Finding rest inside change
And the gleaming virtue of the afternoon nap
What would happen if you gunned your car engine while parked, indefinitely? The car engine would probably fail at some point, right? Typical consumer car engines aren’t designed to sustain high RPMs for long periods of time. The engine might just “die.”
The anxiety many of us mortals experience during times of great change is analogous to pressing the gas pedal while our car is parked – we unconsciously stay in “go” mode all the time, even when the intent is to be at rest. Anxiety fools us into believing we should be doing something about the danger we perceive in the Great Unknown, and we essentially forget to take our foot off the gas. After a long enough stint of this, our engine fails.
The fields of psychiatry, trauma studies, and biological evolution offer up many nervous system theories on why this happens to us humans. Our reptilian brains have something to do with it, as well as our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Maybe now that great change is upon us, we will evolve physiologically as a species to better adapt to the higher levels of ongoing stress that the unknown brings? In the meantime, we know our bodies need rest to function optimally, so how about we undo every last little vestige of justification for not resting, so that we stand a chance of thriving through the changes ahead?
To this end I can think of one western cultural value we ought to examine: our western world’s obsession with “productivity.” This morning one of my favorite Instagram profiles posted some evolutionary wisdom:
Assume everyone who has survived this far into a global pandemic is exhausted on some level. Can you decrease output more? Can you lay off requesting things and unnecessary calls and emails? Can you take a nap? Can you put your phone on DND? Just generally move slower.
In her mission statement, Tricia Hersey of @TheNapMinistry declares: “Naps are a holy place, spiritual practice, and form of resistance.” I quite admire how her asking important questions like “How will you be useless to capitalism today?” subversively helps “deprogram the masses from grind culture.”
We might measure how deeply we have been conditioned by the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant “work ethic” that helped shape United States culture by how comfortable we feel with the concept of the afternoon nap. If the idea presents no cognitive dissonance for you, congratulations! You have retained some of the wisdom and sanity of your animal body. But if the thought of an afternoon snooze brings up any amount of guilt or shame or disgust or horror or judgment, then welcome to the club that I and so many of us were born into – the one whose membership rules stated that naps were for lazy people, and that respectable people worked as hard as they possibly could even if it killed them.
In a paradigm where the 1% require everyone else to wish they were part of the 1% in order for them to remain in the 1%, we are programmed to think we want to keep consuming. And for consuming to keep happening, that means we all need to keep producing. And that means, no naps.
During the remainder of January I have a radical proposition: take an afternoon nap. Better yet, take several. On weekdays. Let your body relax, settle, dream, find its own way. Let your ancestors connect with you during the dreamtime so their wisdom might help you navigate the times ahead. Snuggle up next to a fire and read and doze off, letting your intuition and imagination play, coming up with brilliant approaches to your life that your conscious mind can never even touch. Make a cup of tea and stare out the window for a long, long time… so long that the light starts to change and you feel the layers of your being opening into spacious plenitude. Get on your couch with every pillow and blanket in the house and build yourself a fortress of puffy comfort. Indulge in a long sigh and listen to the way your voice trails off into that downy silence surrounding you. Allow yourself to explore a slower rhythm.
Allow yourself to REST.