Thoughts On Rest

by Marlene Mhangami, November 27, 2020

Rest is a subject that I enjoy thinking about and talking about! It's something that I don’t think many people take time to dwell on. Today is a US American holiday and I get to take a few days off to do anything I’d like. For the most part, I plan to rest. The holidays are a great time to reflect on the relationship we have with rest and in some cases stillness. For me, I tend to view it as somewhat of a discipline. Each week, I try to make it a point to take one day to do nothing. I’m not super strict with myself about it, and there are times when I don’t do it all. I have found that when I stick to the habit it makes a difference in my quality of life. I’d like to discuss a few of my thoughts about this :D

Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge that many people don’t have the option to take time off. People who have to work every day to earn a living, or single parents that need to take care of their children. In many ways having time to not be working is a privilege. We should be trying to make rest fair across the board. I’d encourage anyone reading this to think through these issues.

For people who do have the option to take time to rest, this is a post recommending that you do!!! Earlier on I talked about how rest is a sort of discipline. I say this because its something I struggle with sometimes. I enjoy being productive in the work that I do and feeling accomplished after completing a task. I’m also very competitive and my desire to do good work can spiral into a desire to do better work than everyone else. I also love helping people or creating new things and this can also lead me to overwork. These traits, in the right measure, are good and are characteristics I like about myself. But, when I don’t manage them well, in the long run, they have a negative impact on my productivity.
A few years ago I was reading about the Judeo-Christian concept of Sabbath. Here’s the Wikipedia definition of this:

‘In Abrahamic religions, the Sabbath (/ˈsæbəθ/; Hebrew: שַׁבָּת‎) is a day set aside for rest and worship. According to the Book of Exodus, the Sabbath is a day of rest on the seventh day, commanded by God to be kept as a holy day of rest, as God rested from creation.’

I loved the idea of setting aside time to rest and started to try to do this. The first week was super easy, but after a few weeks of trying, I found myself struggling to commit to it.
Bhuddist writer Thic That Hanh writes

‘The problem is that not many of us know how to allow our body and mind to rest. We are always struggling; struggling has become a kind of habit. We cannot resist being active, struggling all the time. We struggle even during our sleep.’

This is so true!! Even today when we are spending more time than usual in our homes there is still a restlessness that pursues us. There are many reasons for this. For one, we live in a world that equates productivity to self-worth. With the introduction of hustle culture, we are told ‘if you ain’t talking money I don’t wanna talk’ (I really enjoy that meme lol.) If what you’re doing doesn’t give you money or power or whatever, then you’re wasting time. It’s fine to want all those things, but conflating them to your self-worth is dangerous. It's helpful is to reflect on your personal values and goals. Those are the things that should motivate you and move you forward. Someone else might be working weekends to start their ice-cream business. If your goal isn’t to do that, then don’t feel like you need to!

I’ve had many times in my life when I’ve found myself on the brink of burnout. I wanted to prove myself or didn’t want to disappoint people. Often, the root of this was not having the courage to not do things because they were out of the scope of my goals at the time. This is something I still struggle with but I’m improving on.

Another reason we find it difficult to rest is that we neglect the practice of mindfulness. Technology has made us more connected, but it has also made us more distracted than ever before. Staying present and grateful for what's around us here and now is very difficult as a result. You should check in with yourself. How long can you be still and present? Is this a healthy space to be in? Would you like to improve this? The great thing is that mindfulness is a habit that can be built. I’m trying to cultivate it by using the first hour of my day to be offline. I use the time to engage with things that make me feel connected to my values. It’s tricky when Twitter is around, but I'm hoping to get better at this with time ;)

I’ll end the post here because I’d like to rest now haha! I hope you enjoyed reading this and that this holiday is a time of rest and thankfulness for you!