rest, make sure you devote yourself fully to that rest. With physical fitness, resting is easy – you sleep more, you put your feet up, you avoid physical activity. But with emotional fitness, resting isn’t as obvious and requires more attention. For example, I like to rest from emotional exercise by spending downtime at home. But I have a hard time avoiding other activities – making lists of chores, anxious thoughts about work or blogging, checking email on the phone. In order to rest emotionally, all of that has to be put aside. I’m not good at sitting still (the anxiety creeps in), so I’ve practiced resting by focusing on enjoying one activity and doing nothing else. Watching sporting events and movies on TV work well for me. Workouts and playing music also work, but tend to not last as long. Reading, cooking, knitting and other crafts could all work as well. The key is to find something you personally enjoy, where you can spend quality time with yourself.
Resting and carefully cultivating time for yourself will allow you to go back and focus on the rest of your life with the vitality and energy that allows you to live in the moment and build greater compassion for yourself and others. Part of that compassion requires taking care of yourself, giving yourself permission to rest whenever you need, because without proper rest you won’t make progress. Keep a close eye on your own energy levels, and when you feel run down, give yourself a break. Know that the resting is as important to your goals as the working – you can’t do one without the other.
I’d love to hear how other people rest and relax, and what works for your downtime. Feel free to comment below.
Categories: Emotional Fitness
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