As regular readers know I have become very interested in the idea of Sabbath and concepts of rest recently, and am doing some research into the whole topic. I know this sounds a bit obvious, but think the more I am thinking about it, the more I am noticing things I hadn't noticed in regards to this issue, and these are things I think that very few of us really notice (or maybe we all do, and its just me...). Even at church, I am noticing that in a place that's meant to be on a day of rest, a time to reconnect with God, that it's just as busy and hectic and a rush hour journey or day at work.
So little time for peace and rest.
Little time to stop and breathe.
In the last couple of days I've been reading about the 'Reclaim your brain' series over in the US (see http://www.reclaimseries.com/ ). What they do is try to train people in neurofeedback, a way of slowing down your brain and still being very sharp and alert. Slowing down the pace your brain works, and being at total peace, but still having your brain fully alert and able to work. It has also been proven to lessen the number of epileptic fits in people like me who are epileptic.
We live in a consumer society where the pace of life is relentless. What happens is we get so used to living at that hectic pace, we think its normal and our brains start to think it's normal. So what happens is even when we think we're resting our brain and even our heart rate isn't actually in a state of proper rest. Its no surprise that in today's culture there are more heart attacks happening to those with no record of heart disease, more cases of stress, anxiety and mental illness of various kinds than ever. Its because we aren't resting properly, we're pushing ourselves too much and retraining our brains to work too fast.
We burn a lot of energy through worry, anxiety, stress, depression, anger - a lot of it unnecessary which we get used to thinking is 'normal' in order to work normally. We get our brains trained so much that it becomes part of our subconscious, our brains just think its normal so even when we're relaxing our heart is beating too fast and our brain is working too fast, and a lot of unnecessary energy is being used.
The key is to reach this 'sweet spot' where you're so relaxed like you are when you are having a nap or just coming out of a nap, almost like sleeping, but you have all the energy where that stress and anxiety was, and are fully awake. So therefore you suddenly have so much more energy for the rest of life.
This is how our brains were meant to work.
Our breathing and heart rate need to be in line with our brain waves, and often they aren't. Breathing is such an important thing to get right. Many of us breath from our chest, instead of how we are meant to breath, which is something called diaphragmatic breathing, breathing from your diaphragm. At rest - when we're sitting down, relaxing - we are only meant to breath around 12 times per minute.
Think about that.
That's one breath every 5 seconds.
Doesn't seem like a lot, but try it. Here's a little challenge for you.
Stop. Breathe. As you do, listen count how long your breaths are, and look where you are breathing from.
For optimum energy and health, we're meant to breath from lower down, not from our chest as many of us do. We often do that through sheer necessity and because it feels more 'normal' and allows us to get lots of breath in quickly. But actually, to get more energy we're meant to breath from lower down, and more slowly. We can train our bodies to do this, given time and practice.
I have tried this recently, and I have noticed even in small amounts how often I have more energy, feel more relaxed and peaceful. The trick is being able to maintain your optimum brain performance at work, but still have slower, more peaceful rhythm to your brain work and taking slightly longer, deeper breaths. Letting go of all the anxiety and worry and stress - all of which are unnecessary in reality - and using that energy to work, to perform to deal with all the things we have to face up to, with more energy and focus, and feeling a lot more rested.
But of course there is a connection between this and our relationship with God. One interesting thing - in the scriptures, the word for breath is the same word as the word for spirit. There is no distinction between the physical and spiritual. In every breath, we are essentially breathing in God, and breathing out all the things in our lives we don't need.
You see we are integrated beings, 100% spiritual, 100% physical, and all of it is interconnected. I personally believe that this principle of sabbath and rest in the scriptures, the seventh day which God declared Holy - notice the first thing God declares Holy is a day or period of rest - is totally connected with the state of our physical body and our brains. To have this time of Sabbath we need to engage with these issues and retrain our bodies to slow down. Getting rid of the excess energy - stress, anxiety, worry, anger - is a lot easier when your security is in God, and you have a relationship with a God who can help us deal with these kind of things. Because you have somewhere, someone, who you can unload this on to, who is big enough to take it and who can help us deal with it.
We need to recognise that these things - stress, anxiety, worry - are not normal, they aren't healthy. But fundamentally we need to realise why these things are happening.
Its because on some subconscious level we are, usually as we grow up, putting our security and value and worth in something other than God, - money, relationships, friends, family, work, achievement, status - and we aren't learning about the art of rest.
Its so easy to do.
I know that thing things that happened to me when I was younger have shaped me and still do. I know I have insecurities and fears and I know where these come from, and the point is that I need to recognise they are just insecurities and fears. They aren't based in the reality that God made me, Jesus died and rose for me and loves me more than I can ever know or understand - without my achievements, gifts, status, finances, without anything. God loves me just because He does and will provide for all my needs. He will always be faithful, He will never give up on me, He will discipline me when I need it and encourage me when I need it. He knows me better than I do and will not abandon me, despite all the ways I let Him down.
So I can choose to live according to my insecurities, worries, fears and stresses - or I can live according to the reality of what God says about me and what He's done for me. It doesn't mean I won't have insecurities and fears, but it means that I can control them, that I can let them go and ignore them, in God's strength. I can choose either to live by them, or to surrender them and live according to what God has said.
I can choose to live the consumer life, at a high pace, and equate value with busyness, with success and status, and over-worry about what others say about me (most of whom don't know me).
Or I can choose to slow down my mind and my body.
To take deep breaths
to breathe in more oxygen, and at the same to breathe in more of God
and to breathe out all the things I don't need.
Its not easy, and it takes time. I'm still learning how to do this, and I am genuinely excited by learning more and more about the art and discipline of rest and trying to put this into practice in my own life.
But its what we need to do, if we are to be fully human in the way God designed us.