Reclaiming rest as an urgent, meaningful, honorable, significant, enormously productive choice to create time/space for the richness of our inner lives to blossom.
Rest is as urgent, significant, meaningful, honorable and productive as any other purposeful act!
In my mid-twenties, I rarely slept more than four or five hours a night. I was constantly busy. By day I was running subjects for my dissertation research project at graduate school. At night I was working part-time as a waitress in an all-night cafe. As part of my psychotherapy practicum, I was seeing two clients each week at the low-cost university clinic. I would have an hour a week of supervision on my work with these clients and then meet with my peers in a two and a half-hour psychotherapy practicum. I was seeing my own therapist twice a week. And, aside from all that, I was seriously involved in two romantic relationships (one with a man and one with a woman).
When I had finished the research and writing for my dissertation, I began working as a half-time clinical intern/half-time research associate. The hospital at which I did this work was an hour's commute from my apartment. The research work (in a sleep, dreams and ESP research project) frequently involved doing an EEG-monitored sleepover or staying up all night monitoring another sleeper at the hospital laboratory.
Throughout the year-long internship I continued with the clinic clients, the therapy practicum and the supervision hour at the university. I did, though, end my therapy and one of the two romantic relationships. Then, I began sort-of-living-with the man I'd been seeing. That involved more commuting: dragging my clothes and paperwork back and forth across Manhattan in a large carpetbag as we spent part of the time at my place, part of the time at his and part of the time separately.
In place of sleep and rest, I drank an outrageous number of cups of coffee, smoked at least two packs of cigarettes a day and dieted rigorously, regularly taking an appetite suppressor without consciously understanding that it was an upper. (Just how much of an upper became clear when a friend, who'd taken one to stay up one night to finish a paper, found herself unable to get to sleep for three whole days.)
In my late twenties, I chose to move upstate to Buffalo, New York where the man with whom I had been sort-of-living had relocated for a research position. I took a full-time job as a counseling psychologist at the State University there. And, at the same time, continued to complete my work with the practicum clients in New York City. This involved commuting by plane for part of every week during my first three months in Buffalo.
Not too long after that commute ended, it became clear that neither Buffalo nor the full-time living-with part of the relationship was working out. I moved into my own apartment in Buffalo and began rebuilding professional connections in New York City. This involved me in yet another three-month-long air-commute. Hired as a visiting professor, I was teaching two projective psychological testing courses on Friday evenings and all day Saturdays at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan.
During both of these air-commuter periods, I worked four long-hour days a week at the University counseling center. Fridays I traveled to the City to teach (or see clients) and visit with my closest women friends. Saturdays, after my late afternoon class (or client), I'd catch a ride to the airport and return to Buffalo. Sundays were spent preparing food and clothes for the week to come and spending relationship time with one or the other of the two men with whom I was then involved. I never came up for air. Rest was not in my vocabulary.
I continued to live many variations of this breakneck pace until my 31st year. That year, something inside me came undone, hit me upside the head letting me know that I couldn't go on like this and survive. Severe back pains, vivid premonitions that I would die if I didn't get to some place green and some insight into the underpinnings of my nonstop busyness all combined to catalyze a major shift in my life.
In a struck-by-a-lightning-bolt moment, I realized that all my frantic doings (being highly productive in conventional terms, pulling off superwoman feats of accomplishment) had been misguided attempts to antidote a core sense of my own unworthiness. And, I understood that, if I couldn't feel okay or worthwhile just for being, no amount of doing could ever make me feel any differently.
With this new consciousness, I began the practice of committing to doing less instead of more every time I felt beset by my familiar sense of not being enough. I sought ways to dismantle my overwhelmingly busy lifestyle. I collapsed my workweek to three longer days instead of five shorter ones. Then, I rented a beach house for the winter so I could spend the other four days a week hanging out there. I stopped all the running around that I had been doing in the City. Instead, and at the beach, I rested: lounged, napped, read and took long, leisurely bicycle rides around cranberry bogs. The shift slowed me enough that I could begin to feel and recognize what was going on within me.
I thought about moving to the beach community and starting a psychotherapy practice there. My partner and I even looked at houses and consulted with a builder whose work we liked. Fortunately, before we went too far down this road I realized that, unless I found a way to address the deeper issues, I would simply recreate another too-busy life in this small village. The more I listened inward, the clearer it became that my only hope for the changes I needed (to help me learn to value my self just for being) required a radical disconnection, a putting down of all the roles and frameworks in which I had till then been living my life. I felt pushed from deep within to find empty time and a place in which to begin nurturing whatever it was inside of me that needed to be born. In a series of gradually decelerating steps, I was able to do this putting down, this carving out of space for germinating a new way of being in my self. (See Pirouettes for more of this story.)
Resting in the middle of my super-achieving life had opened a door for me. Over these next 40+ years, I've committed my self to reclaiming the significance, meaningfulness and productivity of rest as a purposeful act. I've worked diligently on learning to value, honor and love my self just for being. The two paths, not surprisingly, have been intimately interwoven.
Resting – unplugging, being unreachable for even short periods of time – provides us with the spaciousness we need for an inner life to blossom. The more in touch we are with our inner life, the more able we become to live from the inside out. We get to know who we truly are, to feel our own unique worthiness. We grow more grounded and centered, more able to act from a place of balance and self-awareness.
Yet, everything in our modern world conspires to keep us from addressing this need within us. Multi-tasking and over-full calendars have become the gold standard: the measure of a person's worth/importance or their credentials as a good parent. Laptop computers, iPads, portable FAX machines, beepers, pagers, increasingly multifunctional iterations of smart phones and proliferating social media seduce us into believing that never being unplugged or unreachable is a wonderful rather than a crippling thing.
All the high-tech, digital, state-of-the-art, laborsaving gadgets and gismos have helped us turn our selves into hyper-stressed beings (both adults and children) who feel we haven't time enough for all we have to do to survive. None of us ever sees the time we're supposedly saving with all these devices; that time is filled up with more busyness and doing.
And, what once might have been leisure time has also been co-opted. High-tech, expensive-equipment-intensive and extreme sports have replaced true leisure with activities that are evaluated in terms of accomplishments and challenges conquered. We count up miles run, biked, paddled, swum; heights/degree of difficulty of slopes skied, cliffs scaled, mountains biked, rivers rafted, etc.
The more we keep doing, the further we get from (and from valuing) our true selves. The further we get from our essential selves the more daunting it is to contemplate slowing down, resting and simply being with those selves. Yet, rest is as (or perhaps even more) urgent, significant, honorable, meaningful and productive as any other purposeful act. It is in the open, quiet, just-being time that we find and reflect on what is actually so for us. And, it is this getting to know what is so for and in us that provides us with the ground of being from which a healing, creative and healthy life flows. (See Rest is Sacred for more about this.)
Consider being really tender with and attentive to your super-achieving, rest-starved self.