I started January by taking up Jen Lemen’s invitation to “rest and nest” for ten days. I found it much more of a challenge than I thought was possible, and I realised just how tired I am and how much more rest I need than I think I do. The past ten days were a wake-up call (pun absolutely intended) to how resistant I am to slowing down and giving my body what feels good. I am so used to existing in a place of exhaustion. This post doesn’t offer answers, because this is the work I am deeply in myself. I’m an explorer, not an expert.
The belief that I should always be working goes deep. At least two generations deep, probably more. Growing up, I was taught that work always comes first. Every year, my mother would promise to take me somewhere fun for my birthday, and many years she would be too busy. I’m not blaming my mother for this–she worked much harder than my father for less pay and recognition, despite being two years older and an equally talented scientist. But what I learned from watching the adults around me was that work was more important than fun. This is how beliefs get passed down. To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever seen my mother take a nap. My father naps every day. I find myself wanting to nap and putting it off.
We can talk all we like about rest being a form of resistance, but unless we stop talking and start practicing, nothing changes, because talking about resistance is not the same thing as resisting. I’m talking to myself here and to anyone else who needs to hear it. The whole time I was deliberately practising letting myself rest, I felt pulled to work. I listened to guided meditations instead of napping. I opened up my laptop and started working on my business. I dithered over which book would give me the best value for my time and ended up not engaging deeply with the one I picked. I felt tiredness in my body and my mind and I ignored it. I rested a little bit, but not enough.
“I’m so tired, I just need more time” I catch myself saying, often. It’s so easy to say and think. I see other people saying it, often. But what if when we are tired what we need isn’t more time, but more rest? I tell myself that I deserve to rest, that it is good to rest in the darkest depths of winter, to let my body clock change with the seasons, to work longer hours in the summer and rest more in the winter, but I don’t yet believe it, on a bodily level. Even though all evidence points to my work being better when I am well rested. I know that building in time for rest is necessary for doing the kind of deep, meaningful work that I want to do. And yet, I notice so much resistance to letting myself rest.
I am tired. I am so very tired. And yet I believe that if I rest, the world will fall apart. I will fall behind. Things won’t get done. Deep down, some part of my brain thinks that if I rest then I won’t make it. I have dreams about running and being pursued. I think it’s the same thing, a fundamental lack of trust in the world, a belief that if I’m not constantly working then I will lack the resources needed to survive. I think I sort of believe that needing to rest means that I am weak, that resting is simply coddling myself, that if I am doing less than other people, that means something is wrong with me. In a society that links our value as humans with our capacity to produce, this is not surprising.
Comparing our capacity to that of other people is doomed to fail, though. It seems so obvious when we stop to examine our thoughts, but unless we make time to do that, we go on running the same patterns (because, after all, we are tired, and it costs us less to run on default). Everyone has a different capacity to get things done, and even for a single person, even for the most able-bodied person, our capacity varies from day to day. There will always be someone who appears to be more productive. When we forget this and demand that our bodies work like machines, we burn out. Even the term burn out sounds like something that happens to a machine, not to a human. I’m learning that sometimes writing comes easily to me and other times it demands more, and that on the days it demands more, I need to give myself grace, I need to put my computer away and go for a long walk with the dog, or soak in a hot bath. When I rest, the ideas come.
I think I also believe that rest is impossible when there are so many things in the world that need fixing, that rest is selfish when rest seems like a luxury that some people are denied access to. This, too, doesn’t hold up to examination – it is a retreat to individualistic thinking, to ego and self-importance. I believe with all my soul that rest is our birth-right as human beings, that rest is a collective good, but right now that competes with the thought that when I rest, I take rest away from someone else. I have so many thoughts about rest, too many to unpack in one essay. Right now, I’m allowing the resistance to come, I’m exploring it. Each moment of resistance is a sign, an invitation to think or do things differently. I notice when I am rushing to escape these thoughts.
I am committed to building a business that doesn’t rely on busy-ness or hastiness and instead relies on ease and rest. I am doing this by slowing right down and asking myself over and over what I need? How can I work in a way that feels good in my body, that leaves me with enough energy for things in my life other than work? How can I trust myself that things are happening at just the right pace, even if it is slower than the pace I imagined? Thankfully, I am not alone in what I am doing. I’m finding community with other people who want to be well-rested and doing it together makes it doable. Last night I did an hour of yoga breathing and meditation led by Ntathu Allen. A whole hour spent sitting with my feet planted, my back supported by pillows and my hands on my heart, following my breath and listening to someone say kind things. Afterwards I felt relaxed and refreshed and alive in a way I hadn’t felt for a while. It felt delightful in my body and this morning I woke early and refreshed, eager to write. Rest for you might look different. Whatever rest looks and feels like for you, I invite you to think of how you can create more of it for yourself this week.