Our culture continually values a go! go! go! mentality. We praise busyness and put it on a pedestal, showcasing it to others through our swift works and hasty words. We rush between activities, ever-striving for efficiency, determined to hack our way through our running lists of dos, executing timely delivery of our individual by-whens. The way we conduct our schedules often has more the appearance of agility training, however frantic. While we set off in hopes to pull it all off with grace, at the day's end we're often just glad we didn't literally break a leg.
Sometimes we schedule intentional time to relax-- and maybe we'll even commit to it if a higher priority task doesn't stroll along and weasel it's way up on our lists. Yet even the very act of scheduling time for rest somehow makes rest seem less restful and more effortful, becoming yet another thing to check off as complete (which then perhaps leads to guilt if we don't "accomplish" it).
When did all this madness begin? I am sure many arguments can be made as to the whens and whys, but perhaps the more effective question to ask now is does it matter and if so what now?
It does matter. Studies show that an absence of rest over time makes us feel out of sync with ourselves and physically drained. Research on the topic of prolonged stress indicates that there are obvious links to our overall health. An abundance of stress and a lack of rest can make us more prone to illness and debilitating disease. (Admittedly, I get stressed out even thinking about all the consequences of it!) However, on the other side of the spectrum studies show that when the brain is at a state of rest, where the mind is given the freedom to wander and daydream, our brain activity actually increases and our creativity awakens and stirs. This becomes more obvious as we spend a little time contemplating various historical figures. So many great inventors, artists, and/or speakers of truth, incorporated not just a time of work and play, but also time for solitude, retreat, and wandering. It seems profoundly probable that these times of complementary stillness were necessary to allow for their creativity to flourish.
Here is what I'm not saying: I certainly don't endorse a lackadaisical drive or work ethic. I consider myself a very diligent worker, and come from a long line of industrious individuals. However, for myself this vigor has almost always been to a fault-- there have been times where I've sought so long and hard to do all things and to be all things, whether it was working hours beyond expectation or simultaneously having multiple jobs, approaching each with equal enthusiasm and determination, trying so hard to excel, yet coming up short. At the end of the day, there was never enough time to do it all, and time after time I'd have to admit to myself that I'd run out of steam-- this would lead to frustration and a following burn-out, and even feelings of guilt that I wasn't enough. So here is what I am saying, which I learned after continuing in this pattern for too long: you can't do everything (and if you attempt it, you can't do everything well). Furthermore, a profound revelation which stemmed from this lesson was: nor should you do everything. Upon discovering this after evaluating my previous patterns of striving, I was able to part ways with my feelings of guilt and lack, joyously discovering that limitations can be liberating (whether they be actual or intentional). It is when we offer ourselves some spaciousness in our bodies, minds, and schedules that we can live more fully, creatively, and authentically.
Maybe you can ease into incorporating this notion of idleness, allowing permission for space and rest, in the simple way that I'm attempting in my life: make some margin. Give yourself some breathing room between activities on your schedule. Perhaps rather than penciling in specific time in for yourself, just give yourself some breathing room between meetings, projects, tasks or errands, letting that space unfold organically. If you have an hour or so between things, maybe take a walk in a new territory, taking time to wander and observe the sights and sounds of a less familiar place. Maybe park yourself on a bench and lie down for some quality cloud contemplation. Smell some flowers. Perhaps light a candle in your office and watch the flame dance in the draft. Find a spot where you can throw your legs up the wall for a few minutes. Maybe just take a few moments in seated meditation. When we create more margin between activities on our schedules, we allow for more space for meaning and possibility.
A couple great poses for quality idle time:
Sukasana: sit down with one shin in front of the other-- criss-cross applesauce, my friend. Sukah is the sanskrit word for ease or comfort, so truly allow yourself to find both of these qualities in this pose. As you come to stillness, feel yourself connected to the ground beneath you. Feel yourself getting taller through the crown of the head as you root deeper in your seated posture. Take cleansing breaths in and out through the nose. Encourage your shoulder blades to draw onto the back slightly, to allow your collarbones to broaden and smile. Be sure to switch the crossing of the legs half way through to encourage both hips to open. Place your hands wherever feels natural for you.
Viparita Korani: (bolster or folded blanket is optional to place beneath the hips) sit with your hips next to a wall and then swing your legs up onto the wall and come to lie down on your back. Take your arms out to the sides, either extended or with a bend in the elbows. Encourage your palms to spin and face the ceiling. Allow the eyes to close, and keep the breath fluid, moving in and out through the nose (simultaneous puppy snuggling is optional, but highly recommended).
Savasana: Come to lie down on your back. Allow the legs and feet to splay open in a restful state. Take your arms out at an angle, and ensure that no objects are touching you, unless they are intentionally placed props. Allow all the muscles in the face to relax, let your shoulders be heavy on the ground. Close the eyes and let the eyes settle deep into their sockets. Let the breath be soft, but fluid. If you are experiencing any lower back discomfort, bend the knees and place the feet on the mat, allowing the feet to be wide and the knees to knock in toward one another.