Rest Re-examined

What is rest?

I dictate today’s post from underneath a 25-pound weighted blanket. My cat who rests on top of me adds an additional 10 pounds.

Prior to last year, I would’ve given a very different response to the question of what fits the definition of rest. Having worked at universities for over seven years now, I have always considered the week and a half of vacation from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day as my annual recharge (my private-sector friends are dripping with envy). Anything more than those glorious 10 days just seemed excessive. Two weeks or more away from work would actually make me feel guilty. How is the work getting done? Is it OK that I’m not working right now? Will everything explode in my absence?

I think my struggle with these questions has led me to use my “vacation” to find something else productive to do. I cannot be still. I spend that first week of vacation being a busybody and pretending to rest but really I’m working on my to-do list that I’ve been neglecting for months and thinking about how to relax without actually relaxing. I allow myself to sleep in to 9 o’clock or maybe 9:30. I spend an extra 5 minutes in bed cuddling with my cat. I clean the house from top to bottom and then re-arrange all of the furniture. Make a drop-off at the Goodwill. Go for a “leisurely” walk but find myself power-walking to get home as if I forgot to turn off the stove.

It takes about a week minimum to re-orient my body towards rest. My shoulders start to relax. My racing mind begins to slow down. But by then, it’s already time to return to work.

Last year I had forced rest. Literally, it was the doctor’s order. And while I technically never stopped working completely in my job, I have not spent more than than 1 to 3 hours each weekday at my work desk. The remaining waking hours I have spent doing a whole lot of nothing. Thankfully because my employer has pretty good disability insurance and I had accumulated many days of sick leave, I have received my full-time pay, which has allowed me to rest without worrying about finances. The scene has been set up for me to find a new meaning of rest.

That being said, having a disability is nothing to glorify. It’s been scary and frustrating. For a long time I did not know if my pain was going to go away entirely or if I would be living in a new normal of everyday pain–I still don’t have that answer. For many months, my ability to take care of myself was severely diminished and I had to rely on others.

However, this has been a once in a lifetime opportunity. And I had to do something with it.

2021 is when I realized how loud my masculine mind is. A lifetime of societal conditioning that you have to work to be worthy will make you feel pretty miserable when you’re unable to be productive (Flashback to previous episodes of worthlessness). In a perfect scenario, I would have an able-bodied period of rest, allowing me to dance freely, paint for the sake of painting, journal, cook delicious food because I wanted to not because I needed to, and read from an endless list of books on finding the goddess within. Instead, I felt like I was locked up in a dark room with just me, me, and me for many months.

“We have been taught that death is always followed by more death. It is simply not so, death is always in the process of incubating new life, even when one’s existence has been cut down to the bones.”

Women Who Run With the Wolves, Clorissa Pinkola Estes

Practicing Rest

So what is rest, and who the hell has time for it? You gotta put food on the damn table, and wages ain’t keeping up with the rising cost of living.

Do we know how to do rest? And like, do it well?

I am convinced that rest is a skill.

If a skill is an ability that you develop through training, practice, and experience, then we as people of the industrialized 21st century must practice the art of rest in order to become good at it. It’s a skill no one taught us how to do. We spend our life learning and exerting effort to do the opposite–to work and hopefully make a decent living. If rest is the opposite of doing, and doing had to be learned, then shouldn’t rest come naturally and effortlessly?

I am–as a result of both nature and nurture–prone to overworking. I have a sticky note reminder on my desk that says, “Work less hard.” I literally need to be reminded every day that I only need to be good enough.

Rest is where you learn the value of taking care of yourself first, before your job or others. It’s where thoughts from your unconscious come flowing up to enlighten you with messages that heal and restore. It precedes innovation and creativity. It’s awareness, tuning into how your body feels, and then approaching the rest of your life from that place.

“If we dare to ask the question ‘Who am I?’ then we commit ourselves to the responsibility of honing our way to our own inner truth.”

The Pregnant Virgin: A Process of Psychological Transformation, Marion Woodman

Rest is the game changer.

Rest has and is becoming an integral part of my daily life. As I slowly increase my working hours in my day job back to normal, I am faced with the challenge of prioritizing rest. I know from experience how vital it is that I build rest into my lifestyle and daily routines. I know my body needs to move and stretch and that my spirit and emotional well-being need nurturing on a regular basis. I have to tend to all the parts of myself continually.

And when I envision my future livelihood, I know that I will land in a place where the average week consists of only a few working hours, not because I’m in pain but because I built my life that way. It’s been done. Women entrepreneurs are doing it right now, they’ve been doing it for years, and I have every intention of becoming one of them.