Yesterday I spent most of the day working on a tax issue for my business. I had tried for a week to resolve this issue over the phone and through email and finally decided to drive down to the tax office. I showed up unannounced at the wrong building. They kindly sent me to another one. I walked all over downtown Charleston in the stifling humidity looking for the office to no avail. When I finally asked someone to help me find it, they pointed to a building right in front of me.
You know those days, those days when you do a lot of sighing and shaking your head, that’s the kind of day it was. I won’t even describe what happened once I went inside. Let’s just say it wasn’t good news, but there were tiny mercies, like the woman helping me who was kind and compassionate and the fact that I didn’t end up in jail.
All of that had put me behind on many other things that needed to be accomplished. I had emails to send, people to call, and planning to do for upcoming workshops. The experience had emotionally drained me. I shouldn’t have been drained. After all, dealing with challenges is just part of life, right? I should’ve been strong and resilient and able to detach myself from the emotionality of the experience.
However, I have enough compassion for myself to know that “shoulding” myself is not loving or helpful. So once the problem was resolved, I did what I needed to do in the moment. I went home, crawled into bed, and took a nap. I rested for two hours in the middle of the afternoon, with a hundred little things left undone, without an ounce of guilt.
Rest is not valued in our culture as it is in some. Productivity, accomplishment, and activity, now those are valued. Over the past several years, studies have shown the power of sleep on our overall health and well-being. More and more people I know are recognizing its importance and trying to get more sleep.
But still it seems to me that many people are a little embarrassed by their need to rest. They see it as a weakness. They push themselves from one stressful activity to the next without any time for pausing, without listening to their body’s cry for rest. They often don’t see rest as a sacred gift, a gift that allows us renewal and refreshment with little effort on our part.
Rest can come in many forms. It can come through sleep, but it can also come through simply committing to stop for awhile, to stop all the figuring out, the problem solving, the activity, the busyness, and just be present where we are, to accept where we are, to rest from the struggle, without trying to change anything. We can rest in sleep, in meditation, in music, in books, in nature, in breathing, in anything that gently allows our spirit to float, to coast, to empty.
What if we committed to resting whenever we need it? And I don’t mean dropping into bed exhausted and lying there obsessing over what we should be doing instead. I mean really resting, really giving ourselves permission to relax into the moment with no agendas or planning or striving, even when we are in crisis, no, especially when we are in crisis.
What if we stopped feeling guilty for giving our bodies, our minds, our spirits exactly what they are created to need? Rest, sacred rest. What if we stopped seeing rest as a luxury or a guilty pleasure but instead as a responsibility we have to ourselves and those around us, a responsibility to care for ourselves?
Rest is magical to me. I can fall asleep with a giant looming problem in my life and awaken to find a tiny manageable one in its place. I can be certain there is no way, no hope in a situation, and after resting, see a gleaming sparkle of possibility. I can leave for a weekend retreat with a life that seems completely out of control and arrive home with a deep gratitude for my amazing life.
We may be resting, but the Divine Spirit is working within us, shifting us, changing us, strengthening us, softening us. I think that’s what Wayne Dyer meant when he suggested “doing nothing yet leaving nothing undone”. We can trust the Divine is caring for us, holding us, transforming us even in times of rest. We can choose to see rest, not as a weakness, but a tool, a tool for renewal, for healing, for restoration. We can believe that rest is a loving gift from the Divine. I pray that we will be willing to open that gift over and over again as often as needed without an ounce of guilt.