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Cultivating a New Relationship to Rest

by Jennifer Castillo, originally published January 2023

As our lifestyles have shifted to meet the demands of our ever-changing world, our relationship to rest has atrophied. In a capitalist society that glorifies “the grind” and “the hustle”, the need for cultivating a new relationship to rest is now more important than ever. However, we have mistaken passive consumption for rest. While we may lay down to scroll on our phones or watch a show, we are still stimulating the mind, so it is no surprise that we never feel truly rested. Resting the mind is just as crucial as resting the body.

As our need to be constantly available and online consumes every moment of our waking lives, it is more of a challenge to stop and sit in stillness. It can even be physically uncomfortable to do so.

Because our nervous systems have become conditioned to operating with heightened cortisol levels, rest can actually feel unsafe.

You may observe this in your own body during moments of stillness, when your mind desperately grasps for anything to focus on. For those of us who are so stressed out that our minds simply will not quiet, there is a gentle way to “hack” the mind by leading it to relaxation. By giving the body mindless, repetitive tasks, the mind will gradually learn to feel safety in rest.

a photo of a wood table outside with trees and houses in the background. On the left side of the table sits an old book with a pair of reading glasses resting on top. In the center is a cup of black tea on a saucer. On the right is a cozy knitted white blanket.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Walking in nature

  • Crafting

  • Washing dishes

  • Coloring, drawing, painting

  • Gardening, chopping wood

  • Preparing a favorite meal

  • Petting a cat, dog, or furry friend

  • Stretching, restorative yoga

  • Gently dancing while listening to music

The first step towards change is awareness. But once you're aware, it can be challenging to actually turn that awareness into practice. Gradually exposing our nervous systems to more space, stillness, and rest will be a difficult process for many of us. So be gentle, be observant, and always have compassion for yourself.

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