In Search of Rest

We all need rest. It’s a simple statement and a simple concept, isn’t it? Is it? I have been thinking a lot about rest as I have moved toward some time off from clients and supervisees. In each stage of trying to hive out this space for myself to engage in rest, I have had challenges. I’m not sure if the challenges are somehow greater than they were before or if I’m just more aware of them now that I am older, wiser and 17 months into a pandemic. I knew I wanted to explore this idea of rest for my blog post because it just feels so complex to me right now. Come with me will you?

What is rest? It’s partly biological and physical. We need to stop after we go. We need time to recover in our muscles and energy stores. It is in the rest between the movement that strength actually builds, our fibres knitting together more strongly than before or settling into a state of more length and spaciousness than they sat in previously. Rest happens when we sleep or sit or hang out in a hammock. It happens when we read a book or even watch a movie (ugh SCREENS ugh). The body gets busy with the rebuilding. It’s awesome. I have a fantasy that on vacation, I will take a day to sleep until I can sleep no more, sleep without the barest twinge of guilt for spending the day in bed, sleep and sleep and sleep and then I will feel rested. But you know what? I have realized that is not what I need. I actually get enough sleep. I have developed into a pretty good sleeper in my middle years, only occasionally woken by peri-menopausal angst, at least these days. (I know the future may hold something else.) So, physical rest is not what I’m really craving.

Rest is also psychological. You may have read about an idea called cognitive load. That is basically the amount of present processing that the brain is doing. When there is too much, things slow down, the quality of decision making drops and both cognitive and physical function are impaired. In fact, it is exactly like what just happened to my poor little laptop. Ever since I upgraded to the latest operating system, it is often in a state of too much in the moment processing and it gets hot and the fan is too loud and I need to shut it down and turn it back on. In people, cognitive load can come in the form of work roles, responsibilities and demands, family roles, responsibility and demands, but also systemic pressures and demands. Low income, poverty, racism and other discriminations all create cognitive load and it interferes with decision making and the capacity to do other needful things. This is one of the biggest arguments in my mind for Universal Basic Income. Relieving the constant pressure and worry of food and shelter will allow people to put more brain power to thriving. It is yet another excellent reason to work to make environments, programs and institutions explicitly anti-racist and anti-oppressive, so that the burden of navigating space is more evenly shared.

Cognitive load is big and real and exhausting. In my life, it is comprised of all my responsible roles: mom, therapist, teacher, school running person, dog and cat mom. Every one of them has pulled on me hard this year and when I go back to my fantasy of sleeping and sleeping, I realize that what I want is to be able to not think about any of these roles and what they pull out of me. I want to find a way to stop running all these subroutines and just let the processor sit idle. I am definitely not as good at that as just sleeping. My “vacation” is full of to do’s, curriculum review and marking. I’m going to have to work on actively forbidding myself to do things on particular days or maybe just going at a pace that doesn’t feel pushed like it does when I am not trying to rest. Wow, even that phrase, “trying to rest” reads like an oxymoron.

In these past three years, I have also come to understand deeply that rest is spiritual. The three years are utterly coincident with having extricated myself from a relationship with an alcoholic person. My spirit had been consumed with managing theirs for a really long time. This space, which feels less a space in the mind and more a space in the heart, is somewhere that I have found rest more easily, even in the midst of the pandemic. It has allowed me to access deeper different love and to be more present to the world, even as it burns. I’m accessing this spiritual rest, boringly, in my yoga practice, other physical movement and nature. It turns out that the divine really is that simple. Being attuned to a present moment and being in awe of the outer world sit in a balance. When that is happening, I’m resting, even if it’s biking up a rather unpleasant hill.

It’s evident now, as I write these last paragraphs, that my blocks to rest are highest in the psychological category. Quelle surprise! I’m also feeling very deeply that I have a good enough solution for the next two weeks of not seeing the people aka Vacation. I’m going to continue to sleep my 9 hours a night but I don’t need any more than that. I’m going to allow myself to complete some of my necessary, role dependant tasks every day but I will not consume entire days with these things. There will be lots of dog walks and hopefully a bike ride or two. There will be yoga, mostly in the Yin style. There will be some hard days too. My doggo has a no good very bad lump on her left front leg and some of these vacation days will be devoted to deciding what to do with that. There is going to be a lot of staring at trees and water. In fact, just now, I stopped writing for two minutes and stared at said water and trees. I am checking in with my body and there is the vaguest sense of unease, likely related to having to write a blog on my vacation, yet there is no regret there. This was a good exercise in figuring stuff out.

Yes, rest is simple, but it is also more than what an individual does or does not do. It’s essential to our health and we have an uneven access to it. We need resources to achieve rest in all domains. I’m super grateful for having those resources and when I am done this particular rest, I’m getting back to the work of making more space for the rest of others. For more inspiration about rest than I could ever evoke, go here:

This adorable sleeping black cat on a grey couch knows what rest means

3 thoughts on “In Search of Rest

  1. Susan, I’m so with you about rest. I know it’s not sleep I need, it’s psychological rest. And I haven’t figured out how to give myself an adequate space for it. I have trouble “resting” when my partner is “working” and we haven’t taken a “vacation” for all of COVID. I feel the cognitive overload. This piece reminds me that I need to just do it for myself. Some days in a row lying on the couch with a novel!

  2. For me, this nicely explains why I find restful vacations other people wouldn’t find restful at all. Like you, I mostly get enough sleep. It’s all the responsibilities and roles and relationships, worrying about other people, that I can’t turn off. The one time I can turn that off is in the middle of doing hard physical things. I’ve been reminiscing about long days on the bike in Newfoundland. I’m looking forward to a long back country canoe camping trip. There’s a kind of rest I find in motion that I don’t find just sitting around. Friends urge me too go to the beach, to sit and read fiction, and I do like those things. But they’re not restful in the same way. I’m rambling and I’m not sure if this makes sense. Sometimes I think I need a way to turn off the demands that isn’t intense physical activity, b/c it’s not always available. Zwift has been my substitute this year but it’s not a good alternative for all aspects of long days riding or paddling. Our 160 km Simcoe Loop trip was good. They don’t all need to be in cold shivery Newfoundland. Lol. Anyway great blog post. Thinking lots about it.

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