By Rebecca Horch, BACYC, CPC
All life is made up of rhythms. Look around you and notice. The sun rises and falls daily. The tide comes in and promises to go back out again. Plant life sprouts, grows and dies again, fertilizing the earth for more life to grow. Even our bodies move through a cycle every month. Nature cycles through these rhythms with no apologies, and no agendas. The sun doesn’t need to meet a deadline before it sets. The tide doesn’t need to ask permission to move in and out. Nature doesn’t need to fight for the right to rest.
As human beings, we have created systems that are paradoxically opposed to what nature shows us everywhere we look. We live in a work harder, longer, and faster culture that refuses us rest until we’ve met some invisible goal. We have become human “doings” rather than human “beings.”
So how do we re-adjust when we start to notice this has gotten out of hand? When our kids have soccer practice and piano lessons. When dinner needs to be made and lunches packed for the next day and the house is a mess. When deadlines at work are calling us, or we haven’t had a date night out in months because there is just no time. When we lay awake at night, thinking of all the things we didn’t do today, hoping to do tomorrow. When we want to save for that family vacation next year, knowing that means even more work and more exhaustion just for a week away with our families. What are we supposed to do when the system of requirements has outgrown our capacity to keep up with it?
Our culture, media, and capitalism in general has convinced us that we have no choices. If we rest, we will fall behind and never catch up again. If we take a break, we won’t be able to keep up with the Jones’. This is even true in our wellness culture. Somehow, we’ve managed to monopolize self-care into our hustle culture system! Just read one more parenting book and THEN you’ll be where you’re “supposed to.” Just take a bath, or get a pedicure, or have a glass of wine every night to wind down. That’s self care, we’re told. But it’s not. It’s actually a placebo, a type of self-bypassing. And it can cause even more problems if we aren’t careful. More and more women are developing alcohol dependencies. More and more marriages are falling apart because we’re replacing what they actually need – therapy, rest, connection, and hard work with “We’ll just go on holiday next year.”
The frustrating thing is that in many ways, these cultural narratives are actually telling us the truth. If we slow down our “drive”, we may actually fall behind. We may actually not fit into the puzzle of our culture. We may actually suffer some natural consequences. And for what?
So, do we have no hope then? Are we servants to the system forever? Maybe not…
I saw a reel on Instagram recently of a little girl crying as she noticed the leaves fall to the ground in the autumn weather. Her sweet little voice shook as she lamented over the thinning of the trees around her. Her father turned to her and said “It’s ok baby, it’s nature!”. As I watched, I noticed a part of me wishing I could reach through the screen and hold her little hands, look into her eyes, and say “The leaves are falling because it’s time for them to sleep. They know that if they don’t fall to the ground, they can’t help the tree keep growing. They’re resting and will return in the spring.”
Somehow, we have convinced ourselves that we are different from the rest of nature. That we are better or stronger. But the truth is nature has it right. If we follow its rhythms, it shows us exactly what we need. The leaves fall to fertilize the ground so the tree can grow stronger. Our rest is our natural, God-given fertilizer. As we take breaks, intentionally choose joy and presence, and as we sleep, we fertilize our souls so we can grow stronger. We are no different than the trees. And yet we tend to shame rest, don’t we? Think about it, think about how often you’ve “jokingly” called yourself “lazy” for choosing to do nothing on a Saturday afternoon. Think about the guilt you feel if you don’t sign up for all the events, or don’t go to the gym every day, or don’t work extra hours just for the sake of your “image.” When did “satisfactory” become something shameful? Satisfactory means we are meeting expectations! That is a good thing! But we’ve been convinced by this “hustle” culture that satisfactory isn’t good enough. We must EXCEED expectations in everything we do. What an exhausting burden!
Do you know what these beliefs are causing? An epidemic of burnout, and mental health issues all around us. More and more people are being diagnosed and medicated for anxiety and depression. Young children are picking up on the stressors of their family, and are being referred for therapy at a rate that far outweighs the number of therapists that have the expertise to work with them. If we don’t begin to take a stand for our right to rest, our next generation will be even more deeply entrenched in these belief structures.
Any change to a system is going to take people standing their ground, and holding to their boundaries. These don’t have to be done in big grand ways. This can be done with small, minute steps in your own life. It’s like a mini revolution.
Meeting our basic needs is not a luxury, it is a priority.
We can learn to start saying no. No, our kids don’t need to be in an extracurricular activity every day. No, we don’t need that Disney vacation next year when we are just as happy going camping in the summers. No, I don’t need to save up for that kitchen Reno. No, I will not work longer hours if I don’t absolutely need to in order to pay our bills. No, I will not volunteer again to make cookies for the bake sale unless it is something I want to do. No, I will not give up all the time I get to spend with my partner for a few more dollars on the paycheck.
NO I WILL NOT KEEP UP WITH THE JONES’.
And with this, there will come natural consequences. It’s like when we start parenting our kids differently. When we begin to allow them all their big feelings without fear of retribution, guess what is going to happen? They are going to have more tantrums. It is a natural consequence of good parenting. The same thing is true here. When you start prioritizing your rest, there will be natural consequences. You may not ever be able to keep up with the Jones’.
But guess what will happen? You’ll notice space. Breathing room. Once you’ve stepped off the hamster wheel, you’ll look around and see that there are others there too. You will start to find the people who have done the same. You will find a new community. It may not be the Jones’, but it’ll be the Smiths, and the Millers, and the Johnson’s and so many others that have chosen not to keep up with anyone. It’s going to take one person at a time, one family at a time, choosing to say “no.”
I think it’s important to remember that the majority of the people reading this post are in a place of privilege. There are people where finding rest does not come easily at all. For them, It is not simply about wanting to live a more “fine tuned” life. It is about survival. I myself grew up in a home where rest in itself was an extra luxury. This is why it feels very important to name that in some ways, treating rest as if it is a burden is heartbreaking to those who often need it the most. We have the privilege, and in that privilege comes a responsibility. When we access our right to rest we have more of ourselves to give to our families and communities. This is just the truth.
Sometimes we have to pick the best quit. Sure, you may be giving up or “quitting” on some of the hopes and dreams you had for a more luxurious life, but you’d be choosing yourself. Choosing your mental health, physical health, and family health. Only YOU get to make that choice.
Mary Oliver says, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
So what will it be? Quitting on the “dream” or quitting on “yourself?”
I really hope you’ll join me in choosing ourselves, our one wild and precious life, and fighting for the right to rest.
Rebecca strives to support others in building resilience, self-compassion, connected relationships and self-awareness. She loves to work with people who are ready for the hard work of inner growth and is passionate about helping others tap into their intuitive gifts and use them in this world.
connect with us on instagram