How to reimagine rest
We wear busyness like a badge of honour, and we burn out as the scales of our lives tip into chaos. It’s time to reimagine rest, writes Kat Teall
Our relationship with rest is conflicted. Many of us yearn for it but dismiss the need for it. We see it as something with little value to offer in our busy lives, or we feel we don’t deserve it, or we find it difficult and uncomfortable. We live in a world that is out of balance. Productivity is put on a pedestal and we wear our busyness like a badge of honour. Clearly, we need to reimagine rest.
There are sound explanations for why. As women, rest was forced upon us, with the active and outside world taken away from us. This was rest as oppression: a way to control us and keep us out of the parts of society where decisions were made, where power was wielded, and where opportunity and education existed.
As capitalism and the patriarchy flourished, resting didn’t correlate with the money-driven, progress-centric world. And so, to keep up, we kept busy. We knew, instinctively, that rest was oppression, and so we resisted as much as possible, to avoid returning to a shackled past. But now we’ve been conditioned to internalise these damaging systems, and find ourselves unable to stop the endless treadmill of keeping up and keeping busy.
The impact of that has been enormously damaging. Women are exhausted, especially those of us who work in jobs outside the home but are still responsible for most of the housework and childcare.
We are burnt out and, increasingly, suffering chronic health issues, insomnia, depression, and other mental health conditions. The burden we carry is made even heavier by the impossible standards of perfection we are expected to meet, which make us struggle to keep our heads above water.
We must be career women, excelling at our jobs, but we must also be Nigella Lawson in the kitchen. Our homes must look like they’re featuring in /House and Garden/. We must be perfect mothers and perfect wives.
How are you? ‘Busy,’ we answer proudly, because busyness makes us feel we are important, in demand, and winning at life. We are addicted to it. We use it in the way we would use drugs and alcohol: to numb our pain and our trauma, to escape ourselves, and to escape our minds, which torture us with constant berating that what we do and who we are is not enough.
And the less we rest, the further away we move from ourselves. Many of us no longer know who we are or what we actually want to do. We desperately need rest, but our trauma and our conditioning block us from accessing it. Guilt and shame are invisible shackles that keep us trapped in the grind.
To break that cycle, we need to reimagine rest as a kind of freedom.
Rest is not truly known to most of us. We have been introduced to it but not formed a deep and intimate connection with it. Many of us associate rest with vegging out on the sofa, watching TV or scrolling through our phones. Others see it as any restful activity that we do while we’re awake, such as going for a run, reading a book, or crocheting.
These are forms of rest that nurture parts of us, because we’re escaping areas of our lives that have become excessive. They restore balance. Physician
Saundra Dalton-Smith has even identified seven varieties of this type of rest: physical, mental, emotional, sensory, social, creative and spiritual.
But while these varieties have merit, they are not rest in its purest form, because they are all active and require focus. They keep us focused on the outside world, whereas true rest brings us into our inner world and deeply replenishes our mind, body and soul.
If we reimagine rest, we can surrender from the active, from goals, and from the desire to achieve results. It is napping, or meditation, or watching clouds roll past and listening to rain tapping on the window, or doing nothing.
Deep rest is medicine that heals us. It is a sacred space where we can put down our burdens, and seek solace from the demands, the pressure and the pushing. A chance to drop everything and to receive and to just /be/. Nowhere to go and nothing to do. This is reimagined rest.
When we lay down our fight and rest, it is sanctuary. ‘Me time’ is just that: a chance to be ourselves and to shed our guises. We are more than the roles we perform and the use we provide to others. ‘Me time’ gives us the opportunity to come back to ourselves – to think about what we actually desire.
Rest is resistance. True resistance. And in reimagining rest, and resting itself, we dismantle the systems within us – and that changes the world.
When we treat ourselves like beings with needs – which include rest – rather than machines, expected to sustain the same level of output every day, we value ourselves enough to give ourselves what we need. Or we realise that we are enough as we are, resting in our inherent worth and deservedness.
Rest is not something we have to earn by fulfilling expectations. It is not a destination at the end of a never-ending to-do list. It is a welcoming inn where we can stop off regularly, take refuge and refuel for the journey that is our life.
Resting uncovers the soul, creativity, wonder, joy, peace and power that become lost in our busyness.
Learning to reimagine rest teaches us to listen to and honour the needs of our body, which does so much for us with so little appreciation; to stop abusing it with our relentless mind; to develop a balanced relationship between mind and body.
Rest is an alchemic container: when we give ourselves space to be with what lies within us, and come into our bodies and sit with the darkness we carry inside, we process and digest our trauma and grief. That heals us and transforms our pain into pleasure, our trauma into power and our disease into health. Rest is our birthright – we just need to reclaim it.
Kat Teall is a psychologist and coach and founder of The Rest Rebellion therestrebellion.com / @therestrebellion. She challenges the unhealthy status quo around productivity and rest, and empowers women to say no, to put down their load and to come back to themselves.
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