No Rest for the Weary?
How many times have you told yourself that you truly can't afford to rest? That you'll take a break, but only after you've done X, Y or Z... but then there is always, always another T, U or V to add to the list. It's so easy to believe that we don't have time to take a break. If you live a "normal" Western modern life, your days are full of working to earn money, laundry, dishes, other domestic tasks, driving places, driving your kids places, checking Facebook, responding to email, trying to squeeze in some exercise, running errands...
Rest? When are you supposed to rest? For many people, rest only comes at the end of the day, when you finally deliver yourself into bed, heave a big sigh, and then fall asleep until the next day. If you're lucky, your sleep is pretty good. Not uncommonly, even sleep doesn't feel very restful, however.
The truth is: modern life does not make for good resting habits.
The next truth is: you have to really make an effort to change your habits.
Rest is essential to your well-being. I'm not talking about the few minutes before you fall asleep, or about the sleep itself -- though that, too, is essential for both mental and physical health. I'm talking about true rest, where you make a decision to do absolutely nothing. The kind of rest that may well feel like "being lazy" to your type-A self.
True rest is incredibly restorative to your body, helping it to recover from stress and undertake important reparative work. It is also incredibly restorative to your psyche. But it takes intention, and practice. Start to choose rest over distractions, at least once in a while.
Yesterday I read a short article by Rick Hanson, PhD, on this very subject. Hanson is a neuropsychologist and meditation teacher, and author of the very popular book Buddha's Brain. He offers a few tips, which I'm going to copy and share here.
- Upon first waking, bring to mind your fundamental purpose in life, whatever it is, and rest in the felt knowing of it, in giving yourself over to it, like resting in the warm cradling current of a great river.
- At meals, pause for half a minute with your food before you start eating.
- Be aware of that little space between the end of an inhalation and the beginning of an exhalation (or vice versa). From time to time each day, notice that space and rest into it.
- When you complete a task, take a break for a few seconds or more before shifting gears to the next one.
- Promise yourself that you'll take a minute or more each day to sit quietly and remain present with yourself while doing nothing. (This is an essential type of meditation.)
- Have real times each day when you truly "clock out" - no longer on task or accountable to anyone.
- Encourage your mind to come to rest at least occasionally. Tell yourself you can worry/problem-solve/grumble later. The mind/brain is like a muscle (for example, using willpower consumes extra glucose much like lifting weights does) and it needs to stop working sometimes to replenish and rebuild itself.
I appreciate how do-able most of these suggestions are - and how they begin to orient us towards remembering to rest, even in little ways.
In honour of summertime, which is often a time when people DO make more of an effort to schedule some downtime, I want to add a few suggestions of my own.
- Find a hammock, a deck chair, or a towel on a beach. Close your eyes, and revel in the experience of not having to be anywhere. You don't even have to make productive use of your downtime. Give yourself just five minutes before you start reading, or texting, or thinking about dinner.
- Take the opportunity to enjoy some time in nature. If you live in a big city, this might mean simply sitting on a bench in a park for a little while, noticing the birds and the trees around you. If you are lucky enough to live on Vancouver Island, like me, then make a point of spending some time somewhere beautiful and wild. Give yourself at least five minutes to do nothing but check in with your senses, and experience the moment. See where it takes you.
- Give yourself permission to enjoy sunny afternoon naps!
- Go for a long, slow, evening walk. Take a break in the middle of it and sit quietly for a few minutes at your resting place.
See what it is like to begin to make rest a priority. Can you stand back from all of the go-go-go messages in our culture, and give it a try? If you find it extremely challenging to let yourself rest, or to believe that you deserve it, then it might be helpful to find a therapist you trust, who can help you explore what might be behind the fear of slowing down. Sometimes this is connected to old messages about not being good enough, and having to work constantly in order to be worth something. These beliefs can be a doorway into some deep healing work.
Happy resting! You deserve it.