The Necessary Luxury of Rest

By | February 13, 2016

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I thought it was kind of funny recently when someone called me a “medium-hard” worker. It kind of shocked me. I’d always thought of myself as a very hard worker. But then I considered it a kind of success because I had been trying to slow myself down for a while now. I used to run through life at breakneck speed, always in competition. So notching back to a normal, if medium, worker was an improvement.

It’s true that, like Walt Whitman, “I loaf and invite my soul.” I look forward to the sweet succor of rest. I also move pretty quickly when I have to. Lately I’ve come to learn when circumstances call for one type of speed or the other. And I’ve learned that resting allows you to think more clearly, potentially giving way to an experience of elevated reason.

The Dalai Lama has called sleep a type of meditation. It is essential in clearing the brain of harmful toxins. People who don’t sleep enough are actually missing out on different, healthier ways of engaging with the world despite their surfeit anxiety to live life–and quick.

That’s why I worried when I read in the Chicago Tribune that Donald Trump is one of those unfortunate insomniacs. The Tribune reported Trump saying, “‘I like three hours, four hours. I toss, I turn, I beep-de-beep. I want to find out what’s going on.’ (Mr. President-elect: How about a little less tweeting and a little more snoring?)”

Arianna Huffington recently reviewed a book called Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. Huffington concludes, “His central thesis is that rest not only makes us more productive and more creative, but also makes our lives ‘richer and more fulfilling.'”

The compulsion to overwork more than is necessary to solve a problem, from a psychodynamic perspective, can be seen as a type of anxiety. It can also be viewed as an estrangement from spirit. Believe it or not, hyper-achiever Sen. Joe Lieberman wrote a book about the importance of honoring the Sabbath and taking up the cue to rest fully.

I don’t believe too much of the literal religious experience, but I respect a spiritual experience that gets beyond descriptions and eases us into the heart of the matter. In just about every mystical tradition (and quite a few philosophical traditions), wisdom is not a quality in need of constant stimulation. The owl sees though it is deep in the dark. (And some even sleep at night!)

Our lack of appreciation for rest and our default to do fidgety make-work has grave consequences. Conservative concerns about free-riding go back a long way, at least to Pompeii, where signs decrying loafers are frozen in the time of their ecological collapse, according to Alexandra Horowitz in her book On Looking. One reads: “The whole company of late risers favor [the election of ] Vatia.” The less unnecessary work that is performed in the economy, the better the environment will fare.

The inability to rest also affects our relationship fulfillment and sense of self regard. Hayley Quinn, a dating expert, gave an incredible Ted talk about how loving oneself starts when we begin to take time to ourselves and enjoy the luxury of loneliness.

Even if our future president won’t take advantage of living at a slower, more rested pace, we can transform our work lives and our personal lives by doing so.

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