Rest often feels like risk to me. Raised in the sixties and seventies with cries of “we can,” we powered into fights for rights and marches for progress for our collective hearts. “We can” and “we should” called us, with zealous urgency, to action. Our refrain was, “For humanity to grow more humane, we must serve a greater purpose.”
We got busy. We fancied ourselves as cultural change creators, who believed Rabbi Hillel, paraphrased by John F. Kennedy, “If not us, who? If not now, when?”
Society’s push starts in school. Finish that final paper to graduate and/or interview for jobs. Concoct resumes for future careers. Prove ourselves in workplaces. Date. Mate. Produce at work. Produce kids and nurture them with more awareness than we had. Blind with young naiveté, we strove to improve life. We bustled.
As young adults, we couldn’t rest. There was work to do. So we, or maybe I, matured without knowing the value of time-outs. We knew effort and efficiency, grit and elbow grease. Had we known these words, we might have adopted this from Shu Ting: “Perhaps, because of our irresistible sense of mission, we have no choice.”
But we, or maybe I, forgot the natural order of things. Some of us forgot the yin/yang of stepping into the world, then stepping back. We forgot to advance then retreat.
Even as grown-ups, with hypervigilance for the pandemic, with what matters in Black Lives Matter, with the need for climate change and key elections, rest can feel like risk. We do need, now especially, to be faithful to these causes. Yet today, between busy and busy, I dawdled with a friend over a cup of rooibos tea. In the cool breeze in low wooden chairs that lined the front of the cafe, with two hours of mid-afternoon leisure, the inner critic screeched, “Susan, what are you doing? You have things to accomplish. The world is in crisis. People need help. No time to waste.”
What if R&R, what if connecting with friends, does not waste time? What if rest is a resource? What if we do not help the world if we run and rush ragged through our days, through our lives? Not pausing, not taking a breath, not renewing our energy, costs our bodies and minds, saps precious life force, and exhausts our very bones.
My breathers might differ from yours. I seldom nap or laugh to Mash re-runs, though those pass as fine ways to chill. To recharge, I hike along the beach, amble with a nowhere-to-get-to posture, gaze at the high and wide sky, listen for the caw of gulls, touch gritty sand, smell mucky seaweed, and taste the salty air.
But the inner chatter gnaws, “You wanted to save the family today, the nation, the Earth. You haven’t. Come on. Let’s go.”
Maybe that muttering would quiet if it knew that without checking out at times, we tire out, wear out. Maybe the screams of the inner go-for-it coaches and cheerleading squad in our heads would settle if they knew that exhaustion is not the right energy to meet today’s pressing demands. Depletion is not a great practice or mental state for the hard tasks of being human. Burnout is not a strategy.
My friend recently said, “I don’t want rest to be special. I want it to be like breathing.” Maybe we do have choice in how we do the planet’s critical—yes, urgent– work. Maybe a little restful being amid all the important– often frenzied–doing is a risk worth taking.