We recently spent a semester in Northern Italy. Here's a typical week of someone living in the Italian Alps - work all week, go up the mountain on the weekend. Or if you were like my son, go to school all week and skateboard on the weekends.
What is it that draws people to those little adventures? Fun. Excitement. But also, less thinking. The state of flow. I remember a woman coming down from a little hike, saying if she didn't have her daily little hike, she was not balanced and her mind was not clear.
It reminded me of someone here in Michigan who told me how she simply could not meditate unless she had done some yoga first.
This points to a basic connection between body and mind. One simplified way of viewing this connection is that the body is the most external expression of your mind.
When you are feeling restless, it shows up in your body. When you are angry, you feel it in your body. When you are calm inside, there is a sense of ease in your body.
We can take advantage of this mind-body connection by noticing our level of inner agitation, and if meditation alone doesn't calm it, consider adding some form of movement and do it mindfully.
Gardening, walking, hiking, swimming, moving your body in some way can not only be fun, but combined with mindful attention, these are great ways of letting incessant thoughts and emotions move through you and become less of a problem.
And mini versions of those activities can be a nice preparation for meditation. When your body moves, a kind of gross (coarse, not disgusting) level of tension is released which might be harder to do with meditation alone.
Then when you go into meditation, those heavy thought-emotion tensions have been worked through and you can more easily let meditation do the subtle work.
Slowly, "il dolce far niente"--the sweetness of doing nothing--starts showing up in little moments.
And that sweet feeling of inner peace is exactly the same for Italians as it is for Americans.