“When someone knocks on the door, think that he’s about
To give you something large: tell you you’re forgiven,
Or that it’s not necessary to work all the time, or that it’s
Been decided that if you lie down no one will die.” —Robert Bly, Morning Poems
If you lie down no one will die. Right. As a matter of fact, you will probably live longer and more happily. Getting enough rest really can improve all your relationships, especially the one with yourself.
But the culture we live in discourages rest and values speed. Whether it’s how quickly a drive-through can deliver your meal, how many gigabytes your internet service can download per second, or how many minutes you can shave off your commute, everyone’s looking for ways to live “faster.”
For what, though? What are we doing with all the extra time we’re supposedly saving? Are we spending it staring at a sunset? Reading poetry? Listening to music? Hugging our family? Perhaps. It’s just as likely we’re spending it surfing the web, comparing the best prices for our next purchase, or watching Netflix. Like you, I whittle away some of my free time on those things, too.
Stop Rushing to Start Living
In order to create calm, connection, and more meaning in life, however, we need to luxuriate in the expansiveness of an unstructured chunk of time every day. One of the best ways to experience the vastness of each moment is to actually stop rushing.
I know that’s a tall order. I’m a mother, and I lived through years of rushing. I rushed to get the children out the door to school on time, dressed, and with lunch; I rushed to get them to all their appointments and activities; and I rushed to put a nutritious meal on the table at a decent hour. I rushed and rushed and rushed so I could finally have a little quality time and peace at the end of the day. On reflection, I feel sad.
What would’ve happened if I hadn’t rushed so much? What would’ve happened if dinner wasn’t perfectly balanced, nutritious, and organic? What would’ve happened if—gasp!—I had taken it easier? I doubt the world would have stopped spinning on its axis or my children would have turned out badly. Maybe I would have felt more out of control. Rushing, doing, and achieving all paved the way for Pyrrhic victories where I felt as if I was in control but really wasn’t. So much of that behavior, in pursuit of goals I thought so important at the time, pandered to my ego. Of course, I didn’t know any better or I would have done better. I would have shown my children that the art of resting is to be cultivated, valued, and applauded to the same extent as productivity, achievement, and mastery.
Thankfully, my children also saw me lie on the couch reading, spend time socializing, sing them to sleep, take a vacation, go for a hike, savor a piece of chocolate, dance with them, and listen to anything they wanted to share with me.
The Power of Rest
Would I do things differently if I could go back and do them again? Who knows? One thing I’m pretty sure of, now that I’ve reached my mid-60s, is the healing, nurturing, and inspirational power of rest. The strength it takes to do less. To meditate and just be.
What if the real measure of success was whether we could feel peaceful in the moment?
Why does meditation work so well? To the uninitiated, it looks as if you’re doing nothing, after all. But actually you’re watching and naming your thoughts, paying attention to the various sensations in your body, and focusing on the breath. I frequently read of new studies showing how meditation calms the body, decreases pain, and soothes the nervous system. And yet we still focus on teaching our children how to excel at sports, get good grades, and work hard so they can be “successful.”
What if the real measure of success was whether we could feel peaceful in the moment? The truth is none of us know why were here. We may have theories, and they may make sense to us, but not one soul on earth knows why we are here. It’s just as likely our tasks are to celebrate and enjoy everything we possibly can. If so, a valuable skill set would be learning how to take it easy, slow down, and squeeze the joy out of each bird song, smile, and morsel of food.
Once we take the time to savor life, we almost inevitably find ourselves suffused with gratitude. It’s hard to feel grateful when you’re rushing constantly. It takes time and space to focus on what’s good in life, and sometimes, just giving yourself permission to be, not do, enables the grace of gratitude to surface. And when it does, each moment feels a little fuller, a little more satisfying, and a little more connected to everyone and everything.
Yes, I want my children to be able to navigate the world. I want them to feel confident, compassionate, competent, creative, and courageous. But at the same time, I want them to be able to rest. To notice, feel, see, hear, and take in all the beauty their hearts and minds can contain.
As my friend Robyn says, “Rest is a sacred act.” Unfortunately this act is not really valued in our culture. So if you want your children to fully embrace both the joys of accomplishment and ease, show them. Take time to lie on the couch and read a book, play games, make sand castles or brownies, look at the night sky, feel the cat purring on their lap, eat something slowly, or even to just be. At the end of the day, those unheralded skills are just as important as self-discipline, hard work, and grit.
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