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The Concept of "Rest" in the Balance of Life

12Mar 2007

I have often been asked to speak on managing stress, work & life balance, and similar topics. But I have never been asked to speak about (and I have never seen an article on) rest.

This is one of those postings that clearly comes from my personal experience (and is one of those topics I am giving myself the liberty to write about even though I clearly haven’t integrated the concept fully into my life.) Obviously, the topic arises from my own experience of being tired recently. I have been travelling more than I am used to, and the past few days I just was whipped — physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally. So I began to think about the need to rest. And I realized that there are really several different ways to “rest”.

For many people (myself included at times) the concept of rest translates almost immediately into the idea of sleeping. I am tired. Therefore, I need to sleep. And this is clearly an issue — the number of articles about sleep deprivation in our culture is almost overwhelming, and numbing. Yes, we need to sleep more.

However, resting is a broader concept than sleeping. I have had to learn to let myself just lie down and rest, even though I am not sleepy, or when I can’t sleep. (In earlier days, I would get exceedingly uptight and even angry about not being able to sleep and thus lost the opportunity to rest during this period of time.) So resting can be in the form of lying down and closing your eyes, even if you don’t sleep — or just sitting down and doing nothing.

Besides physical rest, I have become aware of other types of “rest” that I need. For me, mental and emotional rest are also needed. My work is rarely physically demanding but my mind is working hard and many situations I work in require emotional strength and energy as well. Given that I am a stimulation seeking type of person, I sometimes have to “work” at giving my mind a rest — not listening to the radio or music, not doing light reading, not thinking about things (and making lists of tasks to accomplish). Sometimes I just need quiet. Other times I need to do something physical (exercise, taking a walk, doing some yardwork, fishing) that doesn’t require processing words and which distracts me enough that I am not thinking a lot in words.

I need social rest. That is, there are times I need a break from people. I want to be by myself. I don’t want to talk, listen, or interact with another human. This is rare for me, given my social nature, but I do “reach my limit” and go off by myself.

I have become aware of the need for spiritual rest. Sometimes my life is characterized by striving, a lack of peace, wanting to be and do something significant — and these desires can get me “wound up” into either frenetic activity, excessive worrying, or a general irritability. During these times, I need to take some time for a spiritual retreat and gain a more correct perspective on who I really am and my place in the universe.

Besides these different types of rest, I also see how there are different amounts of rest needed — daily, weekly, and longer periods of refreshment (e.g vacations, sabbaticals). This past weekend I was really “spent” and needed a few days of rest — extra sleep, periods of not doing much productive, solitude, recreation (lesiure activities that re-create emotional energy, for me this usually involves nature), and spiritual reflection. After about four days I am “back” and ready to go!

So think about this issue for yourself. How much rest are you getting? What kind of rest do you need? I would encourage you to think about proactive steps and planning you might take in the coming week or two, to get some needed and refreshing rest for yourself. You will probably become more productive overall. You certainly will be more fun to be around. And I would guess that you will enjoy yourself and your life more, too!

Any tree that produces fruit needs nourishment, refreshment, and a time when it is not producing fruit — in order for the tree to remain healthy and for the fruit to be of any value. We are the same.

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