What Nature Teaches Us About The Vital Importance Of Rest
One of the things I missed most about fall while living in Los Angeles was observing the changing color of the leaves. Growing up with the woods in my backyard in Georgia brought me in close contact with the changing seasons. The array of fall colors, from bright reds to vibrant yellows, made the fall such an enchanting time.
I remember collecting leaves of all shapes and sizes for collages, searching the forest floor for a leaf as big as my face, and the simplicity of enjoying the beauty that comes from acknowledging the shift in season, the reminder that we will soon turn toward the dormancy of winter.
In nature, dormancy is a natural process in a perennial plant's life where growth and development are put on pause, allowing them to conserve energy and survive in climates where part of the year isn't ideal for aerial growth. Many plants have a biological clock that alerts them to slow down their activities, preparing them for a period of rest. When unfavorable weather conditions arise, and the plant is unable to receive essential signals from the outside environment, its energy turns inward.
In this redirection, the plant relies on its own innate wisdom and rhythms that have been around for millennia. Seeds might continue dormancy despite favorable conditions, giving them time to come to maturation. Seeds hold the potential for abundance over their lifetimes, which is why they remain dormant until conditions are most favorable to them. In any given season, this might reduce the yield, which isn't ideal for big agriculture but is highly desirable in nature, as many seeds only germinate once in a season, often in spring.
In the early stages of dormancy, plants take their cues from the outside world, such as changes in light and temperature, to pause their growth. When those externals shift, their growth continues. However, once a plant or seed has entered the resting stage of dormancy, they will not grow regardless of how advantageous the environmental conditions are. In this restful stage, they take their cues from internal biological rhythms and wait until they have the best chance at propagating with a movement toward the health of the future. Similarly, certain mammals hibernate in the winter. Many reptiles also go through a period of dormancy, called brumation, in the winter months.
Exploring dormancy supports the deep truth that humans need periods of rest, too
Rest is part of our blueprint. Human conception itself is a migration and a journey of resilience. On day three of conception, when the egg and sperm come together, they rest for a full 24 hours before their first division. This is after the egg initially makes its way to the fallopian tubes and rests in a specific portion of the tube called the ampullar-isthmic junction for 24 to 30 hours.
Like the seed of the Redwoods, humans are birthed from an ancient intelligence, and although the external conditions are not always favorable, we arrive with this blueprint, this innate ability to drop into the sanctuary of rest. It might have taken us many years of heartache, depletion, and pain to arrive here, but the knowledge has been within all along, waiting for us to remember. Waiting for us to come home to rest.
A flower meditation for rest
Flowers are symbolic of life, openness, and beauty. This rest practice is a simple and effective mindfulness exercise from the Taoist tradition known as "flower gazing." In this custom, flowers are an object to focus on as well as a living being whose unique energy can be deeply restorative and support us to connect with our own innate power to rest.
Flower Meditation is often quite relaxing, although it can also be very energizing, depending on the flower. If you feel energized during your practice, pay attention to the difference between that energy and the buzzy energy of your smartphone or a cup of coffee. There are ways to gain energy that are replenishing and ways that are depleting. Understanding this distinction is really important in our rest work as it gives us invaluable information on ways that we can access energy that is clean and doesn't tax our system in the process.
- Procure a flower. Arrange it in a vase or glass and set it about a foot away from you at eye level.
- Take a comfortable seat. Place your feet on the ground, hip-width apart.
- Inhale and exhale slowly through your nose. Reflect on the earth, sun, rain, and soil that grew the flower before you. Gaze softly at the flower with relaxed eyes. Blink normally and smile gently to release any tension in your face.
- Look at this flower with a childlike wonder, as if it's the first time you've ever seen a flower. Notice its details, the shapes, colors, textures, and any scent the flower emits.
- See if you can feel the flower's energy, its vibrancy, its amazingness. When thoughts surface, notice them, then gently bring your attention back to the flower. Continue to commune with the flower and settle into its magnificence.
- When your practice is complete, offer the flower gratitude and notice how you feel.
Excerpted from Permission to Rest. Text copyright © 2023 by Ashley Neese. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House.
Ashley Neese is a renowned breathwork teacher, parent, foster parent, and land steward. She is the author of How to Breathe and Permission to Rest. Ashley has spent over a decade working at the intersections of embodiment, transformation, and renewal. She is also host of The Deeper Call podcast, where she shares restorative conversations to support connection and healing. Ashley lives with her family in a valley of wise old oak trees in California.