People in Tanzania love to talk about rest. When you ask someone how their holiday was, say over Christmas, you have to ask if they had time to rest. Did you enjoy your rest? Did you get to rest? Ah, that’s good, I’m glad you could rest 🙂 When you tell them you’ve arrived somewhere after a journey, they will almost always wish you a good rest.
But as a Canadian, I am not as familiar with the concept of rest. I, of course, know the term, but to put rest into practice conjures up images of laziness, lack of productivity, and hermit-like leanings. I have developed a distaste for rest, underestimated its value and necessity.
I read Gabor Mate’s book “When the Body Says No” last year, which is a fairly good read, although somewhat repetitive and in essence, a long-winded explanation of its title. The book is about the body’s response to stress and when the body responds to stress by “saying no” in the form of chronic illness, fatigue, chronic pain and other such ongoing illnesses. Now, I am not saying that my body is saying no, not yet, but my body is definitely saying rest.
In early January, I climbed Mount Meru with a group of phenomenally wonderful human beings. My husband, my brother, my Dad and two lovely friends from Canada, hiked with me to the summit, a whopping 4,600m above the sea.
Now for some this is a walk in the park, but for me, this was a triumph. It may surprise you to know that I am not an elite athlete, nor an athlete of any description 😉 so climbing mountains is not something I do on a regular basis. Getting to the top of that mountain was by far the hardest thing I have ever done. The physical strain alone was difficult, with a bit of altitude and some nasty blisters to contend with, but the mental strain was surprising.
I learned that my body is capable of so much more than I ever gave it credit for and my body knows how to take care of itself. It knows how to fill itself with oxygen, even when the availability is getting thin. It knows how to use reserves of energy to continue on and to make use of the energy it is being provided with to accomplish what it is being asked to do.
The trick is there needs to be someone asking the body to do something, and thus we arrive at what constitutes the mental strain of hiking. I had to convince my body to take another step, to climb over another rock, to see the multiple false summits and continue on toward the real one. I had to do that. My body was willing, and ready to do what needed to be done, but my mind….. oh it wanted to stop, to sit down and wait for a magical helicopter to arrive and take me back down.
Surprisingly, there is a serious shortage of magical helicopters on Meru so getting to the top and then back to the bottom was up to me. I was given one of the best compliments of my life when told I had “more grit than expected” and made it both to the top in time for sunrise and to the bottom without being carried 😉
Now, it goes without saying that reaching the bottom meant collapsing into my exhaustion and giving way to the rest that I so desperately needed. Rest for my poor wounded feet, rest for my aching body, and rest for my mind that I didn’t have to push anymore. I wasn’t able to rest in the midst of the challenge, but when it was over, rest was mine.
Without going into details, this the last couple of months have provided me with a number of opportunities to find my limits in work and relationships and life in Mwanza. I have realized again that I am capable of much more than I expected, that I still have a bit of grit up my sleeve and that there are times when it is all I can do but give way to the exhaustion and fall into much needed rest.
So rest I do. And the more I do, the less negative connotations it carries. It is luscious and liberating and restorative. Just a couple of weeks ago, I spent most of the morning watching Mr. Bean in back to back episodes with my husband while we ate breakfast and drank coffee. The truth is that I feel cautious to even write those words for fear of the judgments that could come…. Oh isn’t that nice that you have the free time for a Saturday morning like that…. If only we could all live that way…. Hmmm, getting a little lazy these days are we?
But the truth is, my rest is delicious and the absolute best part of each of my days now. Stillness and quiet and lack of an agenda set me free in a multitude of ways. Sometimes I don’t do much, other times restfulness is still “productive” in creative ways. It has just become time to embrace that my life has been spinning too fast, that there is just too much pressure and that sometimes, I need to be able to put it all down and stop. Not just slow down, actually stop. Long enough to catch my breath again, for my body to recover, for my mind to relax.
Too much of the time, we operate like we are always half way up the mountain, always pushing toward some kind of summit. Which, it is important to say, at certain times in our lives, is absolutely necessary. Sometimes we really do have to just push to get there. But when we never get off the mountain, when it is always a struggle, when are always pushing, something is desperately wrong.
So I indulge in some deliciously, wonderful rest. I stop, I wander, I tinker with things and I love it. I have found restoration, peace and refilled stores of energy. When we rest, we give our bodies and our minds the chance to recover. Let’s face it, life is hard and we all push through so much, so let’s just stop sometimes, take the pressure off and rest. Then, who knows, maybe we will climb more mountains, both figurative and literal, and maybe we will just enjoy the flat ground for a while too.