Following on from my last blog "From here, I can give" about getting our own needs met before serving others, I want to highlight that this doesn’t only apply to getting our needs for touch or intimacy met relationally, but about our ability to listen and value ALL of our body’s needs.
One of my body’s needs that I have struggled most with throughout my life is my need to REST. Whilst I am usually able to sleep well at night, taking time during waking hours to slow down and recharge is something that has been quite alien to me. I would listen completely baffled as I heard friends speak about taking a nap during the day! Not because I too don’t feel the need for rest, but because I believed that rest is something that is earned by working hard throughout the day. Any calls by my body to rest before then were tuned out as irrelevant.
In this post, I will share some more about how this has played out for me and some of the realisations I have had about why I wasn’t valuing this need.
On one hand, I believe it is part of my nature to be "high energy". Even as a young child I would wake up at the crack of dawn full of energy and rarely pause for a moment before I reluctantly collapsed into bed at night. Even then, I would be fighting the tiredness, trying my hardest to keep my eyes open, in case I might miss something interesting. Apparently, I was the same as a baby and my Mum would often have to put the washing machine or vacuum cleaner on as a way to occupy my busy brain!
On the other hand, being perpetually on the go is something that has been associated throughout my life - both in my family and the wider society in which I grew up - with gaining a sense of self-worth that I couldn’t find within. I believe it’s deeply embedded into the mindset of many “working class” people who, for generations, have been led to believe that we are disposable cogs in a manufacturing machine. Working hard was necessary to keep a job and to keep food on the table. Working HARDER than those around us might just have granted us the possibility to glimpse a life beyond what we knew, to “make something of ourselves”. I distinctly remember being told on more than one occasion in my corporate life that I HAD TO work harder to overcome the fact that I was “young and female”, or - even worse in their eyes - “someone from a rural, working-class background”. It was also the justification given for why I was consistently paid less than my counterparts. In a world that is all about output, it didn’t stack up and yet I took this on board as the truth.
These ideas of somehow always being on the back foot regardless of how well I performed were reinforced throughout much of my career in the corporate world, where cultures of overworking held people in their grip. And all of this despite the HUGE amount of privilege I had as a white, literate, non-disabled person in a society where these are the dominant “norms”. In these environments, people were consistently given more work than they could reasonably complete within their contracted hours with the expectation that they would complete it or be easily replaced. The negative impacts - often on those who already had the least financial security - were not only unseen but actively turned away from, after all, there were profits to be made.
Unsurprisingly, I entered into quite a toxic relationship with work - I had my strongly held beliefs about needing to work harder than anyone else to prove my worth, and here was an environment that was more than happy to reinforce them. After years of being stuck in a cycle of burnout, I had what I would describe as a breakdown.
What made it so terrifying at the time, is that I was reliant on doing and accomplishing things as my primary source of praise or validation. It was the deeply-rooted belief that “if I am working hard then I am a valued member of society”. When I became unable to work for a period of time, I lost a big part of my identity and my perceived value. I braced myself for the inevitable rejection, the further loss I’d feel when people realised that I was no longer a valuable human. And what happened? Well, kind of the opposite. Friends swooped in to help me - to go with me to my GP appointments, to let me know they were there if I needed to talk, and to drive me to the beach so that I could sit and watch the waves. They were also shocked to learn how unwell I was and had been, as I’d worked hard to not intentionally show my vulnerability and to cultivate this facade of being “unflappable”.
I don’t think there was a single thing that prompted the breakdown, rather it was my body’s way of saying “no more”. For years, I’d been refusing to feel a whole bunch of pain, grief, and trauma, trying to bury it deep so that I could keep on doing. I owed my body this time to stop and heal, and to figure out what was actually true to me now that the beliefs had been uprooted. The breakdown gave me the permission to stop which I couldn’t give to myself.
Nowadays, I work for myself and at the very centre of this work is learning to listen to my body and what it needs. I have the additional privilege now of being able to create a way of working that actually suits me as an individual. I can choose when to work and when to take time off. I’m afforded a lot more flexibility than most AND YET I don’t get this right all of the time! At times, it can feel like even more of a challenge to slow down and rest when I know that I am solely responsible for paying the bills, or - as is more often the case - when I’m so fired up about my work that I WANT to be immersed in it all of the time!
On the flip side, all of my experiences, from the breakdown to setting up my own business, have taught me that I can’t wait for someone else to tell me to take a break. This needs to come from within and it’s an ongoing practice for me of noticing how I feel and what I need each day to resource myself. It’s only when I am resourced that I can be in true service to others.
I have to switch MY OWN mindset from seeing myself as a resource to learning how to resource myself.
Now hopefully not everyone will go to the same extent of damaging their physical or mental wellbeing by ignoring their needs, but this tuning out can happen on many different and often subtle levels - in ourselves and in our relationship with the world around us.
The absolute horrors that we are now coming to terms with in our environment are not new. The extractive mindset has been behind the enslavement of humans, the abuse of livestock, the destruction of habitats, war, and many more atrocities. We CAN make a difference though by recognising where we have taken on this mindset - where do we treat ourselves (our bodies, our time, our energy) as a resource that only functions to be as productive as possible? And where does this thinking extend to those around us - in thinking about how we can effectively “manage” our relationships to extract the most from others?
So, back to resting. Would you think of this differently if you were to see it as a radical act of saying no to systems of oppression, or as an act of love towards yourself and those around you?
One thing that has helped me is to reframe rest from “doing nothing” to it being a way to experience being in a greater range of states, which I see as an essential skill to have in today’s world. Rest is an essential part of our cycle. When I slow down, I am able to reflect on what I’ve been doing, feeling, and learning. It is through resting that I actually harvest more from my day. Instead of rushing from one thing to the next, preoccupied and stressed out, I notice I have the capacity to think more creatively and to be more aware of what is happening around me.
What if we had enough energy to work and follow our pleasure, our passions, and curiosities? What if we stopped seeing ourselves and those around us as machines that work with a fixed output? What if we placed as much importance on our ability to reach deep rest states as we did on getting things done?
What does your relationship with rest look like? What would it be like to listen more to your need to rest? And what might rest involve for you?
- I still don't find it easy to nap, by the way, but I do find that "active relaxation" is often a more accessible way for me to get the state shift I need to reflect and resource myself, This can be things like going for a walk, reading, crafting, cooking, doing my self-pleasure practice, or dancing. Sometimes though, I simply can't beat being wrapped up in blankets or spooning!
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash