After spending the last few years in a whirlwind of activity—working on my upcoming book, organizing #AmplifyJuly, and balancing everything else that comes with being a professional and a mother, I was beyond ready for my month of rest, this August. What I didn’t expect? Struggling to rest. I left for Singapore committed to rest, feeling very inspired by Tricia Hersey and her book, Rest Is Resistance. Tricia’s work “is a pathway to the rest practices needed to collectively build and imagine new worlds as we simultaneously dismantle and deprogram ourselves from the systems that prop up and perpetuate the racial, social, and environmental harm done by white supremacy and extractive capitalism.” Even though I knew that my reluctance to power down stemmed from the ways in which I’ve internalized how much my worth is linked to my ability to work, I found it difficult to decouple myself from this idea in practice. Only after a week or so did I turn the corner and realize how beneficial that quiet was for me to literally power down and just be.
Anne Lamott says: “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”
This made so much sense to me, and I needed to power down for a few weeks, in my case. During this time, I re-committed to a daily yoga practice, which I’d been out of since before the pandemic. I spent time with family and friends for no other reason than to connect, no other agenda. I didn’t respond to emails. I napped every single afternoon, surrounded by the familiar scent of my mum’s cooking and childhood photos around me. Overall, I realized the true value of rest as a tool of resistance (again, big thanks to Tricia Hersey). This is not to be confused with rest as a way to fuel more productivity, which I’ve generally seen the conversation around rest focus on. I’m talking about rest for the sake of rest.
Spending time with my mum, Seema, is the definition of rest and home for me.
What happens if we aren’t able to rest?
A lack of rest means more of us operate from a place of scarcity and chronic stress. In fact, 48% of employees report having burnout.
But another symptom of a lack of rest is the feeding of a scarcity mindset.
As Shankar Vedantam says on the Hidden Brain podcast, “When you have scarcity, and it creates a scarcity mindset, it leads you to take certain behaviors which, in the short term, help you manage scarcity but in the long term, only make matters worse.” When we are operating from a place of scarcity, we’re going to have tunnel vision around our immediate needs, and we may also be convinced that there’s not enough to go around.
For me, I’ve seen this scarcity mindset result in a lack of collaboration, generosity and compassion, in the workplace and in society.
Why is it so difficult to rest?
Scarcity is supported by the pillars of white supremacy (as Sahaj Kaur Kohli writes in her blog, “Cultural experiences that reinforce scarcity mindset”), including fear, perfectionism (or the belief that there is only one right way to do things), either/or thinking, individualism, and urgency.
These pillars have permeated our culture, which is one of the reasons why for so many of us, when we find ourselves with an opportunity to rest, we’re unable to fully release ourselves to it out of fear of scarcity. In short: we need to keep working or we’ll lose out to someone else.
Struggling to rest isn’t a personal shortcoming, it’s a symptom of hundreds of years of conditioning to constantly be productive for systems that weren’t built to benefit historically underestimated communities.
The view from a celebratory lunch with my family and friends in Singapore
In an act of resistance, I’m aiming to write my next book from a place of abundant rest.
A major theme that I’m exploring is how operating from an abundance mindset drives fundamental social change. I can think of no better way to do this than to leave scarcity behind and find moments to genuinely rest. I haven’t found the perfect formula yet, and may never, but the idea is to build a lot of rest into every day and not berate myself if I don’t hit a word count or deadline. I’m setting liberal goals and saying “no” to most new commitments unless they feel in service of the rest I’m trying to cultivate—like coffee with a friend, a yoga class or a walk and ice cream with my child (debatable whether this is “rest” with a high-energy 7-year-old, but you know what I mean! :) ) When we cultivate rest, we are better able to broaden the tunnel vision that a scarcity mindset traps us in. From there, we can be intentional about crafting an abundance mindset, supporting our communities and planning for a future that is mutually beneficial for all of us. How can you find moments of rest this week? Do you find it difficult to rest? When you’re unable to rest, who benefits from your lack of rest?