This weekend was a dark horse in our rather chaotic, over committed life. It was a weekend of rest. Yes, there was the hosting of my parents, passing through town on their way to a mini vacation, but that was a happy little affair of roasted chicken and golden potatoes, spinach salad with strawberries, pecans, and gorgonzola, ice-cream from a local shop. Laughing with my parents into the late hours of the evening, sharing spoonfuls of lavender, chocolate, and espresso ice cream. A detective show. Then, blissful, dreamless sleep.
Saturday morning brunch came and went, and we said good-bye to my parents after eggs Benedict, too many cups of coffee, and a wait staff who had to mitigate the creation of a seventeen ingredient salad to satisfy my Dad’s need for crudités, to balance his 5 am incursion in my fridge for the leftover chicken and potatoes, topped off with a glass of buttermilk, which I was saving for pana cotta. No harm, no foul. Just like Churchill, my father keeps strange eating hours.
Later, we spend the afternoon lazily by the Chattahoochee River, taking pictures of tulip poplars and camellia bushes, drinking raw fruit and veggie juices, then undoing all their good by eating macaroons, mint chocolate for Darren, pomegranate for me. I gorge on a book for hours, while the husband sketches, then reads bits to me about how the food industry is conspiring to make us addicted to sugar, fat, and salt. Too late for that realization.
We sit quietly for long periods of time, watching the river, ducks gliding noiselessly against the current. A boisterous group of kayakers come later, bright sickle moons against the dark water. At times, the silence is almost spiritual. In other moments, some ruckus startles us out of our companionable reverie. I feel the stress of the last few months drain from me. Breeze and sun and descending dark. Dry grasses and new grasses. Trees budding, bare branches. Spring is still one foot out.
I realize how rarely I rest. How what I would normally call rest is nothing more than distraction. TV shows, emails, online shopping, the endless playing on my phone. Incessant texting, because I’ve developed this need to be in touch with everyone, simultaneously, all the time. I’m always thinking about work, essays to grade, new curriculum to try out, conferences, meetings, why some students talk too much, why others don’t speak at all. Why I feel vulnerable in the classroom, and then numb in the classroom, then alive, then numb again.
I suppose the problem is in the topography of the mind. New thoughts, replayed thoughts, the cataloguing of every experience, word, sensation, micro-expression. This engine of analysis. Most days I am powerless to stop the onslaught, so I dive into something that makes me close the door for a few hours. Cooking shows. Podcasts. More books.
Don’t mistake me, I am not arguing against any of these. The occasional distraction is what the mind needs once in a while, but what if our rest has become solely about distraction instead of presence?
I go to yoga a couple of times during the week. My favorite instructor, Anne, begins each class with Ujjayi breathing which is a form of pranayama. Breathing where you even out the inhales and exhales, where you slightly constrict the throat so that sound washes over you. We are hard shells, ocean held between our ribs. This type of breathing is intended to bring us into the present moment, to invite us into pure awareness. The opposite of distraction, the opposite of fragmenting and scattering the self. I’ve discovered through years of practice that there is pain in the present moment. That in gaining awareness, I inhabit my body, my soul, my spirit in ways that all my other distractions are intended to prevent. I resent the aches in body when I go into certain poses, I resent the fears that ascend quickly to the surface. Sometimes I am that goof who cries during yoga, because I am never this present to my own being. Because all that the mind and heart holds in a day pushes through the layers of the unconscious like a geyser, sometimes violent and unexpected.
And yet, I feel reborn at the end of each class. I feel like I’ve woken up from a deep, satisfying sleep. This present-ness to life, and self, and other, gives me such a sense of rest. I dedicate my practice to God, to the fact that He has given me this gift of life, and self, and consciousness. That on the other side of the pain of presence, there is love.
I had planned to go to yoga this Sunday, but instead stayed home and ate rice pudding with Darren on the back porch. I soaked in sun and wind. And my mind quieted for one moment. I put my phone away, the TV was off, the book was set down. I practiced silence. And listening. And an intuitive kind of prayer, where gratitude welled up without contrivance for this beautiful world.
I hope, reader, that you rest today. And hear your thoughts, and let them go. And let your soul fill with all it can hold, nostalgia, laughter, fear. I hope you find joy on the other side of this.
For rice pudding, Smitten Kitchen with whom I am clearly smitten has a darling recipe here. I add 1-2 tablespoons of orange blossom water in the recipe, and pecans for topping.