As fall slips towards winter, as the trees here in the Midwest lose their leaves for the year, as the election cycle ends, this seems like the right time to contemplate rest.
We rest to reenergize ourselves for the struggles ahead. Neuroscience suggests that during sleep, our brains reorganize our neural pathways and remove toxins. We process our emotions through dreams and file away memories and learning. Our bodies heal and our muscles recover for the exertions of the following day. All animals have the physiological need for rest and recuperation.
We rest to recognize our own value and the value of those around us. In the relentless pace of consumer capitalism, we focus on production. Our value becomes tied to what we can produce, rather than who we are. Our value becomes tied to our own individual output rather than our communal connections. Rest can be a means to detach from that relentless culture. And since the culture of capitalism is intimately tied to the culture of white supremacy, rest can be a way to resist white supremacy and cultivate liberation.
We rest because we need it — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
And we need to reevaluate our relationship with rest. Too often, we think in binaries. We hold work to be the opposite of rest, and we spin from one end of this binary to the other…work non-stop for months, then take that vacation and lay on the beach, or work non-stop all day and then lay in front of the TV all night. What if, instead of viewing them as opposites, we integrated the two in our minds and in our living? What if, in each day, each week, each month, we found space for meaningful work and for meaningful rest?
Now, it would be foolish to believe that we can live a perfect balance of work and rest. In fact, this could create its own form of stress, as we get caught up in the self-criticism of not balancing them. And, as much as a balance is possible, it is much easier for the privileged to find it. A corporate lawyer can work long hours, rush his kids to all their activities, and then take that family vacation, where the grocery store clerk is simply struggling to make ends meet.
Instead of balance between work and rest, let’s just do our imperfect best to find one in the other. In our work, to the extent that we can manage it, where can we find opportunities for play and for rest? In our play and rest, where can we find opportunities for creativity and creation? If we looked for opportunities to integrate these ideas rather than balancing them, we could more fluidly sustain both of them. In our jobs, where do we make opportunities to play together, to create, to rest? In our play, where do we make opportunities to create something new rather than just consuming what others have made? As we rest, what new ideas percolate up out of our brains, and what excites us about those ideas?
Especially in this time of coronavirus, when we need to stay away from each other to keep one another healthy and safe, when the days can seem to blend into one another… it is more important than ever that we integrate work, play, creativity, and rest into our lives in a fluid way. But we are not there yet. Colleagues may be OK if we have our baby sitting on our lap during a Zoom meeting, but what happens when the baby starts crying? We may take some time with colleagues to get to know one another at the start of a meeting, but how do we treat one another as a deadline approaches? Our schools may start the year by having kids play fun games together, but what happens during the long slog of the school year as the kids are reluctant to log on, turn on their cameras, or do their assignments — do teachers respond by leaning into play, creativity, and rest, or by leaning into work and proclaiming, “It is their responsibility to do what I assigned them!”
Instead of criticism and judgment, let us lean into compassion. My experience is not yours, nor yours mine. Neither of us can do it all, and neither of us have lived through a global pandemic before. Let’s allow space for one another — space where we can each explore and live what it means for us to work, to play, to create, and most certainly, to rest.
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