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  • Writer's pictureMarcelo Aguirre

Resting & Healing

During the last millennia until the 19th century, messages and letters were transported on foot, on the back of a donkey, in horse-drawn carts, or by messenger birds. Depending on the transportation means and the distance of the destination, it could take hours, days, weeks, or even months for the message to arrive. No doubt, the world ran slower before electricity, the Internet, and technology came to us.

Our world—influenced by instant communications and faster transportation such as the airplane and the bullet train—has developed an accelerated, ever-running lifestyle. Now we live in a world in which people run all the time, everywhere, generating unhealthy, restlessness-like habits. And habits are critical, as they determine the quality of our life.

To paraphrase William James, one of the pioneers of modern psychology, we are stereotyped creatures, bundles of habits. We get so used to daily habits, and routines that we build engrams in our brain—that is, relatively stable neural interconnections arising from repeated actions—which make our behavior as faster as automatic.

Some automatisms are functional, as they allow us to save time and energy in the execution of actions we repeat daily. And that, therefore, has become part of the mode our brain functions, called 'autopilot,' such as brushing our teeth, taking a shower, preparing breakfast, etc. However, if we add more and more actions to the autopilot, we could lose track of what we are doing and why we are doing it.

«There is a story in Zen circles about a man and a horse. The horse is galloping quickly, and it appears that the man on the horse is going somewhere important. Another man, standing alongside the road, shouts, “Where are you going?” and the first man replies, “I don’t know! Ask the horse!” This is also our story.» (Thich Nhat Hanh, 1998; p. 24)

Such is the strength of inertia that results from living on autopilot. If we are always running, full of stress and anxiety, we can get to the point of forgetting ourselves and the authentic motivation for which we do what we do.

I invite you to ask yourself: What's the horse's name that I've been riding fast so far? Looking inside, you can name and describe it. Is it its name anxiety? Self-demanding? Pleasing others? Needing to have everything under control? Over-compensating after having procrastinated? (That is, being in a hurry after having left a matter to the last minute), etc.

«We are riding a horse, we don’t know where we are going, and we can’t stop. The horse is our habit energy pulling us along, and we are powerless. We are always running, and it has become a habit. We struggle all the time, even during our sleep. We are at war within ourselves, and we can easily start a war with others.» (Thich Nhat Hanh, 1998; p. 24)

From time to time, it is necessary to get off the horse of daily body-mind acceleration and automatic behaviors to consciously reconnect with our true self, the source of wisdom and serenity inside. By consistently practicing meditation or Mindfulness, we can return to our center, that point of wise balance between excess and defect.

The Mindfulness practice has two main aspects: 'calming the body and mind' (Samatha) and 'looking deeply' (Vipassana). Many people who start practicing meditation do so by accentuating the aspect of looking deeply; they meditate so that they can think clearly before making important decisions. However, let's keep in mind that stopping—consciously getting out of the inertia of habits or autopilot—is a previous step to being able to look deeply before discerning and making decisions.

«If we cannot stop, we cannot have insight. (…) We have to learn the art of resting, allowing our body and mind to rest. If we have wounds in our body or our mind, we have to rest so they can heal themselves. Calming allows us to rest, and resting is a precondition for healing. When animals in the forest get wounded, they find a place to lie down, and they rest completely for many days. They don’t think about food or anything else. They just rest, and they get the healing they need. (…) Meditation does not have to be hard labor. Just allow your body and mind to rest like an animal in the forest. Don’t struggle. There is no need to attain anything.» (Thich Nhat Hanh, 1998; pp. 24, 26-27).

Exercise to induce calm and relaxation (Samatha)

If you feel that you need to heal emotionally or at least regain strength after a stress phase, I invite you to perform the following Mindfulness exercise called 'body scanning.' This is especially suitable for reducing body tensions and is also recommended to facilitate sleeping at night.

  • Find a comfortable place to lie on your back, with your arms and legs next to your body, and get ready to allow your body and mind to rest for a moment.

  • Take a nice, long in-breath and exhale slowly three or four times; then, keep breathing at your own pace.

  • Imagine that your attention is like a flashlight that illuminates one by one each part of your body while you notice the sensations there. Just observe without judging what sensations appears on your feet, legs, hip, belly, hands, arms, shoulders, neck, head, and face.

  • Keep one more moment noticing how each part of your body relaxes while you observe, without judging, and while each in-breath and out-breath gives you a sense of serenity and well-being.

Remember this exercise to repeat whenever you need it during the week.

* * *

Finally, don't forget that the quality of our life depends mainly on the more or less healthy habits that we build. In our hands, we have the power to create well-being. And the more well-being we experience, the more beneficial our influence will be on those around us.

See you next time.

Marcelo Aguirre


  • Thich Nhat Hanh (1998). The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching

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