I looked at the clock. It was 2:25am and I hadn’t slept one minute. I had been laying there for four hours, waiting patiently, hoping to drift off to sleep. But the moment I saw the time, I felt my last ounce of patience curdle into dread. I wasn’t going to sleep. The next day would be ruined: I wouldn’t be able to complete the tasks I had planned, either on my job or at home. That really cuts to the heart of my worry: it was not really about rest – it was about not being able to fulfill my perceived responsibility to produce.
In our capitalist society, the highest value is production, and rest is the antithesis of production. In this view, the need for rest is an unfortunate byproduct of work. In itself, it has a negative value. When you are resting, you are not producing. If we could only eliminate the need for rest, we would work harder, produce more goods and make more profit. And this profit would give us more control over the negative accidents of life.
This reasoning, as so much in capitalism, is internally consistent, but falls apart when we simply hold it up next to real people’s experiences in the actual world. We know that no person, no creature, no entity can work endlessly without stopping. Every being must pause to take in sustenance, to settle and adjust itself, to rest. And yet.
And yet the capitalist ideal of endless production sits out there, tantalizing us, seeming to be just beyond our reach. Though we know that we must rest, we feel driven to work harder and harder, produce more and more, increase our control to greater and greater levels. If we just completed one more task, earned a little more money, kept watch over our loved ones just a little more closely, we believe we could stop bad things from happening. It is a lie.
The truth is we are never in control of the outcome. No matter how much we sacrifice, no matter how much we give up, no matter how much we defer, we will never control what happens. That doesn’t mean it is all futile – that we should give up taking action. Effort can and does result in positive outcomes. It just doesn’t result in certainty.
That is why we need to pay attention to and lean into our need for rest. Rest is a promise. Rest is an invitation. Rest is doing nothing and gaining everything. We often equate rest with sleep, but we can have sleep without rest as well as rest without sleep.
Rest is a state of being. It is a peaceful night’s sleep. It is sitting on a park bench on a cool fall day with a good book cracked open, sometimes reading, sometimes not. It is laying on a blanket by the lake, looking up at the sky. It is time with friends and family. It is time alone. In this society that prioritizes production above all else, it is what each of us needs.
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