When was the last time you rested? Not scrolled through social media, not mindlessly wandering the internet and not numbing out for hours on Netflix. But actually resting and relaxing.
Time to recharge in a rested state is important for all our bodily systems. Our physical nerves are repaired and our body chemistry gets a chance to re-balance itself. If we are fully able to switch off, even our minds can settle.
But the thing is, it’s become something that many of us struggle to do.
Life is busy. There is always another task. Another news headline to scare us, or another thing to worry about. We’ve become such habitual users of technology, we can’t cope with turning off the devices. When we do get time to stop working, its often not long before we start reaching for our phone to look for … look for what? Well, often nothing. We just have an urge to pick up the phone and check. So long hours, that we used to let ourselves rest within, are filled with noise. Then the free time is over, and we never fully rested.
When we stop, I mean when we really stop, our nervous and hormonal systems can begin to settle. But, we’ve become so unused to empty time, that it kind of freaks us out! Try it today. Put away your phone, disconnect the laptop. Do nothing in particular. And find out how long it is before you wake up with a device in your hand, not even realising you picked it up again.
QUICK EXERCISE: If it’s not the devices, it’s our own minds. Stop. Breathe. Just sit. Try it for 30 seconds now:
What happened? If you are anything like most people you may have experienced your mind start chattering, noticed a body sensation or felt an urge to break the stillness by doing or saying something.
Can you remember when you were little, and could stare at the sky, seeing shapes in the clouds? When was the last time you did that? (Without taking a photo and posting it on Instagram).
Really, when was it?
We used to stare into the fire. Not thinking of anything in particular, just letting the mind drift. Have we lost that ability?
Have you noticed how many courses, programs and retreats there are now just to help people rest? I’m sure some are excellent, but it shows how hard it’s become that we want to pay people to cut off our access to technology and force us to do nothing. People pay a lot of money, and with good reason. We know we need it.
Because rest matters. We need to move, we need to eat and we need to rest.
But, resting is really hard work now, isn’t it. Schedule time for yoga. Squeeze in the allotted “downtime”. Forced quality time with family. And don’t forget to hold back a few hours for “self-care”!
But is that always rest? Sometimes it’s just another task added to an already overloaded diary. Another check on the list. Something else to beat yourself up for if you don’t manage to get it fitted in that week. Fitting in the rest time becomes yet another pressure. “Rest” can become bizarrely competitive!
What to do? How to rest?
Do nothing. That’s harder than it sounds!
Allow some time that it’s okay to achieve nothing, get nothing done, and let yourself do whatever you feel like doing in that time. Here are some ideas, but remember, the aim isn’t to do these things, the aim is to create a space where you can let go of aims, of worries, and of the need to be productive.
“Pottering” – this is a hugely under-rated (lack of) activity. Free time, often at home. Sometimes outdoors in the garden. But one can also potter in public. Just doing whatever comes to hand. That might be things like weeding, or tidying or re-arranging the bookshelf. It may even result in something useful being done, but the point is that nothing needs to be achieved. No pressure.
Losing yourself – in a book, or some activity you like, knitting, drawing, doodling, painting, cooking … whatever. Writing can work (in fact, it is for me writing this). Simply letting yourself be so fully in the activity that other things can be let go.
Hanging out with friends – (or alone) but not doing anything in particular. No pressure.
Staring – just stare out the window. Or go outside and stare at the sky. Stare at the birds. Go to the beach. Sit on a bench and look out to sea. Being on a train and watching the country roll past can be nice. Watch water flowing down a stream. Lie in the grass and watch the bugs. Stare into your coffee cup. Or even sit on the sofa and stare at the wall for a bit. What you stare at is irrelevant. What you think doesn’t matter.
Napping – particularly pleasant after a long day of doing something physical, like a long walk, then unintentionally drifting off.
Wandering – not hiking, not striding out with a route in mind (although that’s good too) but meandering, aimless bimbling, following the unexpected turns and going where the mood takes you. This can be done in towns and villages, particularly pleasant if there is some sort of architecture or features to catch attention for a moment. Wandering about a museum is an option too. Wherever you feel like wandering.
The purpose is that there is no purpose.
What about when the body and mind won’t accept rest?
That happens. Either from being to stressed and busy for too long, being subject to a traumatic event or just having forgotten how.
Start by noticing. Do you notice you can’t switch off? What happens when you have that time? How do you automatically try to fill it? Do you busy yourself? Numb out feelings with food, exercise, alcohol, binge watching? Does your mind start filling in the space with worries and concerns?
Be patient. If it’s too hard to stop, too painful to feel the stuff that comes up when you do, its okay to take it slow.
If you think it’s an issue, consider seeking help. Friends, family or professional support.
Try the classes or retreats. It may help to have someone take responsibility, to direct the day and let you drop the need to be occupied. Sometimes learning techniques to mediate and let go of stress is useful.
And if resting is too hard …
.. try “relative rest”.
If you can’t stop working, then try building more room for the less taxing things, and allowing yourself time to do them. If you know you are exercising too excess, then a rest might be taking a walk instead of a run. If you can’t collapse on the sofa and do nothing because that means listening to your thoughts, then watching rubbish on TV is, by comparison, restful. But see if you can notice the difference.
Then, can you slide that further. Do a little less.
For some of the time. Get some quality rest.