What I’d like to do tonight is tell you about the feeling of okay and the feeling of setting down.
And the feeling of learning how to rest.
I know this isn’t sensational or argumentative or something super interesting that will generate lots of blog traffic. The internet is not the place for people who want to rest, anyway.
Or maybe it is. I know that I often find myself, when I need rest the most, scrolling through mindlessly, trying to find something to entertain me, take me out of myself, distract me from my exhaustion. Instead of just, you know… resting.
Rest does not come easy to me at the ground or 20,000 foot level. On the ground, early-waking insomnia is the devil that lives on my shoulder, my constant companion. From 20,000 feet, it’s only been in the past year or two that I’ve learned how to trust the universe – or myself – enough to stop moving.
Enough to spend time doing things that are not… productive.
I used to take my harp on vacation to practice. Evenings and weekends were for writing – either creatively or, more often, papers or the dissertation. And then, of course, childcare. With a 12-year-old now, I’m far out of the constant-attention phase of parenting and I’m just entering the my-kid-tells-me-to-go-away phase of parenting, but for a long time, you know how it goes – there were always games that had to be played, a mouth that needed to be fed, a body that needed to be bathed, or the toys, the endless toys, that needed to be picked up.
So this learning how to rest is partially personal development, and partially stage of life. And, of course, privilege. I am no longer hustling for harp gigs all the time. Church work and academic work will eat up time just the same way musician life did, but I’m so much better with boundaries now. I’ve learned. I’ve learned the hard way, in a lot of ways. But I’ve learned how to prioritize rest, and I’ve learned to actually enjoy it and not be plagued with guilt the entire time.
I’m not totally sure what happened, but I suspect it has something to do with the healing of trauma. It’s pretty hard to ever rest or enjoy resting when the universe feels like it could fall apart at any moment, that everyone you love could be a lie, that those you love the most could disappear or die at any second. It’s hard to rest when you feel like you need to justify your existence in a world you don’t deserve to enjoy.
I don’t know exactly how this healing happened, that I feel able to rest in a sense of trust. This is not a trust that “everything will be ok” – everything is NOT ok, it only takes a quick perusal of the internet to know that. It’s a trust that I will somehow be held together, no matter what else falls apart. It is a trust that even if I do fall apart, I am not falling apart right now. It’s a releasing myself from the illusion of responsibility for any and all falling apart. It’s a releasing myself from the illusion that my being able to rest depends on my ability to hold everything together.
This is the funny thing about the spiritual life, about the arts, about any skill we seek to develop: it’s often the opposite action that achieves the desired result. I remember when I used to play complex and difficult passages on the pedal harp that required a lot of jumping from low strings to high strings and back – the only way to “nail” those jumps was to relax into them. If you think too hard about it, if you try to hard to get to the right string, you tense up and you miss it, because in order to get there in time you have to be relaxed.
I don’t know how I ended up finally learning how to rest. It’s part choice but mostly circumstance; part thoughtful intention but mostly being at the mercy of my body and life in a new way; part effort of difficult healing but even more, just finally… resting.