The idea of “rest” was something I didn't think about much until I was well into my mid-40s. Blessed with more than my fair share of energy, I was the baby who never slept at night, rarely needed a nap, and lived in perpetual motion once I got mobile. My exhausted parents referred to me as the “wind-up toy.” Turn my crank and off I'd go.
My "energizer bunny" way of living worked throughout my youth and even well into adulthood. Oh sure, I learned to sleep better along the way. But I didn’t sit down much. I was usually on the go. And if I did get a chance to sit, my brain picked up where my legs left off. If I wasn't moving, I was thinking.
I come by this excess of body and mind energy honestly. I didn’t fall far from my paternal grandmother’s tree. I don’t remember her ever sitting down as I grew from a kid to an adult, except for perhaps during Sunday church service. She was always doing something: fixing dinner, making a cake, watering her plants, pulling weeds, harvesting figs, delivering a pie to the church, visiting with someone in need, walking 2 miles per day, sewing a new outfit, fixing something that was broken...the list went on and on. Even into her early 90s, she kept up much of this pace.
I excelled at following her example—letting my energy level drive my life. As my adulthood progressed from student to working gal, then adding on the roles of wife and mother, I kept putting that energy to use. I rarely stopped for a true refresh or recharge.
Even with a belly full of kid, I avoided resting until my size, my painful sciatic nerve, and premature mini-contractions (called Braxton hicks) sidelined me. And that whole idea of sleep when the baby sleeps in motherhood? Not for me. Apparently, I didn't think I needed rest like all the mere mortals moms around me. Yikes!
But Then Everything Changed...
When I was 46, my body said “no more!” My unbounded release of mind and body energy without an equal or greater allotment of recharge came to an end. I wasn't listening to my body's desperate pleas for rest, and so it got serious and dealt me a doozy—a breast cancer diagnosis.
Everything changed at that moment. I realized my life (even though it looked pretty darn healthy on the outside) needed a serious overhaul. My immune system had faltered. It had gone off-line. Rogue cells were allowed to multiply unchecked until they had quite a party going on.
While my "perfect storm" had many factors contributing, one of the biggest ones was my lack of rest. I didn't know how to turn off my constant activity and mind chatter. Allowing my body to just "be" was foreign to me and even a bit scary.
School of Rest
One of my first lessons in rest came from my alternative cancer caregivers in Mexico. I spent every day for six weeks with 10-12 hours focused on treatments—most of which required me to lie or sit down for 30 minutes to one hour per treatment.
It took me a while to adjust to this new way of being. I fought it at first. My body may have been resting, but my mind didn't. My voracious reading habit came in handy to keep boredom at bay. Then when the treatment lights were too bright to read, I listened to books and music. Finally, exhausted by all my mind activity, I found a meditative space where I could occupy my thoughts by repeating mantras like the Buddhist chant “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo”. But even that wore me out. And that's when quiet finally filled my mind,and then my body fully relaxed.
Rest found me.
And guess what my body did after that?
It started healing.
When I returned home, going back to my previous life's body and mind activity level wasn't an option. I had learned my body and mind needed rest at regular intervals, and they needed it every day. Thankfully, my doctors sent me home with a comprehensive program requiring about three hours of treatments per day. And that was my "new normal" for the better part of the next year. Like it or not, rest was now incorporated into my day-to-day.
Finding My Essential Self
After so much solitude during those six weeks of intensive healing, I found myself craving my alone time when I returned to my home routine. I was quite surly when I wasn't getting enough. You see...I had finally met my essential self. And I liked spending time with her. My need for constant mind and body action had finally given way to peace and quiet. Thankfully my family was supportive of my need to escape to do my home treatments—most were just gross or naked enough that no one wanted to be with me anyway.
I began to see how my “energizer bunny” ways were an escape from me. I had become numb and disconnected from my source. My essential self had trouble delivering her quiet message when I was in constant motion or mind chatter. Instead I realized I had let my social self be in charge. And she had way too much fun blowing her whistle, telling me to drop and give her 20. She was an expert at bossing me around and keeping me moving at a fast clip. My social self knew how to kick in my competitive side or my paranoia just as I would get quiet.
My epiphany? I had to stop moving and thinking so much. I needed to feel my body and my emotions even when it was scary.
Today, I'm a lot happier, healthier, whole; and that state of being is largely dependent on how much rest I prioritize. In my Thrive Cycle, which I started using to filter my life about 10 months ago, "rest" stands on equal footing with "play" and "nourish." All three legs of the stool are required for me to stay balanced.
I'm quite amazed at how much of my life I can now categorize as "rest." My Kindle is pleased with this new way of being and campaigns for a significant allotment of pleasure reading time each day. My needlepoint hobby has kicked in to consume some of my rest activity. My baseball team, the Kansas City Royals, encourages me to sit, watch, and needlepoint many times per week. The in and out movement of the needle is very meditative, especially when I time my breathing with the needle.
Whether an activity can be considered meditation is often the first hint it can fit in my “rest” category. Writing, sitting, walking, and working meditation all count. You can find me walking meditatively around my yard with my dog pooper scooper in my hand as a form of rest (it has a side benefit of cleaning up the yard and I don't look crazy). My ability to park my rear on a pillow and stare at the wall for my sitting meditation is improving. I'm less and less antsy as I continue with the practice. My morning pages writing meditation also counts as rest. I've even turned cooking into working meditation and therefore rest. When I cut the carrots, I cut the carrots. When I brown the meat, I brown the meat. No other intention. No other mind chatter.
Of course, my "energizer bunny" still pops her head up every once in awhile. She still needs to move and dissipate some of her excess energy. But since I'm listening to my body more attentively these days, I'm no longer numb to what my body is telling me. Now I flex between rest and movement more fluidly. I play a little, I rest a little, and then I nourish. And so far, it's working.
Bottom Line: My thrive cycle is helping to keep my life in balance.
Thoughts to Noodle On and Share
How am I prioritizing "rest" in my life?
When was the last time my mind was actually quiet?
How do I fill my life with mind and body activity to avoid quiet, rest, and my essential self?