Rest as Resistance

“Rest pushes back and disrupts a system that views human bodies as a tool for production and labour. It is a counter narrative. We know that we are not machines. We are divine.” 

— Tricia Hersey

Making the conscious decision to step away from our daily life – be that from our work, social media accounts, or obsessively scrolling through war-related news – can seem selfish or make us feel like we’re failing. Expressing our concern and showing solidarity, in whichever way we can, is after all what makes us human; we want to feel like we are helping and bearing witness to the suffering around us.

However, we must also know our limits. When constantly bombarded with bad news, we must allow ourselves to seek refuge from it all, lest the “negative seeds in us continue to grow,” Thich Nhat Hanh wrote. “When fear and anger become collective, it can be extremely dangerous. You can be as afraid and alarmed as everyone else; easily swept away by the collective energy.”

This means at times we must step back and let others step forward, because as Hanh wrote, “[i]n difficult times, you have to know how to cultivate your inner artist, mediator, and warrior … so you can be balanced and steady for your people.”

With anxiety and burnout so widespread, we must come to terms with the fact that we cannot take care of others unless we are able to take care of ourselves. And while it feels as though emergencies are multiplying, we can start by accepting that we will always be required to hold parallel realities. And we should allow rest to be one of them.

We can approach resting as a form of hiding, which David Whyte tells us is underestimated. “Hiding is one of the brilliant and virtuoso practices of almost every part of the natural world.” What is most important is often what is hidden below ground or within us, like roots, soil, water, but also, our strength, our resilience; those things we cannot easily grasp, put on display or commodify.

We must also avoid turning rest into yet another activity – rest doesn’t need to add value so as not to be a waste of time. While some leaders in the corporate world have begun extolling the value of rest, it’s mostly because they have realised that it makes their employees more productive. This should not be the purpose of rest.

Unfortunately, we live in a world that tries to monetise every moment of our lives, from our sleep time to our leisure time. But it’s a recent phenomenon. In 4000 Weeks, Oliver Burkeman says that to the ancient philosophers, leisure was the time for self-reflection and philosophical contemplation, it wasn’t “the means to some other end; on the contrary, it was the end to which everything else worth doing was a means,” he writes. 

Of course for many, rest is simply not something they can afford. And it’s often those most in need of rest, those working on the frontlines, who are the least likely to get it. How can we challenge this? What if it became government policy? Might donors one day choose to fund activists to rest?

Resting is liberation from the grind, says Tricia Hersey, who founded the Nap Ministry, where they examine rest as a radical tool for community healing through workshops, coaching and immersive art installations. “Black people are dying from sleep deprivation,” she says, and “our resistance to rest is a social justice and public health issue.” 

Resting may be done in solitude. We can think, for example, of artists who hide away to work on their creations. Why shouldn’t our lives get the same kind of attention, seeing ourselves as that creative entity that needs incubation, attention, and care? 

And it can also be done in communion with others, because fundamentally, resting is about reconnecting: with ourselves, our bodies, our talents, our communities, and with the beliefs that drive the work we do. Hiding ensures a better emergence.

As Hersey says: “Find ways to connect back to your body and mind. Find ways to intentionally slow down. Find ways to reimagine and snatch rest right now. It is your divine and human right to do so. WE WILL REST!”

Words, Veronica Yates
Illustration, Miriam Sugranyes

For references, resources and further reading, visit our inspiration page.