How often do you come to a full stop and rest? Do you move full-tilt through your days and sleep restlessly through too-short nights? Is your nervous system on high alert even when you have time to pause?
A sacred, political act
Robyn Posin has encouraged rest for many years. “To rest is a sacred act of nourishment and solace that takes courage and trust!” She had an illuminating realization that if everything she had already done was not enough to prove her worthiness, then she needed to do less, not more, when she felt like she was not enough.
In her Nap Ministry, Tricia Hersey encourages rest as a political act, especially for Black people healing from present oppression and historical enslavement. “We believe rest is a spiritual practice, a racial justice issue and a social justice issue.” She urges people to take a step back from capitalist striving and tune into their own need for rest.
We are living creatures, not machines. Our bodies require times of less effort to recover from times of more effort. We need rest to heal from trauma, and part of healing is remembering how to rest.
As we rest, our bodies and brains weave new connections in the background. Hidden, shy parts of ourselves can come to the surface. As we daydream, woolgather, and drift, new thoughts, intentions, and directions can emerge.
What happens inside when you consider resting? What would need to happen to let you rest? Invite a sense of what feels restful for you in this moment. What if you do not have to work so hard to be good enough?
You might be worried that if you stop to rest, you will have trouble starting again. You might equate rest with laziness, and laziness with being bad. You might feel the need to keep moving for safety, or approval, or to stay one step ahead of physical or emotional pain.
You might be willing to pause, but your system goes into freeze rather than rest. You feel tense and wary, rather than open and relaxed. Keep company with your tension, and sense for support at your edges. You might feel waves of tensing and softening along the way to more comfortable rest.
Invite yourself to be aimless, without an agenda, even the agenda of rest. This is a safe space to be exactly as you are right now.
Sink into tired
Feeling tired reminds us to rest the way feeling hungry reminds us to eat. Do you feel fully rested right now? Do you feel a little tired around the edges? Do you feel heart-tired, bone-tired, worn down, wiped out?
Sink into your sense of feeling tired. How does it feel in your body? Your eyes might burn. Your arms and legs might feel heavy and difficult to move. You might feel irritable or weepy. You might find it hard to focus. You might feel your body’s wordless longing for sleep, or a seat, or a refuge.
It can be tempting to wait until the next success to rest. But when we achieve one goal, the next goal beckons. The more we succeed, the more there is to do. Whether you feel like a success or failure, prioritize rest. Build it into your life.
If you are parenting young children while working full-time while healing from childhood abuse, your rest might need to be brief. Pause and take a breath each time you transition from one activity to another. Let your weight settle fully into your chair. When a child comes to you with a request or demand, pause together before moving forward. Rest into your experience of feeling rushed.
You can be a better parent and a better worker when you rest more, but that is not the point. Rest because it nourishes you and adds enjoyment to your life.
Rest your way
If you are chronically ill you might already rest a lot to manage limited physical energy. You might rest luxuriously, relaxing into your open time, or you might rest impatiently, resenting your limits. Does physical pain interrupt your rest?
We have so many “shoulds” about productivity and rest. We each rest in our own way. Invite all your feelings about resting to rest with you. Rest from pretending to be okay. Rest from holding it together.
Take a load off
When we sit or lie down to rest from the work of holding ourselves up, we might feel how sore and tired our muscles are. When we let go of the work of holding back anger or grief or loneliness, we might have a rush of tears. Rest might not feel good in the moment.
What burdens are you carrying? Pause to acknowledge them. Can you put one down for a moment, and rest?
Sometimes we long for rest from being ourselves, from being locked into our familiar ongoing struggles. Dissociation and distraction can be a kind of rest, widening our focus to include more than the hard parts of our lives.
When we find a way to pause from pressing forward, we are beginning to rest. When we sense the support of our bones, we can feel ourselves as a resting body. Watch a child or a cat rest in a fully embodied way. Find a warm sunbeam or some cool shade, and invite rest.
- “Rest is a Sacred Act” by Robyn Posin
- The Nap Ministry website by Tricia Hersey
- “The Great Sleep Divide” by Katherine Ellison, Knowable Magazine, July 3, 2021 discusses sleep deficits faced by poor people and BIPOC.
- “Who’s Afraid of the Four Day Work Week” by Anne Helen Peterson, July 11, 2021. Research shows that four-day work weeks increase worker happiness without decreasing productivity.
- In her book The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, Elisabeth Tova Bailey watches a snail go about its life during the long enforced rests of her chronic illness.