On January 25, 2023

What a difference a rest makes

By Ruth Farmer

Editor’s note: Ruth Farmer is a published essayist and poet. She is sole owner of Farmer Writing and Editing ruthfarmer.com.

A few weeks ago, I was in the midst of a busy fall semester — too many student papers, meetings and emails — when a friend sent me a link to the podcast “We Can Do Hard Things,” during which Glennon Doyle interviewed artist and theologian Tricia Hersey. Hersey founded the Nap Ministry, an organization that examines the liberating power of naps. The focus of the conversation was Hersey’s aptly titled book, “Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto.”

Hersey’s ministry seeks to disrupt the insidious pressure to produce that many of us (perhaps most of us) are faced with on a daily basis. She suggests many intentional actions, starting with the simple act of resting. As someone who finds it hard to nap, resting as a practice is a revolutionary and challenging act, but during the holiday season and inspired by Hersey’s words, I gave myself that gift.

I was extremely busy most of 2022, including completing and publishing a book of poems, teaching a summer course instead of taking time off, teaching three classes during the fall semester and sitting on two college committees as well as a board. I had unconsciously drifted back into patterns that I had been pushing against, productivity and workaholism, driven by the belief that I needed to produce in order to be taken seriously.

Every January, lots of people make resolutions that they end up abandoning. A study published by The Journal of Clinical Psychology noted that around 46% of people successfully met their New Year’s resolution goals. I wonder if this applies to resolutions made during other times of the year. I rarely make New Year’s resolutions. However, I frequently decide to modify my behaviors, usually in the spring, a time of burgeoning possibilities. Last year, I’d resolved to resist the pressure of productivity. If I’d made this resolution in January, I would have become one of the more than 50% of folks who had not met their goals. 

Hersey’s interview and book (which I’m reading) reinforce my belief about what she calls the “grind culture.” Even as a child, I was called to task because I wasn’t doing housework or schoolwork, or anything that my family or others saw as worthwhile and, yes, productive. This happened often when I was reading. To me, reading is doing something worthwhile, though I understand why some people think it is an idle pursuit. Still, like so many people who equate their worth with what they can visibly produce (usually for someone else), the criticism bothered me. While I continued to read, I also made sure that I was active in ways that people valued. I joined after-school activities, volunteered, hung out with friends, did my chores and schoolwork. Often, I was enjoying myself, but I was also successfully indoctrinated into the grind culture.

During one of the busiest times of the year, the stretch from Thanksgiving through New Year’s, I determined that I would rest as much as I could. When I wasn’t in bed asleep or simply closing my eyes while sitting on the couch, my activities flowed organically. I read, wrote, cooked, went for drives, did yoga and other movement, connected with friends and family. It might seem as though I was on the productivity wheel. However, these were restful undertakings for me because they were done when my brain and body needed to do them, rather than on a schedule or as a result of meeting other people’s expectations.

In “Rest is Resistance,” Hersey describes the first gathering of the Nap Ministry, 40  people coming together for rest and education. I imagine folks lying on the floor covered in blankets ensconced in respite from doing. I am becoming comfortable with dwelling in similar moments.

This is not merely leisure; this is necessity. The body needs to slow down, to breathe at its own pace. 

Many people take naps so that they can recharge and get back into the grind. However, Hersey’s primary point is that “We are not resting to be productive. We are resting simply because it is our divine right to do so.” That is an important distinction. Having embraced this perspective, at the beginning of 2023, I feel alert and calm. I’m looking forward to teaching my spring courses and writing a collection of essays. What a difference rest makes.

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