When guilt invades rest, there is work to be done.
Exhausted, fatigued, worn-out, lethargic, weary, drained, tired, sick and tired of being tired_are all words with which we are describing ourselves with increasing frequency. Despite our continuous search for rest and rejuvenation, deep rest died in the city, where we are either too tired or too restless about improbable goals.
A quick google search brings up restlessness as an inability to rest or relax as a result or anxiety or boredom. To these one might add disappointments, anger, frustrations, fear of missing out, dissatisfaction stemming from self-comparison, unrealistic aspirations brought on by jealousy, and I could go on.
Most urbanites are a people plagued by general disquiet and on the precipice of perpetual restlessness. We want so much, and therefore plan to do as much, only to fail daily. Our self -critique at the close of every day is often the same, featuring a level of guilt and dissatisfaction. The more or the better we could have done.
How are we quieting our restlessness during isolation? Has the reduced pressure to do more or be more brought with it restful respite to kick out the persistent guilt that pops up whenever we try to rest?
The Oxford Learners Dictionary defines rested as feeling healthy and full of energy. At wordhippo.com, we find synonyms of rested such as energetic, refreshed, reinvigorated, relaxed, restored, alert, renewed, revitalised, revived, strengthened, fresh, lively, active vigorous, sprightly, chipper bouncing, bright, untroubled, comfortable, pleasant, restful, satisfied, content, calm, reassured, tranquil, unworried, leisurely, unhurried, at ease and at peace.
How often does this happy list apply to your physical body, your emotions and your thoughts?
You see, rest is not merely physical, nor is it synonymous with entertainment. Sitting in front of the TV for hours or flipping through YouTube channels without restraint and with total disregard to time is not restful either.
Many of us are engaged in unwinding activities while our day has been squandered in procrastination. At the back of our minds is this drone of guilt and the sense of wasted time. How can a mind contradicting itself rest?
Since rest begins in the mind, one must purpose to rest. Rest from what? You might wonder. Which is precisely my point. One must rest from something worthwhile and life giving, otherwise the guilt stops one from fully resting mentally, emotionally, and physically.
Rest then, becomes a way of recognising and celebrating what we have accomplished with our time. We must also choose to be content with what we have accomplished. For how can we celebrate in discontent?
Growing up rural, you farmed the land before you went weaving or rope skipping. You fed the animals before you worked on your wooden bike project. You fetched water before you braided hair. After tending to the must dos, like to dos fell into place with restful energy and not an ounce of guilt.
There was also the darkness after nightfall which facilitated rest, there being no artificial lights to trick us into doing more and cheating ourselves out of rest.
Darkness was the greatest facilitator to rest during my growing up years in a Kenyan village. We knew we only had the daylight to work and in order to make the most of it, woke up before the sun.
Not a villager was plagued by insolence, now euphemistically renamed ‘procrastination’ by folk who do not wish to admit to laziness, because admitting to being lazy demands that we try and fix it.
But procrastination? It is a well-known modern-day phenomenon that plagues everyone, and we are all helpless under it!
For the urbanite enticed by dazzling city lights, the blessing and curse of electricity that possesses the magic to stretch daylight late into the night, there is always later, or soon, for things needing to be done now.
The now is too respected a word for trivialities. It must be reserved for absolutes such as impending deadlines or life-threatening emergencies like a phone whose battery dies unexpectedly, leaving the owner in utter darkness. A computer that crashed and data must be swiftly recovered too, demands action now. Anything else is just bother, and we’ll get to it later. Maybe.
But we all have a moral compass. Something in our DNA that tells us that we were made to be productive. It is not merely societal pressure, but rather the sense of purpose or being alive that accomplishing a task affords human beings.
This is even present in children. A six-year-old I once taught was very cross at me for showing her, hand over hand, how to form a letter she was struggling with. She then looked up at me and said, “I really wanted to have a go at that”. I felt rebuked for robbing her the opportunity to accomplish something and hoped with all my heart that next time she tried, her little hands would remember.
We are made to be productive. And when this need for productivity is violated, rest becomes a guilt affair, as if one is wasting time, because the things that need to be done are still bailing for our sweat.
And that is how it came to pass, dear urbanites, that our laziness, nicely marketed in the more acceptable form of procrastination, stole our restfulness, plaguing us with a restless guilt instead.
I know that procrastination is also fuelled by the constant din of urban stressors that make urbanites feel overwhelmed and small. But my objective is to talk us out of excuses, not into them. We are capable of stringing up excuses a plenty without help. I know I am.
Complacent in our inability to rest is the urbanite’s best friend, technology. We mostly trade our right to rest by buying into technology’s sly promise of more entertainment, more connectivity or more productivity. Throw in the tech driven fear of missing out and our restless fate is sealed. How then can we be rescued?
We may begin by recognising that every one is living their own lives. Live yours.
Then, create your own darkness.
This ‘darkness’ denotes the hours of rest where no work may be done. These hours of darkness force us to acknowledge the daylight outside of the darkness as our hours for work. The daylight and darkness times must be non-negotiable, and never overlap into each other.
Creating darkness involves more than closing one’s eyes and resting one’s body. It is also closing oneself from any influences that hinder rest, and their demands, calls to action, stressors, disapproval, criticisms, self criticisms, self guilt_ if you are immersed in these, you need to find an exit before you can rest. In short, tune out from the noise whining at you from the inside or shouting at you from the outside.
The myth that the more we criticise our lack of productivity the more productive we become is just that, myth. However, if your cycle of unproductivity-guilt-criticism-unproductivity proves otherwise, I beg your pardon.
To come out of this cycle enough to invest in rest, we must first invest in work. Regardless of whether you have a nine to five job, are a stay at home mum, a shift worker, a student, retiree or transitioning between life phases, we all have certain things we long to accomplish at every phase of life. Accomplishing something with our time is to be our focus.
To honour your daylight, create a list of what you would like to accomplish that day. If you accomplish 50% or more, it is a pass in the language of assessment. Silence the guilt by admitting that you are not superman, and rest.
Whether we regain our right to rest, or continue helpless under the grips of restlessness depend on our faithfulness to these things that await our attention, and our satisfaction with our productivity.
Being productive has nothing to do with making money, but rather having that sense of satisfaction when you look back at your day and say, “I accomplished everything I set to do today”.
Then rest, whatever that looks like for you, will be sweet.