ASCETICISM AND RELAXATION
March 8, 2010
art of resting the mind
and the power of dismissing from it
all care of worry is probably one of
the secrets of energy in great people.
~ Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of
Although we do not ordinarily associate the practices of
rest and relaxation with the ascetical mandates of Lent,
scripture as well as the literature of the spiritual masters
remind us that we are called to care for the body and mind as
the temple of the Lord. Even our efforts at renunciation are
meant to restore bodily health and spiritual presence, enhancing
at once our receptivity to the Spirit and renewing our
relationship to the Divine. An important part of our daily
routine during Lent can therefore be found in the Lord’s
invitation to us to come away and spend time alone with him
The apostles returned to Jesus, and
told him all they had done and taught. And he said to them,
“Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while.
For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to
eat. (Mark 6:30-31)
The following passages may foster further reflection on
the need for rest and relaxation as one continues the Lenten
Leisure is a form of that stillness
that is the necessary preparation for accepting reality; only
the person who is still can hear, and whoever is not still,
. . . the condition of exertion is
more easily to be realized than the condition of relaxation and
detachment, even though the latter is effortless: this
is the paradox that reigns over the attainment of leisure, which
is at once a human and super-human condition). As Aristotle
said, a person can live this way only insofar as the divine
dwells in him or her.
~ Josef Pieper, Leisure, the Basis
Because we do not rest, we lose our
way. We miss the compass points that would show use where to
go, we bypass the nourishment that would give us succor. We
miss the quiet that would give us wisdom. . . . Poisoned by
this hypnotic belief that good things come only through
unceasing determination and tireless effort, we can never truly
rest. And for want of rest our lives are in danger.
~ Wayne Muller, Sabbath
In The World’s Religions Huston Smith describes
the rhythm of involvement and detachment that the Buddha
practiced during his ministry
The pattern was lived out in the
Buddha’s life with great consistency. He began his journey by
withdrawing for six years; then, following his awakening, he
returned for forty-five years. Each year of the “return” period
was divided in such a way as to allow nine months in the world,
and the rainy season spent in retreat with the monks. The daily
cycle reflected the pattern as well: his public hours were long,
but three times a day he withdrew that through meditation he
might restore his center of gravity to its sacred pivot.
Martin Laird writes
The body is a great reservoir of
wisdom. Something as simple as bodily stillness and breathing
make a contribution of untold value to discovering the
unfathomable silence deep within us. This silence, as R. S.
Thomas tells us, “is when we live best, within listening
distance of the silence we call God.”
~ Into the Silent Land: A Guide to
the Christian Practice of Contemplation
Mechthild of Magdeburg, a thirteenth century mystic,
described in poetry the immense benefits that flow from a mind
at rest and a heart full of love
Of the heavenly things God has taught
I can speak but a little word,
not more than a honey bee can carry
away on its feet from an overflowing jar.
In the first choir is happiness, the
highest of all gifts.
In the second, gentleness.
In the third, loving-kindness.
In the fourth, sweetness.
In the fifth, joyfulness.
In the sixth, honorable rest.
In the seventh, riches.
In the eighth, merit.
In the ninth, fervent love.
Eknath Easwaran comments on this passage in his book
Take Your Time: Finding Balance in a Hurried World:
Mechthild says not just “rest” but “honorable rest”: that is,
resting at the center while contributing to life in full
measure. When your mind is still, you can work hard and be
active every day of your life and still be at rest, because you
will not be working under the goad of personal ambition
Another spiritual teacher and writer recommends that we
Never go against rest and relaxation.
Arrange your life in such a way, drop all futile activity,
because ninety percent is futile; it is just for killing time
and remaining occupied. Do only the essential and devote your
energies more and more to the inner journey. Then that miracle
happens when you can remain at rest and in action together.
That is the meeting of the sacred and the mundane, the meeting
of this world and that . . .
~ Osho, What is Meditation?