In January 2015, shortly after I sustained a brain injury from a fall in my apartment, my grandfather admonished me about the pace of my life.
He told me that I should take my cues from nature, pointing out that in winter the bears hibernate; they cuddle and snuggle.
His message was clear:
Slow down. Take time to savor life. Take on less.
Dare, even, to stop completely.
His advice fit with the instructions I received from the neurologist at the concussion center: Rest.
In his book Sabbath, Wayne Muller writes:
Rest is an essential enzyme of life, as necessary as air. Without rest, we cannot sustain the energy needed to have life. We refuse to rest at our peril — and yet in a world where overwork is seen as a professional virtue, many of us feel we can legitimately be stopped only by physical illness or collapse.
I am not like the “many people” Muller references.
I did not believe I could legitimately be stopped even by physical illness or collapse.
My life history is filled with stories of how I endeavored to push through physical illnesses, in some cases being stopped only when I physically could not stand up.
In those cases where I physically could no longer keep going — such as the time in high school when I was hospitalized for 10 days with an infection that almost killed me — I viewed the event as a detour, not an opportunity for rest.
How long will I be out of commission?
Each time I came back, it was with a resolve to push harder to make up for “lost time.”
The lessons were there for me; I didn’t want to learn them at that time.
Muller warns that if we do not create a space for rest, illness and accidents create a Sabbath for us.
This has been a recurring pattern in my life. Go-go-go at full speed until something stops me. Illness. Accidents. Burnout.
Like a car without brakes, I went full throttle until the only possible outcome: Crash and burn.
Learning How to Rest
I’ve had to learn how to rest. That may sound silly, but if you think about it, it’s not something we learn. They certainly didn’t teach it where I went to school. And based on what I’ve seen, I’m not alone.
Most of the things we think are rest — like putting our feet up and watching television or reading a book — are not rest.
The lessons of rest did not come easily to me.
They still don’t.
Two weeks into a vacation that I created with the specific purpose to rest, and I’m still fighting rest some days.
I like to stay active. I like to feel like I’m doing something productive.
The familiar string of thoughts — limiting beliefs — runs through my mind:
There’s so much I want to do in life. I don’t have time for rest.
There is work to be done.
Rest is for lazy people.
I can’t just sit around and do nothing.
Sometimes that’s exactly what we need to do.
My challenge is to stop fighting rest and learn how to surrender to it.
As my friend and yoga teacher Brandi would say,
Your most important task is the task of doing nothing.
It’s a lot harder than it appears.
- Wayne Muller, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives.1999. p. 19 ↩