So I don’t suppose it’s surprising that I’ve been thinking a lot about rest recently, having just spent over a week on a tropical island where I had full permission (from myself) to take a time out from the patchwork uncertainty of my life and enjoy each day as it came without much of a plan and consequently with many occasions of delight.
I’ve also been reflecting on stress and that feeling of being under pressure about all kinds of things, which are often vague or essentially small in themselves, but which add up to a definite disturbance of the peace.
And, friends, I confess that in part this post has taken so long to write because I’ve been too tired to finish it, and in part because I needed to live into what holy rest really means before I could offer you anything useful to reflect on.
Rest, self-care, managing energy and the work/play dynamic are not at all straightforward. I’ve been struck by the words of Father Greg Boyle, who founded Homeboy Industries, and has been working with gang members in LA to restore hope and healing for the last 30 years.
In a recent interview on Nomad podcast, he responded to a question about how he sustained his energy by saying something like, ‘If it doesn’t give you joy you’re not doing it right.’ And also, ‘if you love loving people, then there’s always energy for that’. And one more, ‘if you do this work to make a difference to someone else, then you’ll burn out. If you do it to be made different, then you’ll be delighted.’ These aren’t actual quotes, but they’re close.
When the podcast hosts discussed Greg’s perspective on where the energy comes from for loving and living, they weren’t sure that an introvert would have the same experience of loving generating love and delight.
As an introvert myself, that doesn’t seem unreasonable. And yet I wonder…is it that if I remember the deepest truth of my connectedness, the fullness of holy abundance and the eternal and joyful flow of divine love which is the powerhouse of the whole universe then anything I do will be flowing with the giving and receiving energy of Love? Or is it that I need time out by myself to re-connect to that flow when I have inevitably lost the plot?
28 ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’Matthew 11
Sink in, soak up and savour the invitation in these words. They are an open handed offer of a lightening, a loosening, a letting go of the shoulds, the must dos, the have tos…
Find some time and a space where you can read this short passage out loud and listen to how it sounds to you. Read it through again a few times and notice if a word or a phrase catches your attention and take some time to reflect on what your word means to you, and what your soul may be responding to/spirit may be telling you for your life.
Once you have followed your own process with the text, you may also like to reflect on these questions:
There are many ways that our energies are depleted, some of them are real and some of them are – at least in part – a result of a story we are telling ourselves. What are the sources of weariness in your life?
What are the things that contribute to making your burdens heavy? What is the story you are telling about them?
Equally, there are many ways to relax, recharge and restore us to ourselves. What renews your energy? What does rest look like for you? What are the obstacles to rest that you are aware of – inner and outer?
What are some of the ways that you catch yourself resisting rest?
Rather ironically, the passage that follows on from Jesus’ invitation to rest tells of the disciples plucking grains of corn on the sabbath – technically work – and a conversation with the Pharisees about what keeping the sabbath holy by our resting actually means ….what might sabbath keeping in a way that gives you rest for your soul mean for you?
Find the flow in your life and follow it
Give yourself a generous amount of time to map out the various things that fill your days – you can do this by making a list, pulling out a calendar and colour coding your activities, getting a big sheet of paper and making a spider chart or any other way that you feel will give you a way to assess how you are currently prioritising the way you engage your energies.
It might be helpful to put + signs next to the stuff that you feel keeps you in the flow of Love and Grace, and – signs next to the stuff that you feel shunts you into a backwater.
As you begin to see where you are more easily able to rest in the flow, reflect on what it is about those activities or environments that helps you to remain connected, present and renewed.
Once you have some sense of that, look at the spaces where you feel depleted. Are you drawing from your own well of effort? Or perhaps holding tightly to a sense of control? What is the story you are telling about those activities or environments?
You may need to take a walk/run/do some yoga at this point and see what rises from the wisdom of your body.
No doubt there are things that deplete you that you can choose to leave out of your life, but there will be others that seem non-negotiable, so then the question is: how might you begin to bring your presence, attention and awareness of connection to more of the areas that currently feel depleting?
Waste some time
The words we use to speak of time are telling – spend, take, invest, waste, kill and occasionally make. We speak of it as if it really existed as a tangible product, which, according to this book is mostly down to the Puritans and colonialism.
The Puritans gave us the notion that time spent unproductively is not just wasteful, but sinful, and the British Empire gave us the notion that time is money (because you have spent it and produced something with it to add value). So…waste some time. First of all, do this by not doing – I don’t mean waste some time surfing the internet or sitting in traffic or engaging in a pointless argument. I mean waste some time doing nothing much of anything. Take some time that you might otherwise have used productively and spend it doing nothing: lie on the grass under a tree; sit on the couch with no devices, no book, no journal; walk, if you must move, around the block – but make sure you are not doing it for exercise – this has to be pointless. See what happens in you when you do this. Make it properly wasteful – don’t give up after five minutes.
Once you have done this and reflected on what it brought up for you, find a way to be as pointlessly wasteful with time doing something you love.
For example: if you like books, go to a library that has the right hush about it and then peruse the shelves without any specific agenda. Let the books catch your attention, read what you are drawn to, let yourself be distracted or captured…
If books aren’t your thing, apply the same principles to whatever it is that lets you be playfully curious as you wander and wonder without watching the clock.
A pause to savour
The practice of centering prayer has this soul resting intention as its foundation – see this post for a fuller description of the practice. Each time you catch yourself following a thought, the sacred word prompts you to release your attention from thinking and to return to the rest of being in Love.
For the longest time, I found that letting go of the train of thought, of the insightful idea or the critical voice or whatever was hooking my attention was hard. Even following painful thoughts and memories was more attractive than letting them go and ‘resting’ – whatever that meant.
Then there was a moment when I experienced a flash of relief in putting down the thought, and recognising – I am not my thinking, I am with and in the great I AM. The relief, which was a palpable sense of rest in my being, was also fleeting, but now my sacred word prompts me not just to let go, but also to return to rest in being in Being.
Perhaps your practice of centering prayer this week might incorporate this resting insight.