Ahhhh …. Summertime!!
That time when we can allow ourselves to slow down, to go on vacation, read light books, watch frivolous movies, bask in the sun, smell the roses, go on road trips, paddle, hike, sleep, dream and ….. rest.
Ahhh …. rest.
Some of us actually live for these moments. (or is it just me???)
We say to ourselves, “I just need to get through this …” and I can rest.
We run even faster so we can give ourselves permission to stop. We hit our vacations screeching, squealing, sliding-into-home-base, scraped, bruised and utterly exhausted.
Our culture is one of work before play … rest is the reward for a job well done. Few recognize it as a health requirement, a profound and natural human need.
In fact, our play periods can be so fleeting that we can barely recover from what we did to ourselves to take the break.
Since I graduated from high school, this has been my MO … work like a maniac, take a week or two off, and then start all over again. I’ve spent a lifetime measuring the success of my week checking off boxes and saying “Good Girl”.
I’ve been looking at this pattern for a long time, and I’ve made progress, but the last year gave me new insights into rest, and its profound importance … as part of our day-to-day living, not just as a reward for hard work.
It didn’t come easy.
Just over a year ago, my world turned upside down for several months with a stunning diagnosis of breast cancer. It came out of the blue, discovered in a routine mammogram. When the news came, it came in like a dust devil – fast and intense and nothing returned to its original state.
I had just launched a new group program called “Soul Map Intensive: 5 Weeks to Dream and Discover Your Soul Work” and I was excited and nervous about my new offering.
Just as I pressed send on the first email, the call from my doctor about the breast cancer diagnosis.
Shock was the first response … and I gabbled “But, how do I plan my summer? I have this new program I am offering!” and she said, “Don’t plan ANYTHING!”
I started pulling cards and runes to see if I could make sense of this insane twist of events. Each card came up with things like “the unknown”, “the void”, “you don’t know anything” – basically, I got no clues at all. I was flying blind.
The only option I had (I’m sure there were others, but I didn’t see them) was to surrender.
I postponed my group program and I let my clients know I would be out of commission for a few weeks until things got clearer.
And, now I can confess it – I felt this strange, sweet sense of relief … some space opened up and I had permission to stop. Just stop. Not tomorrow – NOW.
And, not just for a week or two.
At the heart of this maelstrom, an awareness was dawning on me that this diagnosis came to me as a gift, an offering and it was here to serve me if I could give myself the space to allow it.
That this experience was happening with me and for me – not TO me.
Surgery came and went, as I recovered, I sank into some form of rest. But I intuitively knew a few weeks weren’t quite enough time to get the rewiring I needed.
I knew I couldn’t go back to life the way it was, even though it was better than it had ever been before …
I burned myself out so many times in the past, and while I wasn’t close to that old experience of crash-and-burn, I was aware of an inner motor that wouldn’t switch off, a relentless drive in my nervous system.
I was noticing this really tight wire cord (called duty, responsibility, people pleasing, busyness, productivity, The To-Do List) and, in me, it felt like this really fine wire, embedded in my heart and soul – squeezing me tightly, cutting into me at times.
So familiar I could barely see it – as close as my own breath at times – tied into my being so completely that it felt like who I was, just my natural way of being … working hard, striving to do more, to do better, to learn and grow, be a better spiritual student, wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, coach, cook, housekeeper, accountant …. You get the idea.
The difference between this time and other burnout times is that I was (still am) absolutely in love with my work. I loved (still do) my clients, our sessions, and all the things I pondered and shared in my outreach.
I was feeling fulfilled, and still, I found a relentlessness in managing it all – clients, goals, writing, speaking engagements, planning, launches, programs, sales conversations, accounting, scheduling, and professional development.
All this in addition to managing my family’s needs – paying bills, making meals, doing laundry and cleaning, scheduling appointments, driving everywhere, listening to my husband and son with some level of presence, and on and ON.
And this was actually better than any other time in my life – believe it or not!
Another strange sense of spaciousness appeared when my oncologist told me that I would need four chemotherapy treatments over a 4 month period, and a short course of radiation after that.
It wasn’t exactly good news. I wasn’t the least bit excited to go through the experience but I could sense that this was possibly the game changer I needed.
So I surrendered again.
Through the fall, I found something exquisite – something all too rare in my life — a space to rest without judgment, without making myself wrong – where I could just lie on the bed, because I couldn’t do anything else, and rest.
I didn’t do my spiritual practices, I didn’t read (I couldn’t focus). I barely opened my computer and I didn’t have any real decisions to make … except for sweatpants or pajamas, cap or scarf? What chair, couch or bed would I choose today?
I watched SO much TV and I loved it!! Gilmore Girls, Britbox and Netflix and so much stuff … it was all SO GOOD!!!
It was the simplest time in my whole life – and that sounds so weird. But I will say, I wasn’t carrying any fear around the cancer itself – it’s just something I didn’t go through.
I was in a parallel universe and it was one in which I felt very safe and free – one where I was taken care of and receiving so much care and love. I knew that I was being supported beyond all expectations, even though I was doing nothing.
For once, nothing to prove. Nothing to achieve but rest itself.
It was truly a Divine experience of resting and receiving, knowing that life was unfolding in perfection without me managing it … it was indeed a game changer. I was free.
When I emerged from this experience a few months ago, I was left with questions – how can I merge these two universes, where I have meaningful work that I love, with people I love, and have this experience of rest and freedom? I don’t want to have to go through cancer and chemo again. And I don’t want that for anyone else.
How will that work?? It’s a question I’ve been asking and continue to ask … and as always, when the student is ready, the teacher appears.
Both of these are women of colour in the US, and I have only dipped my toe into this world, I know it’s a pool I want to swim in.
Not only do they offer insight into how to rest (which is way harder than it sounds and is very individual) but they discuss why resting is so difficult and how we, as a culture, got here.
So – how did we get to this tightly wound space?
This is a question for each of us to examine – but what I know is this – it’s not your fault.
We are raised in this culture to be productive – in many cases our ancestors’ lives depended on it, and it’s been passed down through generations. We still operate from that place on a cellular level.
Our cultural conditioning, our whole economy is based on productivity and output.
As a result we’ve become over-identified with what we do for work, with our to-do list, with our accomplishments on the outer plane.
And very little attention goes to the inner world where we can refresh our bodies throughout the day … stopping to breathe, to stare into space, perchance to nap.
We’ve forgotten what enough is …
We’ve outsourced our worth – all our systems – education and our economy is built on our productivity.
We’ve forgotten that we are not our performance.
We’ve forgotten that we are valuable beyond what we do.
Rest helps us remember who we are, beyond all this conditioning.
But how do we rest?
Octavia Raheem suggests many forms of rest, from simple breath practices, to taking time to lie down with blankets and pillows and cushions with exquisite yoga nidra practices.
She invites us to discover for ourselves the beauty of quietude, in small, sweet spaces – and for each one of us it will look different: a walk, a change of seats, a piece of poetry, a cup of tea, a snack, a shower, a cuddle with a pet, a meditation, some dancing, some stretching, a chat with a friend, some gardening, cooking something nourishing … Just stopping.
It ain’t easy!
As often happens, I entered my post-recovery time with a strong commitment to make rest part of my new consciousness – I was going to build that time into each day and honor my body and recognize this human need for rest.
Ha!!! The Universe laughed!
I returned to what I imagined would be full-time work in March, when Life had some interesting tests for me. My brother, who (along with his incredible wife) normally cares for my 94 year-old dad in Canmore – an hour away – had a critical health issue which put him in the hospital for a month. It was a scary time for all of us, for so many reasons.
On top of that, my dad, who’d just moved to a care home, still needed a lot of support to settle, and he was falling a lot. My siblings and I had a lot of sorting out to do, and we all stepped up in incredible ways. I am so proud of our family and how we coped.
I also have a teenage son with some particular health and education needs, and that load amped up at the same time. Suddenly I was spending many, many hours driving and caring for those I love the most.
I continued to work part time, doing sessions on the phone, meeting clients in parking lots and generally making it work – and all the grace continued to flow. But holy shit. It was a little bit nuts.
It wasn’t easy, and I kept asking myself that question. What about rest?
I struggled with it and here’s what I have learned so far.
Rest can be in the small moments. A space in between breaths. A few moments to just sit between things and tune in to how I was feeling, physically, emotionally and energetically. (I have a 10 minute version of this on my website – here’s the link)
During the drives, I chose to listen to something I wanted to listen to. I chose to pay attention to the view. I chose to look at the mountains and appreciate this vista that was millenia in the making.
I took space where I could find it.
I dropped many balls. I continue to drop them. If I owe you a call or email, I haven’t forgotten!
I remembered to keep doing things for myself, including exercising, attending services at the Centre for Spiritual Living and taking classes that fill my soul. Remembering that these things are for me, helped calm me down.
Each client session in my practice fills my soul. The healing is as much for me as it is for the individual before me.
And, I forgive myself. Mostly.
I am in the process of rewiring my system for rest. It’s a big job.
I don’t have the answers yet – I am still in the process of discovery for myself, but I know it can’t just be just another thing I have to check off on my to-do list.
I am living with the inquiry and will share more about what I learn as I go.
And I will share the practices and resources that help and inspire me in my newsletters and on social media as well.