This week, I’m in Texas visiting my mom and re-teaching myself how to rest.
Life at an 81-year-old pace is a bit different than what I’m used to. It always takes me a couple of days to ease into a gentler rhythm. Don’t get me wrong, Mom is healthy, vibrant and much more active than most people her age. In fact, of all the things she has taught me over the years, slowing down has not been one of them. But still, life is calmer for me here.
I can’t really blame my mother for not helping me build my slowing-down skills because I doubt she was taught them either. Rest is not rewarded in our culture. From our earliest days, we are praised for our achievement—learning to walk, good grades in school, winning at sports. Later we are honored for things like promotions at work or hours of volunteer service. I can’t remember ever being lauded for replenishing myself with quiet time and relaxation. Rest is the reward at best, but it is more often seen as a weakness. It is certainly not viewed as essential.
But if we turn to nature, we notice just how vital it is to slow down. In winter, trees go dormant. Their metabolism, energy consumption and growth slow significantly in order to endure the harsh season when water and sunlight are scarcer. Some animals hibernate for a similar reason. And think about how much time your dog or your cat spends lying around. No one has to tell them to give themselves a break–they listen to their bodies and rest when they need to. All of our nature buddies know innately that rest makes them stronger.
Yet we humans are living in an epidemic of running too fast and existing in a world of distraction. It’s addicting, and my dirty little secret is that busyness is my “drug” of choice. I’m working on breaking my habit, and I have Covid to thank for a jumpstart. The initial isolation period forced me to go cold turkey, but it showed me what life could be like at a slower pace. I found that unplugging helps ground me, long periods of quiet make space for creativity, and time spent tuned out of the external world tunes me in to a lush inner landscape. Rest de-stresses me and makes me more effective.
Unfortunately, as summer unfolded and the outside world began to open up, I found myself creeping back into old habits. My calendar started getting crowded, and my to-do lists grew longer and longer. Although there is no basis, I suffer from a notion that I am running out of time to do my part to create the kind of world I want to leave to my grandchildren. And I want to spend time with my family. And see my friends. And play with my horses. And learn how to speak Spanish. And…. Hence my self-imposed retraining.
One thing I’ve noticed in my re-learning process is that resting doesn’t come naturally to me. It helps to schedule it into my day, even if it’s only for 10 or 15 minutes. Maybe the art of slowing down is easier for you; perhaps you’ve even mastered it. If so, I’m open to ideas. I’m certainly not going to ask my mom!