Easy Rest is an excellent introduction to Vipassana (or "insight") meditation. Easy Rest is very good for people who have never meditated before, because it focuses on pleasant experiences. It will bring an immediate sense of calmness and clarity (like you might get from a shamatha technique), yet will simultaneously build the core meditation skills of concentration and equanimity. Repeated practice of Easy Rest 20 minutes every day for even a few months will bring a marked positive change in your level of stress, anxiety, or depression.
Alternate between noting “Blank,” the darkness behind your closed eyes, and “Relax,” any sense of relaxation in the body.
- In the Easy Rest technique, you allow your attention to move back and forth between two soothing experiences that can be easily found or created, hence the name Easy Rest. The two experiences are Blank and Relaxed.
- Blank means the background field of darkness/brightness that you see in front of/behind your eyes after you close them. For most people this takes the form of a marbled mixture of dark patches, bright patches and grays. But for some people it tends to be more pure darkness or more pure brightness (hence the description darkness/brightness). This background field represents a blank mental screen—something you can focus on to clear your mind.
- Blank is nothing special or fantastical. It is just what you see when you look at the inside of your closed eyelids, nothing more.
- Relaxed is just an abbreviated way of saying “physical relaxation.” Relaxed refers to any level or any spatial extent of muscle relaxation as well as any sense that you are physically settled into your posture. Notice that, by this definition, you don’t need to eliminate all tension, discomfort or agitation in order to experience being relaxed. Something as simple as dropping your shoulders will create enough to focus on. Do not struggle to create a large amount of relaxation, or worry that you are not “relaxed enough.”
- To do Easy Rest, close your eyes, settle into your posture and let your attention freely float between Blank and Relaxed. If both of these restful states are present at the same time just choose one to focus on for that moment (to keep things simple). It doesn’t matter which one. As you note these restful states, other sensory experiences will probably occur—mental images, internal talk, external sounds and physical or emotional body sensations. It is of the utmost importance that you not try to get rid of or shut out those experiences. Let them happen in the background while, in the foreground of attention, you are fascinated with and enjoying the restful states. This is usually not difficult because restful states are by nature pleasant and interesting.
- Noting: You can get added benefit from Easy Rest by doing it with “noting.” Noting is a Vipassana technique that means to label your experience. For example, when you concentrate on Blank, you mentally say the word “Blank” to yourself. In the same way, when you focus on the Relax sensations, you mentally say the word “Relax” to yourself.
- Noting is a strong aid in developing concentration. The labels help you to keep your attention on the Blank and Relaxed sensations. Noting can be used in many other Vipassana techniques as well, so it is a useful skill to develop.
- There are some hints to make your noting more effective. First, always use an extremely calm, soft, gentle (mental) voice when noting. Talk to yourself in a voice that a mother might use when softly waking a baby. You want to be very gentle with yourself.
- Second, maintain a slow, even pace when noting. You should not be noting more than once every few seconds. No matter how much is going on, consider this one label every few seconds to cover all that has happened during that time. It is crucial that you not allow your noting to become frantic, hectic, or impatient.
- Third, use noting as part of a sequence or “rhythm” of attention. For example, in one “round” of this rhythm of attention, you notice the Blank, then make the label Blank, then actually concentrate on the blank for 3-5 seconds. Then you repeat the sequence. This is a very effective way to concentrate.
This technique is a kind of Vipassana (or "insight") meditation, based in the teachings of Buddhism. The language and format of this specific practice come from the teachings of American Buddhist master Shinzen Young. You can learn more about his many techniques at Basic Mindfulness
Some people find meditating on their bodies to be unsettling at first. If you are having this experience, then just meditate on Blank and leave the Relaxed for another time.
Blank and Relaxed are naturally present anytime you close your eyes and settle into a posture, whether standing, seated or lying down. In fact, relaxation can even be experienced as you move around if you “relax into the movement.” Indeed relaxing into a movement is the essence of grace. If you can consciously tune into the actual sensation of relaxing into your movements you can experience a kind of bliss as you go about ordinary activities.