mai 8, 2014

Rest: An Apology

I wonder if you rest, Wonder. I mean enough. I bet not.

I don’t know if you realize the extent to which many of the problems that weigh on you arise from (or get amplified by) the simple fact that you are not sufficiently rested.

Why this question? Because I see these effects in almost every person I talk to. I see it in my own home regularly. I know I’d rather forget this question and just devote ever more energy to creating what I want. Yet I always pay the price when I make this mistake.

For several years, I’ve been advising people who have sleep difficulties. And soon I noticed that the biggest challenge for most of them was avoiding the accumulation of stress during the day, learning to disengage periodically.

What I didn’t anticipate, what I have come to see in my role as a « professional ally » of a wider range of people, is that almost everyone is in the same situation.

I used to think that one of the main functions of a coach was to help people do more, aim higher, redouble their efforts.

Now I see that more often my best counsel is for people to fulfill their basic need for rest (and pleasure). This need is so neglected, so undervalued, so completely ignored, that it starts manifesting itself in a more and more unpleasant manner, to try and get your attention.

Even then, many people don’t do the math. They wonder what their problem is. Why so much anxiety? Why so little motivation? Why such a bad back? Why this crushing feeling of lying under an unmovable weight? Should they push themselves a little harder? But how to do even more when they are already so exhausted that their ability to work decreases inexorably?

Real lunatics, I tell you. Real people of Laputa.

Play, rest

As an antidote, let’s visit again (for the second consecutive week) Martha Beck’s “business rule” – the rule she learned to respect after years of chronic fatigue and disabling fibromyalgia:

Play until you to want to rest; then rest you until you to want to play. Do nothing else.

The most difficult part of this rule is obviously the « do nothing else. »

I like that she doesn’t say « work, suffer, push yourself, persevere » – she says « play ».

I also like how she articulates in a few words this simple law that governs our functioning: desire arises again as soon as one is rested. There’s no need to « motivate » at that point; our natural enthusiasm is manifest.

The ability to disengage (in order to better re-engage later) is crucial for anyone who intends to create or undertake anything, and hopes to do so with increasing mastery, power, and pleasure.

This ability allows not only to be rested and feel good, but also to think better, to see further, to bounce instead of crash land.

Disengage regularly, every season, every month, every week – and several times each day.

Take a cue from your heart

Our heart, which seems to be a perfect example of an organ in constant activity, is actually at rest two-thirds of the time.

You read that right.

We live according to a regular rhythm too, just like our heart. We are bound to an ultradian rhythm (meaning « many times per day ») that pulses in a pattern that changes our energy level and our ability to pay attention. 24 hours a day, our energy fluctuates in time with this cycle, which lasts about 90 minutes.

At night, this pattern allows us to switch between different phases of sleep, from deep sleep to half-awake (or using the toilet) before sinking again into deep sleep.

During the day, it modulates our ability to pay attention, to be active.

This same rhythm drives our need for multiple moments of rest throughout each day.

Engage, disengage.

Play, rest.

To ignore this rhythm is to treat ourselves like machines. But we are not machines. We are pulsing cycles.


The #1 obstacle

What is the #1 obstacle that makes us put off indefinitely the need to rest? Guilt. Which is not really an emotion but a thought with the words « should » or « need » in it, as in:

« I should really put my nose to the grindstone. » « I should work harder.”  » I need to stop procrastinating and find my motivation. » « I need to get my ass kicked. » « I need to stop being so distracted. »

But guilt is just a mask that fear uses to make itself look like reason. A mobster who has once again managed to launder some money and buddy up with the mayor.

(We’ll discuss this more next week, with some paradoxical ideas for putting the guilt in its place, ok?)

To rest is not to force

« Yeah, I know I need to change this attitude, » you say, shaking your head and frowning. « I have to find some time to rest. Gotta change those habits. »

(Said while wondering how such a feat could be possible in the current circumstances. And knowing it will surely not be possible at the moment.)

No, please, don’t.

Don’t try to « change your attitude”, don’t try to « think different. » Don’t turn this whole thing into just another reason to criticize yourself and to try harder. Don’t assign yourself another job, another « must », another « should. » Please!

That’s all far too tiring. There is truly no reason to add another duty to your list. Especially since it’s not necessary.

« But it’s hard! »

No. If our fist is clenched, it’s not « hard » to stop making a fist. Unless we try to unclench it with the other hand – which is frankly counterproductive since the hand is designed to release itself if we just stop forcing it to clench.

Just slow down enough to notice when you cease to want to play. Or to notice that you have been past your limit for a long while.

If this is the case, open your hand and let it rest a little. Go take a nap. Stare in the distance. Go water skiing. Go for a walk. Pick some adventure.

But that’s enough for today. I’m going to rest by taking a walk in the sun. It’s really spring now, and it’s not too early.

photos:, Colton Witt