“What is without periods of rest will not endure.” Ovid
Rest and recuperation is the only thing on my Christmas list this year. In the two weeks since my surgery I have worked a ridiculous number of days, insisting on getting things done instead of getting quiet. It has taken a toll. Starting today I am giving myself the gift of rest, which is not the opposite of effort, but rather its source.
Resting provides the nourishment, the energetic food for all that we aspire to accomplish. I know I am not alone in not ever really having learned to savor the sweet release of rest. Instead we give in grudgingly to our exhaustion, sleeping just enough to get up and start all over again, but never really surrendering to the empty, silent space that real rest takes up. In our hurry-up culture that loves the rush, promotes the frenzy of the chase, resting is akin to laziness.
Our collective exhaustion is visible everywhere these days, because lacking rest also deeply impacts how we feel about our lives. We don’t attend to what is most important when life squeezes our time. Instead, according to a recent study by the National Sleep Foundation, it is our attention to our health and relationships that goes first. Our work commitments are reportedly the last thing to be sacrificed. Tragically, one of the first things we sacrifice to our exhaustion is our sex drive, and with it our intimate connections. Being too tired for sex easily devolves into living in a sexless relationship, which is one of the top reasons cited for premature break-ups. The worry that you won’t sleep well can make the idea of sex unappealing — which is ironic, because sexual activity actually improves the ability to sleep for most people.
While resting can manifest in many forms, there is no more powerful restorative treatment for the mind, body and soul than sleep. Even though our brain is never fully asleep, actual sleep time allows the brain to recharge, repair neurons, archive memories and reorganize. Likewise, our heart, another remarkable organ which never stops working, relies on sleeping periods to gain strength, maintain flexibility and ease the workload by slowing down dramatically. In fact, it is only during sleep that the body is flooded with hormones that promote relaxation and slow down all the organ systems. Sleep is when our immune system has a chance to fortify us and when children grow. Normal sleep cycles provide the brain an opportunity to process information at different vibratory levels. Dreaming is perhaps our inborn and most primary method of dealing with daily stress. Many would say that a significant proportion of our physical and mental ills start with our unhealthy relationship to sleep and rest.
I know that I have long been guilty of thinking about who I am in terms of what I accomplish with my days. Resting and being still is not a place that calls to me because I always believe I have so much to do. And yet, especially now, I see how my hyper drive of getting things done can and does mislead me. In truth, most of the things that I feel must get done would be better left until I felt better. Leonardo Da Vinci once wrote, “Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer. Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen.” Rest is the source of true mastery. This holiday I want to learn to savor stillness and find myself separate from the endless activity that consumes my days, and lately my health. Hopefully it will not only feed and nourish my ability to move forward but help me to a rediscover the joy and satisfaction in my busyness.