Claiming the right to allow our selves to rest whenever we feel tired – regardless of whether we or anyone else believe either that there's "no reason to be tired" or that there's "no time for rest."
When You're Tired
When you're tired, rest…
Even when "There's no reason to be tired," and, especially, when "There's no time for rest!"
More times in my life than I could hope to count, despite the fact that I seemed to be doing nothing any outside eye could see, I've felt exhausted. The kind of exhausted that makes it hard to find the energy to get out of bed in the first place. And, once you've managed to do that, it's the kind of exhausted that then makes you feel like collapsing for a lengthy nap after you've barely brushed your teeth, made your chai and set out your vitamins for the day.
When I'd first notice this kind of total tiredness, I'd put my self through a long inventory of probing questions. The self-interview was meant to uncover what I might be depressed about. Because, of course, given our cultural mindset, not having the energy to get out bed and wanting to sleep a lot were both automatically readable as signs of depression.
Finding no signs of depression, I (like any not-yet-recovering super-achiever or any self-respecting member of our compulsively super-achieving society) would then move on to caustically challenging my right to feel the way I did. "You're not even doing anything! What have you got to be so tired about!" After these demeaning interchanges with my self, I would of course be even more ready for a nap, a really long one.
Over these past more than 40 years of traveling in the slow lane of life, I've been learning to accept my tiredness and exhaustion when they come. It's become apparent that it's ridiculous to argue with my body, to require it to explain itself to me or to require it to prove that it's not in fact feeling what it feels.
I've been learning, as well, not to take in messages suggesting that I should feel shamed by or inadequate about my feeling tired for no apparent reason. As I've gotten older (at this writing I'm on my way to my 73rd birthday) there have been increasing challenges to my acceptance of my occasional tiredness or need for rest. In our youth-obsessed media/culture, tiredness and low energy are portrayed as shameful signs of aging, of being less valuable, of not being able to keep up/be vibrant/be youthful. Certainly (the media would have it) these signs are meant to be hidden/masked/medicated or herbal elixired away. Boundless, unflagging energy as the Holy Grail, sigh. Oh, spare me! I hold and value a very different image of juicy aliveness.
The thing about acknowledging my body's needs for rest and naps is that, when I give it what it craves, I feel so much better. If I lie (or stay) down when the first waves of tiredness hit, it usually doesn't take very much stopping to rejuvenate and re-energize. When it does require more than a little bit of stopping, I've taken to lavishing my body and being with just as much resting as it needs. These days, I can allow my self to luxuriate in the voluptuous sensuality of resting, napping and lolling about doing nothing. It's taken a lot of practice to get to this. But, it's been a very satisfying journey. And, I get to feel like such a radical revolutionary.
One of the important revelations along the way of this practice and commitment has been understanding that tiredness that doesn't seem to have an external cause is almost always a sign that significant emotional or consciousness shifts are happening below the level of my awareness. (These typically do, after a while, reveal their substance to my conscious mind.)
It's no surprise that we rarely consider how energetically taxing conscious and less-than-conscious emotional work can be. We live in a culture that gives little value or credibility to inner work or the emotional side of our experiences. How we deal with grief and loss – being strong, stoic, getting on with life quickly (the Jackie Kennedy model) or taking anti-depressant medications to "get back on one's feet again" – is a case in point, revealing the crazy, devastating disregard we generally have for emotional processes/processing.
I've seen that my tiredness and exhaustion also come from unacknowledged internal demands I've lived with. I've been run, most of my life, by a pressing need to come to completion or closure in anything I was doing before I could have my own permission to take a break or rest. It never seemed to matter whether it was something significant (like a paper or report) or something fairly inconsequential (like the dishes after company for dinner or cleaning my house). I'd keep pushing through till every last "t" was crossed, the last dish dried and put away or the last mat shaken out before I could let my self take a break or unplug.
On top of it all, I was a dedicated list maker. Resting and taking breaks were always postponed till I'd finished whatever was on the current list. Of course, by the time I'd get near the end of the original list, a secondary follow-up list had already been generated; still more to keep pushing through. The moment when the reward of rest was finally earned or appropriate never seemed to arrive.
I find my self apologizing to my poor body for all the times I have, over the years, forced her to push through her tiredness. This pushing usually involved combinations of coffee, chocolate, food, diet-pills and tuning out on my body. Pushing through always costs. (Even as it is so positively reinforced in our culture.) It requires using up some of one's core energy, the non-replaceable energy that doesn't fully replenish with the resting that's been delayed till much later than when it was needed.
I feel sad that it's taken so long for me to stop these socially approved of ways of mistreating my body. But, I'm grateful that I don't and won't do that to my self any more. I've had to work diligently at letting go of the insidious imperative of needing completion in order to deserve rest. Part of the work has been experimenting with defining smaller bits-of-completion that I could reward with breaks. Some of it (very brave and edgy) has involved just going ahead to risk taking breaks smack in the middle of the activity. And, a good deal of it has been the delightful outcome of my evolving commitment to the revolutionary notion of rest and rewards first, work second.
I've also experimented with limiting my list making to grocery lists, errand lists just for a particular day's travels out in the world and occasional lists of clothing, etc. to be gathered for a trip. Every once in a while, the old urge overtakes these limits and I feel pressed to write things down because they're noisily circling in my head. I've learned not to take those getting-things-out-of-my-head lists as imperatives. For the rest, I practice surrendering into the faith that Spirit/my inner self will lead me to whatever needs doing or remembering. This actually works amazingly well and in the most magical ways.
As I've moved further into the habit of taking unearned breaks before or without completions, I've realized something about those over-the-edge periods when we're feeling the crunch of time pressure, constantly watching the clock and whipping our selves into an hysterical frenzy over how what needs doing can't possibly be done in the time available. These are interludes when rest and breaks are more essential and productive than ever.
During these times, our bodies and psyches are screaming for some moments of heads-down, stop-the-world, take a few deep belly breaths, stand up and do some stretching, stretch out (even on the floor) for ten minutes, walk outside to get some fresh air, read a few pages of an unrelated book, space out. And, the strange truth is that in these crunch times, even the most minimalist rest-breaks actually help us to be more efficient. When we are faithful to the practice of bringing them into the picture, these breaks interrupt the momentum of the tension and frenzy. They unknot our brains and our energy, allowing us to flow more freely in our tasks.
I'm suspicious of all messages, no matter from where they originate, that tell us that there's no time for rest. Telling our selves that or telling our selves that there isn't time enough to do what has to be done are both ways that we shoot our selves in the foot. When we instead decide to tell our selves that we have enough time, that we in fact have all the time we actually need – these messages open up our psychic space and become the truth of the matter.
Coming out-of-the-closet about our tiredness, honoring it, our need for rest and the sacredness of rest are – in our more-bigger-faster-yesterday culture – radical, insurrectionist acts. It helps things along when we can consider turning off cell and regular phones and going off-line for even some small bits of time. Being always accessible adds significantly to our exhaustion and makes resting/down-time much harder to come by.
Part of being a revolutionary for rest is speaking out, loudly and proudly for the time-out that one is taking. As more of us value rest and openly acknowledge the acceptability of our feeling tired, we help subvert the dominant paradigm of whirling super-achieving as the epitome of worthwhile humanness. I love it when someone I haven't seen for ages or someone new to me asks what I'm up to these days. It tickles me so to watch their disconcerted reaction to my exhilarated "As little as possible!" response.
It's important to for us to gather as much support as we can while we move to reclaim the sacredness of rest and the righteousness of feeling tired. Two of my favorite writers are Rest Radicals who speak out loud about resting. Susan Kennedy, better known as SARK, has written the ultimate nap book: Change Your Life without Getting Out of Bed. Most of her other truly delightful books are full of insurrectionary rest messages as well (do visit www.planetsark.com). Anne Lamott's columns in back issues of Salon (the on-line magazine at www.salon.com) are often liberally laced with rest radicalism. Her Traveling Mercies, Plan B and Grace, Eventually essay collections are wonderfully counter-the-dominant-paradigm in this and other self-care domains.
Consider the possibility of resting whenever you're tired (what a concept) and consider celebrating your courageous self whenever you do just that.