Woman curled up sleeping in a bed of white sheets and pillows

In Defense of Rest

Anyone else feeling utterly exhausted lately?

Normally I’d assume it was just me and feel badly about that, but it seems like almost everyone I talk to is on the same page right now.

Tired. Overwhelmed. Burnt out. Whatever you want to call it, exhaustion seems to be the theme of January 2021.

And can you blame us? We have quarantine fatigue, election fatigue, compassion fatigue, and have been living with extreme uncertainty and fear for almost an entire year now. That’s to say nothing of the whole attempted coup situation…

It’s been a LOT. So perhaps it makes sense that we’re tired. I think a lot of us have gotten very good at “pushing through”, managing to keep things together and get things done, while simultaneously digging ourselves into a deeper energy debt in the process. I know I’m guilty of this, and it’s something I’m only beginning to shift.

What I’m practicing right now is being okay with my exhaustion. Holding it lightly. Letting it be what it is, and most importantly, actually listening to it. Like every human feeling, exhaustion is simply information, it is trying to tell us something. It’s telling us that we need rest.

* * *

Rest is such an undervalued concept, especially in American culture. Needing rest seems like a weakness of some sort, failure at a very core level. I think we’re all afraid that if we let ourselves rest, really take the time we need to recuperate and fill ourselves up again, that all our productivity will go out the window. This is definitely where part of my fear lies. I’m afraid that if I let go and let myself rest, push off that goal or that workout or whatever it is, I’ll become a complete blob and never accomplish anything.

But I’m learning. I went surfing recently for the first time in months, and literally the second I started paddling, I could feel my exhaustion. My arms were spent midway through the paddle out, and it took what felt like forever to drag myself out there. I could feel my weakness, my body just had nothing to give, and here I was paddling out into the ocean to spend hours chasing down waves.

And I tried, I really did. I paddled for wave after wave, my effort at maybe 60% of my usual capacity, and I didn’t catch a single one. I was never in the right spot, they kept rolling on through, and I just didn’t have the heart or the arms to catch them. After an hour or so, I had a completely revolutionary idea. I could simply paddle back in and sit on the beach while I waited for Jamie to finish up. I could stop trying that very moment, not in defeat, but in a gesture of deep listening. I could honour what my body was telling me, and go in and rest.

I’ve literally never done that before, not in over a decade of surfing. Sure I’ve paddled in without catching anything plenty of times, but I’ve always felt terrible about it, and fought to the very end in an attempt to avoid defeat. Feeling guilty for “giving up” before I caught something, sessions like that would leave me hostile for the rest of the day, ego bruised and touchy. I also couldn’t count the number of times I’ve stayed way too long in the water, trying and trying for just one more wave, only to eventually hit a wall of exhaustion so profound that I could barely make it back to shore, my body literally shaking with fatigue.

So it’s no exaggeration to say this time was a revelation. Bobbing up and down on my board, I sat with the idea for a minute and made sure it felt right. Then I paddled back to shore, threw on my hooded towel and smiled as I watched the other surfers, feeling proud of myself in an entirely new way.

* * *

This is now one of my big intentions for 2021 and beyond. To listen to my body and to honour my own needs, instead of acting like they’re some sort of inconvenience getting in the way of more “important” things. And I’m starting to get the hang of it!  I had ambitions of doing a specific yoga class every single Tuesday night this year, but last Tuesday, I just didn’t have it in me. Talking to another coach friend that afternoon, I realized that doing a few gentle movements and some squats for 10 minutes or so would honour my body’s needs for movement, without depleting my energy further with a full class.

This week, I had a bunch of things I wanted to get done, and then a bunch of things I needed to get done. It didn’t all happen. Staring down my to do list on Monday morning I was feeling absolutely awful about it all, desperate and anxious and super time-crunched trying to fit it all in. My big goal for 2021 is to get my new blog up and running and share something each month, and it felt like I would fail entirely if I didn’t hit “publish” in January.

When I actually sat back for a minute and thought about how I want to feel along the way to my goals, it occurred to me that pushing this start date back by a week wouldn’t be the end of the world. This too was a revelation. I’d been feeling all this pressure, this unbearable weight pushing down on me, without realizing that I was the one responsible. That pressure was completely self-imposed, and therefore I could also set myself free of it.

That old narrative started up almost immediately with “If you push it to next week, you’ll just keep pushing it and before you know it it will be 2022 and you’ll have done nothing. Nothing!” Forgive my french, but f*ck that. Yes my goals are important to me, deeply important in fact, but not at the cost of my sanity.

* * *

So this is the balance I’m trying to strike, and I hope you’ll give yourself permission to do the same. January is often a time of new goals and ambitions, and it can feel downright frightening to let up on those right now. But I promise you that if you truly give yourself the rest you need, you will emerge on the other side stronger, more motivated, and more powerful than before.

So please take this as your permission slip. Here’s a life coach saying “Who cares if you don’t meet your January goals!? Skip that workout if you need to!” I mean it. I really do. Like everything in life, work and rest must exist in balance in order for us to feel (and yes, to perform) our best.

So make some time for rest. Today and any other day you need it. I don’t know what rest looks like for you, or what’s possible, given the demands of your life. But I feel certain that, in addition to the external demands of your life, there is a lot of self-imposed pressure that only you can grant yourself freedom from.

So here’s to freedom, and here’s to rest,

Karen

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