Its been a little while since I wrote a blog post, it’s something I love to do but for many reasons, its hard to break past my limiting beliefs around being worthy of a hobby and giving myself the time and space to show up for it. A few days ago I had the pleasure of going to see Elizabeth Gilbert (writer of the famous book & feature film “Eat, Pray, Love”) live. It wasn’t short of a loving kick in the butt as well as another sign, push….maybe even scream from the universe to take a seat and pause on life.
Liz started the show off by sharing a story about the time before she published her first book, when she was living broke in New York pining over a neighbour who seemed to have the life she strived for. The story boiled down to priorities and values. A message I have been receiving continuously from my therapist over the past 3 years. We often say we don’t have “time” or we don’t have “money”, but when it really comes down to it, our priorities are just all out of whack. I’m happy this was only the start because I started to get worried this was another speech on putting your head down and grinding it out. Working hard. Having no fun. No relaxation. But that’s not the place the stories took us.
From there she went right into discussing a vision she has for a women’s revolution. She said it was something we had never seen or heard of before, but one that consumed her every dream. For women to just relax. Ahhh there it was, I knew my spirit guides wouldn’t let me down. The message to relax, yet another common theme over the past 4 years. Relax. Rest. Recover. Slow Down. Take time. Self Care. Self Love. Relax. Relax… RELAX. It’s been repeated to me so many times by so many people. From my therapist to my doctor, to my husband, from my physiotherapist. Just Relax. At first I was confused. “umm… what? Like go for a massage?” “No,” they said “let go, rest, release guilt, release shame, listen to your heart,” again… I was confused, but slowly and trepidatiously I tried. And I tried. And I tried. But here I am, nearly 4 years later, still being told by my body and my onslaught of doctors (who are basically on retainer at this point) to just fucking relax. But even that wasn’t loud enough for me, suddenly I found myself with a free ticket to go see one of my favourite writers, in a theatre surrounded by hundreds of women, being told to just fucking relax.
This time though, I’m not confused. I may still be receiving the same message, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t learned a thing or two, and it was all reiterated right back to me this evening as I was sitting and listening to the brilliant Elizabeth Gilbert. Be still in silence. Rest your eyes, your ears, your sense of smell and taste and listen to the silence. Let go of the worries. Connect to nature and ground yourself to the earth. Let out what you no longer need. Its hard to do that when you’re not pausing long enough to even see what you’re carrying.
So here I am, letting go of all the “I should’s.” Letting go of as much as I possibly can to just be with myself. To heal the open wounds that I have been ignoring. To stop racing to the finish line, because why do I want to get there so fast anyways? When I’m in a panicked run I’m missing everything beautiful on the way and… only getting to the finish line faster. And the finish line in this life is death, so what’s the rush?
The thing is though, is that we haven’t valued rest the way we should. We look at rest like I did when I was first told to relax, as massage, a nap, a vacation. And although that’s all forms of rest, those are more ways to manage an already rested and relaxed person. If you’re reading this and are just like me, someone who has had an activated nervous system her entire life. Someone who lives daily with anxiety swirling and depression pulling, how do you start? Where do you begin?
Being a mother has helped me as much as it has challenged me in this department. Parenting, no matter who you are or what your life experiences were prior to children, resting and relaxing with them around is a challenge. Where it has helped me though, is I look at myself as I would my soon to be 4 year old son who also, does not know how to relax. How do I plan to teach him to rest? How am I currently teaching him to rest? You see, the beauty of children (there are many) is that they enter this world unscathed by expectation. Unaware of the word “should.” The moment they come out of the dark of the womb and enter the light of earth, they express their needs and wants as loudly and as persistently as they have too. And that doesn’t change much as they enter into the infant, toddler and child stages of their lives. They don’t question “am I hungry?” “am I tired?” “do I need love?” they just know the feeling they have and follow it, trusting their own instincts fully. We are the ones that don’t trust them. That believe we know what they are feeling and need, more than their own body, mind and heart are telling them.
Obviously, there is some guidance that needs to happen, otherwise my son would believe that he could live only off of popsicles, candy and chocolate. But when he says he’s still hungry after eating a full meal, I don’t tell him that he shouldn’t feel hungry therefore isn’t. I trust him in a way that I wasn’t trusted as a child and feed him. I share this example with you because its the exact predicament I was in last night. After putting our toddler down to bed, I realized I was feeling hungry, so I had a protein and fruit smoothie. About 30 minutes after finishing it, I realized I was still hungry, but I questioned it. And questioned it and questioned it. Finally I decided I needed to get up and have another snack after a long internal debate about whether I should trust this feeling or not. The purpose of sharing this story is to point out how disconnected from our needs we truly are. All the times in my life my body has called for rest that I ignored because Ive been taught that I shouldn’t, so it musn’t be true, which has lead to a distrust with my body and mind. Now here I am, nearly 4 years postpartum still recovering because I never truly gave myself what I needed.
So what do I need? How do you rest? My toddler would love to hear me say, that it comes from asking the question “why?” I’m feeling on edge right now, why? My body keeps getting injured, why? My sleep has been poor, why? I’m chronically tired, why? I’m feeling anxious, why? But before we even get to the place of being able to ask why, we have to pause long enough to be aware that, that’s what we’re feeling and what’s been going on. Sometimes we don’t even realize we’ve been sleeping poorly for the last 6 months because it happens slowly, until you look back and recognize that you’ve become accustomed to crap sleeps. We start to add it to our identities, “I’m just not a great sleeper, but I’m used to it” “I have anxiety, always have” “I’m just stressed out, life has been hard,” etc. When we take ownership of something we become attached and protective of it. We defend it when people question it. This is why I find it helpful to ask your younger, child self what you need. If I were 4, how would I respond to this? Would I accept my 4 year old being on edge, snapping and temperamental (above what’s normal of course) or would I pause to reflect and inquire through asking, why? What need is unmet right now?
Its uncomfortable work. Especially since, as I mentioned at the start of this, we just don’t value rest the way we should. Its a lesson I’m coming to learn more and more each day. Society tells us we only have the evenings and weekends for rest, and if you have children you quickly learn that those precious evenings and weekends are no longer yours. If you haven’t clued in yet, I’m still a major work in progress. I know I have to rest and I even ensure I set the time aside to mediate, journal, lie in bed in the middle of the day, go for walks, see friends etc. yet there’s still the daily battles with guilt and expectation that take away from the actual restful part of it all. Like anything in life, if yore not tumbling, bumping and falling down a few 100 times, then are you even putting yourself out there enough? Learning new skills is a messy process and requires a few hurdles that will probably have you questioning your sanity a few times. But you cannot fail unless you give up. And let’s be honest, learning to rest, relax and let go is a lesson as an adult that’s actually kind of exciting to have to learn.
I wish I had the perfect formula to share. I wish I could post this out to the world with a sure fire way of achieving ultimate rest, but I honestly don’t believe a one formula fits all exists when it comes to rest. All I can say is it starts with slowing down, getting quiet, giving your senses a break and just being.
So here’s to fucking relaxing.