The Tango of Action and Rest

Have you ever felt like you are stuck in a never-ending cycle of work-work-work-collapse-work-work-work-collapse?

"Work" could be anything - your income-producing job, house-repairs, emails, laundry, parenting, - and the collapse inevitably follows (usually in front of the television). 

It is important to acknowledge, first and foremost, that anyone stuck in this cycle is actually fortunate. (Yep, fortunate.) To know that it is a blessing to have a roof over one's head, clothes to wash, and food to prepare is the understanding to which we need to return again and again.


I get it. When in the midst of this craziness, it is hard to feel thankful for it, much less to feel as though you can do anything about it.

As with all things, we can look at this cycle as a dance instead of a prison. No one wants to work all of the time but, believe it or not, laying on a beach for weeks on end would eventually create stress as well. (Trust me on this one.)

We all crave both action and stillness, productivity and rest. The challenge is finding a way to not emphasize one over the other. The peace comes in dancing between the action and the rest, instead of trying to cling to one partner or the other.

Here are 4 practices to try when exploring this dance of gentle action:

1) Honor spaciousness.

This concept is crucial to avoiding the work burnout. You need to honor and keep space in your schedule. That doesn't mean working frantically from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., driving home, running around your house preparing dinner and getting the kids ready for bed while paying a few bills, and then considering yourself lucky to have 5 minutes of "space" to do nothing before you flop into bed.

Everyone's practical space will look different, but know that you often need more than you think that you do. For me, one to two things scheduled per day is more than enough. Between the kids' bus schedules, impromptu social meetings, dozens of emails needing my attention, laundry needing folded, and paintings waiting to be completed, there is always plenty to do in a day. Adding an appointment to that can be the tipping point between a peaceful day and a stressful one.

"Space" in your schedule means just that - time that is completely unscheduled. You might fill that time with activities, but allow those activities to feel non-pressured. This spaciousness in your schedule is where you remember to breathe, to mindfully flow with whatever is happening.

2) Recognize the difference between rest that is collapsing and rest that is rejuvenating.  

Rest is essential. But there is a difference in the type of rest into which we enter. You might have experienced this when falling asleep at night: sometimes you just stumble into bed, unable to move from sheer exhaustion; other times, you gently lay down and enter into a peaceful night's sleep. You wake from the former feeling just as groggy and frustrated about the day ahead, and from the latter, awake and ready to face the day.

Another example would be lounging outside in nature versus throwing yourself down in front of the television and completely zoning out to a series of random shows. In both, your mind and body is entering a state of rest. As you may know from experience, though, you often leave the natural setting feeling refreshed and the television feeling lethargic and craving a snack.

Explore how you rest in your own life. When you feel it is time to rest in the middle of the day, perhaps try activities such as slow walking outside, mindfully sipping a cup of tea, journaling, full breathing for several minutes, coloring with crayons, or meditation. Consciously enter into your bed in the evening, making your transition into your resting position and sleep a practice in and of itself. 

3) Act gently.

We often charge into our days in fight-or-flight mode. Knowing of the possible challenges that lie ahead, we put on full battle armor, grab a cup of coffee, and often unwillingly say, "bring it".

There are definitely benefits to strong action. But that type of determination and movement is not sustainable. Trying to maintain the go-go-go during the daylight hours leads to exhaustion in the evening, which often overflows into the next day. Many then turn to caffeine (or other addictions) to try to stay with the fervent desire to "stay on top of it all".

Try being gentle with your self, your actions, and your day. How might it feel if you fully exhaled before checking your email, and opened each email not with dread, but with a soft openness to what might be presented? How might it feel if, instead of charging into a morning workout determined to get as much out of it as possible, you explored a gentle walk or run that still offered health benefits - but with less stress? How might it feel if you approached your day tomorrow with just a bit of excitement about what might be, navigating your responsibilities just as you would have before - but with fewer expectations?

4) Honor What Is.

I've said it before and will say it again: There is so much more to THIS than we realize. "This" - this "What Is" - this this-ness that is right in front of and within us. 

On a very practical level, most of us in the modern world try to balance far more than we realize. A simple drive to work requires constant alertness, awareness of activities going on around you sometimes speeding by at 60 or 70 mph, and adept muscle movements. Add to that the cacophony of thoughts inside your head, thinking about what you are going, what you need to do when you get there, the song on the radio and how it makes you think of that one time, whether or not the coffee has cooled down enough to sip yet... And add to THAT the mechanical workings of your car, which are ultimately your responsibility. Maintaining the gas level, the oil changes, the tire pressure, and the ongoing repairs that allow you to make that drive to work. Not to mention all of the people it took to make the car in which you now travel, the people it takes to help with those repairs, the people all around you who are also driving and going through their own practices of alertness and awareness...

All of this, converging in one single moment.

But it's just a drive, right? You can squeeze in a phone call or two ...

We add piles and piles of responsibilities and expectations on ourselves, not realizing all that we have already taken on and are navigating.

Perhaps take a minute tonight to reflect on all that happened in your day. From every bite of food, to every step, every thought, every work-related action, every typing stroke, every email checked, every person passed, every conversation, try to paint a full picture of the energetic movements of your day.

Find a new appreciation for what is, and be gentle with yourself when thinking that you need to do or be more.