The Gift of Rest

December 26th, 2009

‘What is without periods of rest will not endure.’ -Ovid

Rest is not the opposite of effort, it is the source, the nourishment, the energetic food for all that we aspire to accomplish. Most of us never really learn to savor the sweet release of rest, instead we give in grudgingly to our exhaustion, sleeping just enough to get up and start all over again, but never really surrendering to the empty, silent space that real rest takes up. I am not alone, not being one who rests. Our culture loves the rush, the frenzy of the chase; for most of us, resting is akin to laziness.

Our collective exhaustion is visible everywhere, although interestingly, according to a recent National Sleep Foundation study when life squeezes our time, it is our attention to our health and relationships that goes first. Work is reportedly the last thing to be sacrificed. Sadly one of the first things to go is our interest in and willingness to explore our sexuality. Being too tired for sex was the number one reason sited in a study of more than 1000 sexually active people. Not only the need for sleep, but the worry that you won’t sleep well often makes the idea of sex unappealing, which is ironic because sexual activity actually improves the ability to sleep for most people.

While resting can manifest in many forms, there is no more powerful restorative for the mind, body and soul than sleep. Even though our brain is never fully turned off, sleeping is the rest time for the brain, which allows it to recharge, repair neurons, archive memories and reorganize. Likewise, our heart, another organ which never stops working, also relies on sleeping periods to gain strength, maintain it’s flexibility and ease its daily workload by slowing down dramatically.

In fact, during sleep the body is flooded with hormones that promote relaxation and slows down all the organ systems. Sleep time is when our immune system has a chance to fortify us and when children grow. Normal sleep cycles also provide the brain an opportunity to process information at different vibratory levels. Dreaming is the inborn and most primary mechanism for dealing with daily stress. Many studies demonstrate that a significant proportion of our physical and mental ills start with our unhealthy relationship to sleep and rest.

I have long been guilty of thinking about who I am in terms of what I accomplish in my days. Resting and being still is not a place that calls to me because I am always so caught up in all that I have to do. And yet it is often this hyperdrive to accomplish that can often mislead me. Time after time, I find after the fact that the things I am compelled to complete would have better left. Leonardo Da Vinci remarked about the need for rest when he said, ‘Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer. Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen.’

Take this holiday and give yourself the bold gift of rest. See how long you could sleep and feel what it feels like to wake up rested. Get some distance from the day to day and then, looking back over your shoulder, see if the weight of your responsibilities appear different. Learning how to rest is the source of true mastery and the foundation of everything that is sustainable. Learning to savor stillness and witness ourselves independently from our endless activity will not only feed and nourish our ability to move forward but will likely open us to the joy and satisfaction that is the point of all the doing to begin with.

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