Yesterday, when I got home from work, I fired up my laptop and was greeted with a message from my friend, mentor and coach saying “throw a blankie over your computer and take a five minute break”. I had just logged in, so that was premature, I thought. Then I got to thinking about her advice and what might have motivated it. Not long after, another good friend posted on facebook that he had arrived home, after coding all day and was too fatigued to write code of his own at home. He was going to rest instead. Not long after, he blogged about the same subject in depth.
What’s going on? Suddenly everybody is concerned about rest. It’s not as if we’ve forgotten that rest matters.
Well, actually, we have forgotten that, haven’t we? Most people are scrimping on their sleep, leading fast-paced, high-pressure lives, running to stand still and yet whenever there is a spare moment, we feel guilt unless we are unleashing our creativity and making something new. We’re in a desperate race to survive and pay the bills, but also want to live a rich and fulfilled life. It seems that the more the pressures of work mount, the greater seems our need to play just as hard as we work. We don’t want to miss a thing. As a consequence, something has to give. That something is rest.
When was the last time you genuinely felt rested? Be honest. I know lots of people, myself included, that spend their days pushing through their fatigue just to keep going. We do a long day of work, including overtime, commute long distances in heavy traffic, attend to all the normal things that family life requires and then we sit down in the evenings and on weekends and expect to compose like Beethoven, paint like Da Vinci and write like Hemmingway. Who are we kidding?
There’s a whole culture and industry built up around being more effective, producing more in less time, working smarter and living life to the full, even if you are dog tired and crying out for some down time. Recreation is supposed to permit you to recreate yourself, but you cannot do it without rest. Meanwhile, segments of the life coaching industry are pushing us all to put in extraordinary amounts of massive personal effort and go that extra voluntary mile, to be a linchpin and stand out from the crowd (who are also putting in massive personal effort, like we all are). How? By sleeping even less and being even less restful?
If you get into that long term fatigue habit, which people often call “burnout”, everything you do is an effort, nothing feels like fun anymore, you can’t appreciate and sense the world around you like an aesthete should and you begin to feel like everything you attempt is pointless. It’s a poisonous state of mind, but the cure is simple. One of the most important things you can do, as an artist or as a human being, is remember that you are not some kind of artistic mechanism that cranks out work, ad infinitum. You are, in fact, a mammal. Mammals need sleep. Rest is important.
Wouldn’t it be good if we could respect what our bodies and minds tell us and rest whenever we feel the need to do so. I’m sure we’d all be more productive and creative if we did. It’s frowned upon to take a nap in the middle of the day (especially in a nine-to- five job!). We are commanded to be awake at a set time every week day, according to the needs of commerce. What if you slept badly, for reasons you couldn’t do anything about? Why should people pretend they are not mammals and wake on command, when not rested? Why are the needs of commerce paramount and the needs of the creatures that must do the work not important at all?
We’re so conditioned to cramming our every waking hour with activity and neglecting our mammalian need to rest that, when surveyed about what people would do, if there were eight days a week, instead of seven, most responded that they would do more. Hardly anybody said they would take the extra time to rest. Is it any wonder we can begin to feel like we’re on a treadmill, neglecting the important things in life and pursuing the ultimately unimportant and unfulfilling, in the name of paying the bills? Has it gotten to the point where jobs are so little fun, that we so crave doing something interesting and pleasurable in our non-work hours we are prepared to sacrifice our sleep and hence live in a permanent state of extreme fatigue? Wouldn’t it be better to fix the root cause of the problem, instead of just reducing our hours in bed?
Why the guilt? Why the mad frenzy? Resting is one of the most important things we can do to preserve our creative abilities and productive capacities. It isn’t something we should all be in denial about. But first, we must remake industry, commerce and the addiction to clocking on and being present, for fear of somebody else taking our livelihoods away. It’s a form of insidious, collective madness, really.
Throw a blankie over your computer and take a five minute break.