Taking a break to rest with little access to technology and to-do lists was the radical act of self care, rejuvenation and leadership I didn’t know I needed. In trying to “get good at” lying in a hammock showed me that lessons can be learned anywhere.
“Ok, now what?”
This I said to myself after successfully allowing myself to be swallow whole by the rainbow-colored hammock at the top of the glen. The chirping of the birds overhead in the tree that held up long, leafy limbs provided me both shade overhead and a view ahead of the glistening lake. It was the perfect setup for rest.
“Ok. I’m going to do this. I’m going to rest,” I told myself convincingly. Work I knew how to do. Rest and relaxation? I felt a beginner. I wanted to build this muscle. It is precisely why I came to this retreat in the Berkshires: to rest.
Learning to rest
Spending time in one of the many hammocks set up across campus was a goal I set upon arrival, in addition to attending many pranayama (breathing) and yoga classes. In many ways, resting in a hammock is harder than group yoga class because there are no teachers, no cues and no time limits under the tree. Oddly, I felt envious of those who seemed so at ease resting in a hammock, as I raced passed them earlier in the day to make it to my next class.
I wanted to be a kind of person who could be blissful in a hammock, too. It was my personal test.
Inside the belly of the hammock, I immediately felt proud of myself for making the time and effort to be there. I had skipped going for a hike or reading a book, 2 more “productive” efforts. I instantly felt relaxed. I took a few photos (on the sly, for devices were prohibited in public places at this retreat) to document the moment and also to create a window of time to just be. I set a timer for 10 minutes and kicked back.
I did pretty well for the first few minutes: taking in the sensations of the warm sun, the butterflies circling and the wind cooling my face. Soon, though, my mind began to wander and grow agitated.
“How much more time is left? Why am I not more relaxed?”
I was mad at myself. I wanted to leave but knew I would be disappointed not staying the full 10 minutes. So, I forced myself to stay, bubbling internally with growing frustration. Then, I remembered a quote from a wall hanging that I walked by multiple times a day at the center:
“The highest form of spiritual practice is self observation without judgement”Swami Kripalu
“Let it be what it is, Shibani.”
I breathed into the moment.
When I removed the expectations of what this had to feel and be like, I came into flow with what it was: difficult and enjoyable at times. Instead of expecting tranquility to shower upon me in a passive exercise, I stepped into it differently. I took some deep breaths, closed my eyes and treated it like an active meditation.
Just be. Eyes closed. Being present. Still.
My timer goes off.
After opening my eyes, I remained in place to reflect. In a more relaxed state, I saw that I held expectations of mimicking the experience of what I perceived others were having on the hammock. But, did I truly know what they were experiencing? No.
I held an idea that others were having a superior and easier experience than me. I knew this was not likely the reality.
I breathed a sigh. This was an important “aha” moment.
How much of life is like this? The false expectations, the self judgement and the wanting to emulate what we perceive others having? We get angry when we are tranquil and experiencing the ease others seem to have. Even in a hammock these things can come up for us.
Just as we do in yoga class, being in flow with what’s happening to us (even while on a hammock) – is the only pathway to freedom. Breathing through the discomfort and not judging the situation or myself helped me experience it fully.
As simple as it appears, relaxing in a hammock for 10 minutes is difficult for me. Once I accepted that, I cracked open the door to experiencing it differently.
After somersaulting out of the hammock and returning to my feet, I turned around and mentally thanked the hammock for the lesson I experienced. I told myself, “It’s ok, Shibani. You’re learning. Come back to it.”
And so I did. For 2 more days. A few more times.
With laughter and levity I can share: relaxing in a hammock is still really hard for me. It didn’t get much easier with more practice. I struggled and still wanted to flee well before the timer went off.
It may always be that way for me. And that’s ok with me.