Rest is what I need at the moment, or so I’m told. But what is rest? For so many of us, rest can be elusive or even a little frightening. And often the things we think are restful leave us more drained, more weary.
Somewhat counter-intuitively, times of grief and illness can be the seasons when we learn the most about rest, because we are forced into it, and because the guilt often associated with it is somehow assuaged by having what is seen as a reasonable excuse to take it easy.
In any case, this strange season that I am finding myself in – one of physical and emotional exhaustion – is teaching me plenty about rest. Not that I’m an entirely willing student: one of the first things I have discovered is that true rest means keeping the company of your own emotions and relenting to the force of your own weakness. Yes, rest can be deeply unsettling, as it turns out, but it is also deeply necessary.
In our hyper-stimulated world, we become reliant on constant entertainment. The moment we find ourselves alone for five minutes, even just waiting in a queue, we reach for our phones and scroll through social media, play a game or check our messages. But constantly occupying (or rather, distracting) our minds like this means that we are never truly at rest. Not only that, we are in danger of losing our self-awareness and sense of identity. That’s why I think mindfulness is becoming so popular: it is helping us to re-find ourselves in an over-informed, over-indulged, overwhelming culture.
As I have said, at the moment I need a LOT of rest time. Sometimes I don’t want to, because I don’t want to allow melancholic thoughts a chance to creep in, I don’t want to feel that uncomfortable tug on my heart that means I’m a little sad and a little anxious. I don’t want to look at life with disappointment. If I keep busy, I can just about keep these things at bay. But I need to allow myself space to notice these feelings and thoughts, to accept them, and yes, to notice the positives too: to feel the sun on my face, to watch clouds congregate and drift, to take in migrating shadows over the hills.
For me, rest means quietness. It means a sense of home, a cup of tea, reading and writing. It means getting outside, swimming, praying. It means allowing myself to laugh and to cry. It means allowing my mind to wander and wonder.
Right now, rest means accepting low feelings and thoughts, allowing myself to notice them, not berating myself for them. And it means that one day, I won’t miss the onset of a brighter season.