It's been a while since I wrote a "rest" post, but I was so inspired by Ariana Huffington's commencement speech at Smith College that I feel as though it is imperative. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=UJ25qEHgcM4
As a young person, I loved to read. I would read and read and read. For hours. It drove my parents completely insane. I'm honestly not sure if it was because they thought that I should be vacuuming the hallway or emptying the dishwasher or simply playing outside...but, it made them bonkers. As a result, and in combination with the immense pressure I feel now as an adult to SUCCEED, I have a sh*t of a time relaxing.
I feel immense guilt when I sit on the couch and while away in a good book...or take a nap...or just be quiet by myself. It's as if I'm wasting minutes...seconds that I will never get back. Time that I could have been reading journal articles, or writing manuscripts, or composing blog posts, or exercising. What is that??!! Why are we so programmed to work? To run errands, and do chores, and be "productive"? It's not right and it's making us sick.
In her speech to the Smithies, Ariana said,
"Here's [a] fact that will likely be no surprise to you: the Millennial Generation, aka you, is the most stressed generation of all, outranking Baby Boomers and the gently euphemistic "Matures." Right now, America's workplace culture is practically fueled by stress, sleep-deprivation, and burnout."
Why? Because we believe that in order to be successful, we need to work our a**es off. Constantly at our edge. At work, in the gym, in our marriages and relationships, with our friendships, on our smartphones and ipads and macbooks...there is never a time when we check out. Because we've been told that is simply what it takes to survive in the world today.
...and I'm not talking about being busy. As it turns out, being busy seems to actually make us happier. Doing all the things that help to move us forward in life is important and gratifying. What I'm talking about is not being able to shut off when we have a minute. We constantly feel compelled to check and answer email, or update our online status, or check in with the tragedies of the world. Even when we go on vacation we tweet and facebook and instagram. We leave "away messages" on our email accounts, but in reality, we're still checking them. It's truly a problem. Because this long term exposure to stress can actually rewire our brains to continuously be in a state of stress, whether or not you are behind your desk or lounging on the beach.
I am not immune to this insanity. I got up this SUNDAY morning (on a holiday weekend), drove my husband to the airport at 6am (for work), came home and cleaned my house, taught a spin class, answered a crap-load of emails, went grocery shopping and to Home Depot, planted the herbs I got at the store (without really paying attention to how cool they are), and then...at about 4pm, sat down on the couch with the pups and a new book (ironically, a book about yoga) and just tried to relax. No dice...my mind was racing, my guilt over doing "nothing" was raging.
I was thinking...should I go to yoga to chill out? And then I was thinking...wait, what??!! You're sitting on the couch, snuggled to two of the warmest little nuggets in the world, and you want to leave this to go work out (for the second time today?!) because you need to calm down? Something is not right in Denmark, folks.
The problem is, I know what I'm doing to myself. I understand that being mindful, and getting enough sleep, and paying attention to the little things is essential. And, I'm trying...! It's just SO hard to do that, on top of everything else. Yet, I also know that I have to.
So, what am I going to do about it? Two things:
Not to worry...I'm not going to start binging on comfort food. I'm talking about taking time this week to search for recipes, buy fresh and healthful ingredients, and unwinding in the kitchen. I cook pretty much every night, but lately I've been on total auto-pilot. Easy quick meals that I don't have to pay a lot of attention to whipping together. But, this week, I will reset that pattern. I know it's not sitting with my feet up, but right now it's the best I can do. I'm not at a point, either mentally or within my daily schedule, that I can just stop. But, I can spend time mindfully working ingredients from the earth in my kitchen. Making sure that I pay attention to the plants, chopping thoughtfully, mixing intently, and tasting fully. A culinary exercise in mindfulness.
2) Make a plan for true rest.
Right now, I can't take a vacation. I can't go away for the weekend. I don't have the time or the funds. And that's ok. There is a time for it all. As summer approaches, I can make a plan for escape. In fact, it's already in motion. My goal is to spend as many long weekends as possible at our new house in VT between the months of June-August. Now, even this isn't going to be rest in the literal sense. I'm not going to be lounging around on those weekends. This "new" house is in fact very old and has a lot of work to be done. But, it will be a place of refuge and relative quiet. A place to unplug from the work that will certainly be there when we get home (because there is no internet or cell phone service). A place to be grateful for the opportunity that same hard work has given us.
And this disconnecting, I believe, is so key. As Ariana said in her speech, the constantly wired way we live today is not working.
...it’s not working for anyone. It’s not working for women, it's not working for men, it's not working for polar bears, it's not working for the cicadas that are apparently about to emerge and swarm us. It's only truly working for those who make pharmaceuticals for stress, diabetes, heart disease, sleeplessness and high blood pressure.
So, even if it's only through chopping basil and mindfully contemplating the impossible intricacies of mixing oil and vinegar for dressing...I will unplug. Because I have to. I have to practice it now, so that I'm ready to truly be still and quiet in the coming months. Because if I don't....if we don't...no matter how many hours we work, or how much money we make, or how many papers we publish, we are not whole and well. The rewiring of stress patterns in our brains is proof. It is a major shift, but shift we must. Because this constant overstimulation and overstress is unsustainable. We must #Rest.