I have been reflecting on this idea called radical rest a lot recently. In our current paradigm, we are caught up in a cycle of what I call toxic productivity. Many of us feel the need to be productive all the time, not just at work, but in all areas of our lives. However, even when we hustle and grind, we are never quite satisfied. We feel like we could have done more.
The interesting thing for me in my own experience is that when I am in one of those never-ending cycles of toxic productivity, and I fail to see it, I am often forced to slow down. Recently, I have been on a spurt of busyness that seemed never-ending. I felt like I had it together and that I was managing my energy, my health and also getting stuff done. However, in this period, little things started slipping. I was unable to maintain exercise, stick to a balanced eating plan, or pay attention to particular aspects of my experience of myself. During this period, I was so focused on staying in motion, I placed a high priority on juggling multiple areas of work. I lost track of what I was feeling, and in many instances was unable to connect to a feeling of ease and relaxation. Even though I thought I was at ease, in reality, I was just moving for the sake of moving. The idea of stopping, or pausing created some anxiety; in fact, there was a sense of dissociation from my experience of self that had occurred.
In my life, whenever I am in such a state, something usually happens that forces me to pause. This time was no different. While I was in Budapest, I fractured my toe. Initially, as is my habit, I was so disconnected from my experience at the moment, that the level of pain I was experiencing did not register as serious enough to warrant some medical attention. However, as the pain persisted, I surrendered and decided to find out whether I had broken the toe. Finding out that I had fractured it, which is painful, but not as bad as having broken it, provided some momentary relief to me. As I paused and processed the moment, I acknowledged the irony of how my fractured toe hampered my mobility. This was a symbolic reminder for me to slow down and connect to my experience of myself, and my body. Accepting the lesson was not easy, but necessary.
In my subsequent processing, I reflected on this idea of radical rest and what it is that makes rest radical. At the end of the day, ‘radical rest’ is about countering and subverting prevailing norms of productivity that have stretched us far beyond their limits. Whether it is in terms of our energetic capacities, our tiredness, our health, and our sustainability, at the cost of what we value most. This includes our joy, connection and purposeful contributions to the world.
“Our legacy is a legacy of exhaustion. Rest is key to connecting to the wisdom of our ancestors and creating a new world. It is pushing back against white supremacy and capitalism.” Tricia Hersey from the Nap Ministry.
It sounds simple right? But, for many of my tribe, the question is always, how can we rest when we do not feel at ease, reflective or when there is just so much injustice in the world? This very question feels like the chicken and egg situation. Truth is that without rest, we cannot feel at ease reflective or have the ongoing capacities and energies to direct at the injustices in the world.
Below are some tips on how to cultivate rest as part of your practice:
#1 See rest as a political principle
Rest is reparations, an act of freedom and willful resistance. The Nap Ministry is an organization dedicated to reclaiming rest as the norm. They argue that rest is an act of rebellion against a culture that teaches us we have to hustle for our worth. We have accepted exhaustion as normal but that is not our natural state. Rest is resistance that allows us to deprogram ourselves from seeing exhaustion as the norm to embracing rest as normal.
#2 Set the intention to cultivate rest for yourself in small ways
We can also acknowledge that in our society the ability to choose rest, to have time to rest, and to access restful spaces is unequally affected by our relationship to privilege and power. Yet, we all deserve refuge – a tender place to lay down our burdens, reconnect with ourselves, and renew our sense of agency and purpose. So, the answer is to start accessing it in small ways that are possible based on each of our circumstances.
#3 Seize the potential for rest
Rest brings a needed perspective that even when it is dark inside, the sun might still be shining down from the sky. Rest fosters reflection, and opportunities to pause and reflect reconnect us with our power. Resting grounds us. It reminds of who we truly are and centers us back to the wisdom that lives inside of us. Without it we forget our inherent worth and buy into the idea that over-working makes us more valuable. Create a routine, or moments that allow for greater rest in your practice. As with everything, begin with baby steps. What is one small thing you can do to move towards embracing rest? Resting is a practice. You will have to keep reminding yourself it’s okay to rest and then keep choosing it as your new normal.
#4 Access spaces of collective rest
Collective rest and reflection help us notice that we are not alone in the work – that the struggle for freedom is not an individual pursuit but one born out of collective consciousness and action. Finding spaces that are restful and filled with ease in our communing with each other is another restorative and radical practice of rest.
#5 Experiment with different forms of rest
We do not have to spend hours meditating, go on a week-long retreat, or hike into far off mountains to rest. Restorative rest can take on many simple forms such as:
• Stopping to pat an animal or smell a flower.
• Making the time to remember someone or something that makes us smile.
• Pausing for a minute when we notice a beautiful sky, garden, or view.
• Closing your eyes for 2 minutes.
• Meditating for 5 minutes.
• A 15-minute nap.
• Taking regular breaks from social media.
• Knitting, crocheting, or other creative expressions.
• Gathering a small group of friends together in a restful setting and talk about what makes us grateful.
#6 Reflect and learn
Get curious about your resistance to rest. Is it linked to old habits and belief systems? Are you avoiding feelings or sensations? Are you working in environments that exploit you? Once you recognize your resistance, how can you (or others) support any changes you would like to make? Some people may term this practice as self-indulgent. They are entitled to their opinion AND what they think about you is not your concern. What is your concern is to unapologetically giving your body what it needs so you can thrive not simply survive.