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#6 Rest for the restless
more contemplations about my mangled relationship with rest
I’m in a tower running up and down the infinite, spiralling flights of stairs. Wherever my legs take me, I go. The thick concrete walls fail to drown out the noise from outside. The bustle of activities going on outside this tower I’m closing myself in. Murmurs of worry, fear, anxiety. I try not to get affected, and continue on my own way, searching.
What am I searching for?
What am I really chasing?
A light to show me the way. To show me all the truths I’m supposed to see.
Today I’m reflecting on a pattern I find myself repeating: whenever I have a great surge of energy (positive or otherwise, perhaps anxiety-driven), I line my days up with activities. The day ends. I feel a sense of accomplishment for being insanely ‘productive’. And repeat it again and again because of the high it leaves me with. The dopamine hits. I’d ignore the signals calling me to refill the cup sufficiently before continuing to drain it out.
I need to figure out how to stop it from happening so frequently.
In recent weeks, I found myself tipping off the balance I seemed to be holding up. Slipping off to the edge of exhaustion. As I monitored my energy levels every morning, I found them dropping daily but continued to push myself to fill my day with ‘doing’ and what I had considered active rest.
Whenever I felt like my energy was depleting in the evening, I got myself out of the house and went for a walk. A walk which made me feel better. Supposedly. And I was back at my desk, chipping away at some other task on my to-do list until I felt like it was time to shut the computer and prepare to wind down.
It was the perfect plan to get more things done in a day. Low on energy? Get outside to hit the reset button. But I wasn’t giving my body a chance to rest up. I was pushing it further to trade for more mental capacity. My knees yelled in protest for days. They have been bearing the brunt of the brisk walking pace I took naturally when I went on allegedly restful walks. Of the jogs that I took in the mornings. Of the squats I did after each meal to stave off the glucose spike.
I know I can do better than to keep pushing when there’s this type of pain, and when sleep doesn’t come as easily. I woke up each morning feeling more tired than I was the day before. Until last Friday I finally had to allow myself to sleep in and have a late start to the day, and subsequently have an irritably unproductive day.
The weight of the week’s pushing in addition to my body reacting to the luteal phase of my menstrual cycle had me defeated in my bed over the weekend. I had plans to continue some interview preparation work. But the headache, cramps, and low energy levels kept me down. I retreated into the world of a fantasy novel, one where magical spells exist to protect humans from the haunting evil nasties of the Wood attempting to devour them. It’s addictive to get lost in a fictional world.
But I have to be back in reality. I’ll continue to think about my relationship with rest. How should rest make me feel? When should I take them? How would I know what is enough, or too much?
I’ve heard a few people tell me that they would lie down and do nothing, staring at the ceiling. It sounded impossible to me but I was curious how that would actually feel so I tried it one day. Lying down and staring at the blank space above me. Except that it wasn’t blank, there was a thin crack from one end of my room to the other. I think I’ve seen it before and tried to ignore the slightest chance that the building might collapse on me one day. But I couldn’t ignore it that day. I texted a friend who’s an architect and sent her a picture of my ceiling.
She confirmed it is probably paint and nothing to worry about. I go back to staring for another minute or so before I got bored and rolled out of bed. It concluded my attempt to lie down and do nothing.
Maybe it’s my low tolerance for boredom. I can’t help but do something, anything. If only I could embrace boredom, and just let myself be. I can do a seated meditation for 10 minutes with no big issue of fidgeting, just focusing on my breath. But that’s still doing something? Reigning in the monkey mind, trying to keep a straight spine. Not quite what I imagine a relaxed state to be.
I feel uneasy when I’m not doing something that chips away another obstacle that I should overcome to get nearer to this imaginary somewhere. A self that feels enough, I guess.
Rest for the restless.
What can it look like?
A pure state of relaxation, of a slowing heart rate.
A switch from doing to being.
I don’t know. I’m still figuring it out, and finding what works.
(What I know: I want a cat. Cats are masters of rest, unashamed rest.)
I’m writing about what feels the most right to me each week. And I’m beginning to see this exercise of writing to “Gentle Productivity” as an accountability check-in. Reflecting on whether I’m being gentle with myself. Because it is tough. I have in me, my worst critic, and the harshest voice. And being kind and self-compassionate is a practice that brings me closer to the ability to tap into the love I could have for others in my life. So I really appreciate the responses and comments that you leave on my Substack or in my personal chats. These conversations really keep me going.
So, this seems like a great place to ask specific questions. Hit me up:
How would you rate your energy levels? Are you perpetually tired or energised? What keeps you at those levels?
If you’re not a restless person, please raise your hands. How does it feel not to be restless?
If you are a restless person, no worries. Let’s be restless together. :) Or not, if you’re trying not to be.
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