Several years ago, I read a book titled "The Rest Of God." It was a Christian philosophy book centred around the idea that we as humans tend to push ourselves to the brink, striving to accomplish, trying to become better versions of ourselves, earn Gods favour (a central theme in this book) and so forth. The author was trying to communicate that taking time to rest, taking time to recuperate and rejuvenate is important, and that our loving God wants us to relax and kick back every once in a while. So much so that he even told us how HE rested on the 7th day after creating the world.
I read the whole book thinking it meant the rest of God - as in the remaining parts I had not yet discovered. The theme was clearly resting. Even though I was expecting the book to be something different the whole time, I still feel I absorbed some of what was being offered.
See, I was so immune to the idea of resting at this point that I could not even recognize when I was being told to rest. Does that sound familiar?
Are you one of those people to pushes yourself until you break? Who works until you get sick? Who says yes to everything until you end up feeling like you need to hide under your blankets for several weeks until all your deadlines have passed?
If you are, I understand. Even after I let go of my Christian roots and started exploring my own version of spirituality, this idea that I was only as good as what I could offer the world stayed deeply ingrained in my psyche. This way of thinking is not exclusive to any religion or sect - it is pretty much everywhere.
I used to work full time, work out 2 hours a day, walk everywhere, do all the cleaning, all the cooking, go to school at night, run a blog and try to be a loving partner, friend and sister. For years I organized my life so that I never had a day 'off.' If I ever did have a day off I would get so uncomfortable and feel so guilty that I would create projects for myself. I was constantly on the brink of crying or falling asleep, but I could not let myself just relax and let go. There was nothing in my life I did just because I enjoyed it.
Guilt was huge for me. I honestly had thoughts like "there are starving children dying in this world, who am I to take a day to go lay around at the beach? Who the fuck do I think I am?"
The only problem with this? Well, there were several huge problems with this. Here is what they looked like in my life:
- I was never fully present in any of my interactions. i was constantly thinking about the next thing I had to do.
- I never enjoyed anything. I lost all sense of what was fun for me, because even fun things just felt like guilt.
- I made everything into work. I ruined fun things for myself and those around me by making them stressful.
- I lost touch with my personal boundaries and just ended up saying yes to everyone and everything.
- It made me flaky because I would say yes to everything, spread myself way to thin and then no be able to follow through.
- It messed up my eating because then the only source of pleasure in my day was food. This meant that food took a disproportionate place in my life. It was nourishment, joy, fun, relaxation and escape. Food should never have to fill all those rolls.
- It messed with my health - I was constantly tired, fully disconnected from communication from my body, using food as a drug, and I would have to get sick every few weeks because that was the only thing that would slow me down long enough to at least get back up to functioning levels.
- It messed with my relationships - again, I made everything work so I was not fun to be around. I could not centre myself be be present in a conversation because I was always onto the next thing so connection was weak.
- It continued to re-enforce my believe that I was nothing but my accomplishments. I really felt that if I was not 'doing' something I was nothing.
In short? I was stressed, depressed, strung out, had poor self esteem, poor health, and a whacked out relationship with food, my body and those close to me.
I was trapped in this cycle for most of my life. Then, one day, my dear sister sat me down and said to me:
"When are you going to start taking care of yourself? You keep talking about it, but you actually have to do it before it will work."
That blunt question and statement really hit home for me. I had been telling people I was going to 'try' to start taking better care of myself for a long time. The catch was that I had never actually taken any steps towards it, because I still believed I did not deserve it.
Does this sound like you? Do you feel guilty for doing things that are just for you? Do you struggle to relax and unwind without having to use food or alcohol or drugs to get you there? Does doing things just for you feel extravagant or selfish?
What I did to break this cycle was FORCE myself to start taking care of me. I chose 2 things I knew I liked doing - playing sudoku and watching 'Glee' and I carved out a time each day for a few weeks where that is what I did. I chose these two things because they were not self improvement projects thinly veiled as pleasure activities. I could have chosen walking or reading spiritual text or meditation - all things I still do - but I chose two things that were not going to be making me a better person because that is true rest. I was not going to give myself an easy out.
I did not let myself do something productive like cook, clean or write while I watched Glee. I just sat and watched it and enjoyed it. I did not listen to pod casts or spiritual development youtube videos while I played Sudoku, I just played.
It felt HORRIBLE the first few times.
All my guilt and conditioning and frankly - my bullshit - came up. I resisted. I fought it. I wanted to just stop and forget it.
Then, after the first few times, I started to look forward to my 'me' time.
I started to realize that during my 'productive' hours I had more to give the more I took the time to rest in between. I started to notice that I could relax a little when hanging out with Marcus and Sammi. I started to find that I could enjoy more things in a regular basis. I started getting sick way less often, and food started to become less of a battle and more of just something that was nice, but not my whole world.
Rest is essential. Pleasure for the sake of pleasure is essential.
You MUST give yourself permission to enjoy, to be, to experience without contributing something or learning something.
This will allow you to see yourself as you are. Full, whole, perfect, everything you need to be already.
It will not suck you into a cave of never contributing anything again, where you become a lazy sloth who sucks from everyone around you. In fact, you are most likely MORE like that as you do not let yourself rest than you will be once you do start letting yourself rest.
Give it a try. Choose 1 or 2 activities that are just for fun - not self help or self improvement - and decide to do at least one of them for at least 10-15 minutes a day. Know that you will hate it and resist it at first, but do it anyway.
You deserve it. You deserve love, time, rest.
You just have to see that you deserve it. So fake it till you make it 😉