A few weeks ago I wrote a letter to my strong, exhausted friend. (You can read it here.)
At so many points in my life I have been the person who needed to read that letter, and often I still am.
But I am re-learning how to live and a large part of this has involved re-discovering how to rest.
I deserve to rest
I deserve to rest, I know rest is important, and yet I don’t make it a priority. It gets squeezed out and so I find myself exhausted. I fall into bed either to sleep fitfully or to lie awake, aware of all I still need to do but haven’t managed to fit in.
I find myself asking again and again, Why do I find rest so difficult?
And so I decided to answer this question, and not leave it hanging over me rhetorically. This is what I’ve come up with so far.
A waste of time
First, I think rest is a waste of time.
I consider a good day one where I get through my to-do list, or at least make a dent in it.
I value my time in terms of the stuff I get done, the calls I make, the emails I send, the chores I get through and the projects I complete. Finding success through achievement is how I’m wired.
This is one of the reasons I find parenting so bloody hard. When the kids were tiny I longed for the sense of accomplishment a completed job well done would bring.
But it never came. The laundry basket never stayed empty. There were always mouths to feed, floors to sweep, bums to wipe.
If I had stopped to think about it I could possibly have realised productivity was not a useful gauge for how good my day was. But I didn’t stop to think.
I didn’t stop.
Trying harder and harder
I pushed myself. I kept trying harder for that tidy house, thriving career, number of ‘quality parenting moments’. Even just for a day where I didn’t end up with food/sick/tea down my front.
I put this down to the fact I was in ‘the wiping years’. I thought it would change with time. Soon I would have a day where I felt I had really achieved something, I told myself.
I struggle to rest because I think that by keeping going I will eventually reach a point of satisfaction. Satisfaction that I have achieved all I set out to achieve.
But the reality is I work longer hours, late into the night and through my meal breaks. All in the hope of meeting this mythical sense of satisfaction, when rest is a just reward for my hard work.
Whatever stage of life, however old the kids are, no matter what job you have, it is possible to feel this dissatisfaction with what you manage to fit into 12 or 24 hours. Take it from one who knows.
I don’t think I deserve it
Second, I don’t deserve to rest.
It’s bit like Grandmother’s footsteps. But instead of things getting nearer every time I turn around, I find they have moved further away.
The to-do list gets longer, the list of ways I have failed or not lived up to expectations (mine or someone else’s) grows.
Like a perpetual game of whack-a-mole I never manage to keep everyone satisfied, least of all myself.
I tell myself I don’t deserve to rest because I haven’t done enough. Whether this is in the world of work, or parenting or friendships, I am never quite meeting the mark. And therefore I don’t deserve to unwind and take a load off.
(Maybe if I was more responsible with the load I wouldn’t be in this situation, I tell myself.)
So when evening comes around, or that magical day when I have a couple of hours for myself, I spend my time distracted. I think I should be using my time better.
How often have I put rest in the category of ‘indulgence’? How often has pride that I am capable/hard working/resourceful stopped me from giving my body the rest it so desperately craves?
The answer would be – a lot.
My idea of how much rest is enough, and what I deserve, is sadly underwhelming.
Third, I don’t know how to rest.
Have you ever arrived to your holiday destination and found that you are so wound up that you cannot allow your body to rest? So wound up that you can’t focus on the book you are reading, sit still or stop your hands from shaking?
I get to the place or time for rest and it eludes me. I don’t know how to start.
Through gritted teeth I tell myself to unwind and relax, but my jaw is clenched so tight I can’t take a deep enough breath.
I have forgotten how to rest, and I need to re-learn.
Giving myself permission
The truth is, the greatest way to improve efficiency and productivity is rest.
The truth is, to be well I need to rest, and to know that I deserve to rest, I have to love myself. Also the reverse is true, if I love myself I can give myself permission to rest. This would in turn help me get stronger and become more resilient.
These thoughts on rest and recovery are the product of many years of thinking and reading, and then practising, how to live in a way that promotes health, peace and good relationships.
How we can learn together
A couple of months back I decided to attempt to compile what I have been learning about rest for you.
After various false starts I decided to make a video series in which I will be your guide as we learn how to cultivate the art of rest. (I’m the slightly frazzled one only half a pace ahead of you.)
In these videos I talk about ideas that have become central to my thinking. And I (over) share lots of stories from my own life (nothing new there then!). I investigate mindsets that need to shift, new ways of approaching rest as well as giving lots of practical tips and ideas.
You can find the course on my Patreon* page, which you can subscribe to for a small monthly fee. I am so excited to share this series with you. You can check out my Patreon page and see how it all works by clicking here.
*I know Patreon is new to a lot of us so if you hop over to my Patreon page you will find a short video where I explain all you need to know about it. And if you scroll down through my feed, you will also be able to watch part one of the series ‘Cultivating the Essential Art of Rest’ – which is based on the words in this blog. I hope this will whet your appetite and you will consider joining me in Patreon.