It’s been nearly a month and I haven’t yet written up my Chicago trip. But it actually relates to today’s post, which has been percolating in my brain for the last few days.
The semester has started, and with it the sense of drinking from roughly 5 fire hoses at once, trying to manage all of the information and interactions and responsibilities. I worry constantly that I will drop not just one critical ball, but possibly all of them.
This year, I’m juggling more than I have in past years (don’t ask how many independent studies I’m currently overseeing…). And Thursday, I was pretty much at the end of my rope. I knew that I had to do something this weekend to make things better.
My mother’s solution? “Take a nap. You need sleep.”
Here’s the thing: I have this visceral reaction against taking naps. Why? It’s a couple of things. First, it feels like admitting weakness (I know it isn’t, but that’s how it feels). And, I just don’t like sitting and doing nothing, even if I’m not cognizant of doing nothing.
So a nap was probably out. But. There are other ways to rest. And I’ve started to – finally – realize what they are for me. Better late than never, right?
For me, rest involves doing. I know. That makes no sense. But hear (read?) me out.
When I went to the Van Gogh exhibit, I was actively doing something. Actively participating in an event that I wanted to attend. I am an art museum fiend. It’s partly because of how I grew up – we spent many, many vacations and weekends in art museums as kids. While we complained, of course, the blow was usually softened by visits to other types of museums and/or the promise of a quarter if we could find a painting our father wanted to photograph. (This is a really long story but it’s a hilarious part of our family history and an ongoing family joke.)
I learned to love art. I cannot create it – far from it – but oh, I can appreciate it. And I have my favorites. Van Gogh is one of them.
I lost myself in the beauty of the paintings. I was completely engaged. I spent time – as much time as I could – simply gazing at the paintings that spoke to me. Sure, I took pictures, to document and remember which paintings really stood out. But the 1.5 hours I spent in that exhibit were truly a time of rest for me. I didn’t think about my phone. I didn’t think about work. My whole body relaxed.
That is a form of rest for me.
Another one is sitting on a lakeshore, listening to the waves. I could sit there for hours, just listening. I may gaze at the horizon, but just being on the shore, listening, takes me out of my usual work-work-work focus. Hikes are much the same – I don’t go fast, in fact, I’m embarrassingly slow. But hikes, for me, are a time to savor. To take it all in – to drink in the beauty of the world.
I may not be napping, but my brain feels the difference. I feel the difference.
This weekend did not involve art, or a hike (sigh), or a trip to a lake (double sigh). But it did include a family Zoom. And attending a Zoom session yesterday on rest (how fortuitous) with David Whyte.
A few takeaways from the David Whyte session (note: these are approximations of what was said, not exact quotes…this is the essence of what I heard…)
- Rest is the ability to loosen our grip on existence. The way we’re holding our life on the periphery is preventing us from heartfelt engagement into the center.
- The ability to create a spaciousness, where you’re allowed to explore, you’re allowed to think.
- When we are busy and stressed on the edge of our lives, we tend to join company with others who are in the same way. Being overwhelmed is worn like a red badge of courage. There is a competition as to who is doing the most. Those who rest are not part of your world – they do not count.
- The act of stopping is the act of dying to that self. You feel as if rest is the enemy to what you’ve achieved on the surface.
- Give yourself time to inhabit a greater world than the one that you’re inhabiting in such a limited way.
So I’m going into the week knowing that there are still tons of meetings, and classes, and other responsibilities. But also going into the week having at least had a couple of hours of rest. I wish you the same.
An excerpt from a particularly appropriate David Whyte poem, The House of Belonging:
has to be
so you can find
the one line
Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.