I’LL SLEEP WHEN I DIE – How Do You Know That?

The Uncool Importance of Rest

Photo: Marc Chen

Recently I’ve been on an enforced downtime period. Having worked for a school on a sessional basis I was facing an unpaid summer break. A new job lined up and the start date kept getting delayed. Despite many efforts to find a replacement job, days slipped into weeks and before I knew it I had spent eight weeks ‘in between jobs’.

The old me would never have been able to tolerate this. I would have been ridden with guilt, an inner voice nagging at me saying, “you should be working like everyone else”. The inner critic ranting on his soap box about my ‘laziness’. However this time I didn’t feel guilty.

I chose to listen to my instinct, my body. I found I only had a certain amount of energy for a new job search. So I behaved in a new way by trusting the wisdom of my body and that  lack of energy. I have been experimenting with this as a result of my training in gestalt therapy. Gestalt theory, with some of its roots in Taoism, postulates that anything and everything of importance to you is incorporated in the present moment. Therefore what you have energy for in the moment is what is most helpful to you in your life.

Gestalt theory talks of the embodied self. Our experience of our body is our experience of ourself. The embodied self knows best what is the best action and non-action to meet our needs, regardless of whether this seems like the conventional, logical, practical thing that we ‘should be’ doing. Gestaltist Kepner says:

 “When we make our body experience an “It” instead of “I”, we make ourselves less than we are”

I’m not saying that trusting in my embodied self was easy and at times there would be an episode of “sh**, what am I going to do?”, however mainly I did.

So why did I need eight weeks off?

A Lesson in Trust

I  imagine that part of the reason was a lesson I had to learn about trusting in life and its abundance. It was also about trusting in myself. The image that comes to mind is of having to jump off a cliff and trust that there will be a rock pool underneath to catch me. It did. A tax return came in, some other lucky financial breaks, and the universe rewarded my trust by giving me just enough to make it through the jobless period.

Organic Need

Before the summer break whilst still working hard, I had fantasised about a proper eight week summer holiday. I had dreams of French villas, long balmy evenings eating al fresco with a large group of friends, a white sand beach, lounging, reading, taking siestas. My financial constraints did not permit this but perhaps the universe had granted me its version of my wish.

The message my fantasy was giving me was, “I need a proper rest”. Not a weekend, not a week, a proper break.

A Period To Re-Orientate  My Life Path

During my break I paid attention to my energy, doing activities that I had enthusiasm for, resting when I felt to rest and pausing when I did not know. Then I would ask myself:

“What is important for me in this moment? What do I have energy for?”

Often an answer would come. I also became more aware that when I force myself to do something because I should, the work is not as high quality as if I had waited till I felt like doing it.

There is of course a fear that if I wait till I have energy for some things then I would never do them. Gestalt theory might counter this fear by arguing that if you do not have energy for something then it is not important for you. In a 9 – 5 job it is not possible to fully embrace this strategy however part of my inquiry over this period was into what I wanted be doing in my working life and how I could adapt it to make it more congruent with my passions. If I never have energy for doing company accounts then perhaps that job is not the job I need.

Yin Time/Soul Time

During this resting period I also felt quite happy to be at home alone, even for extended periods. Due to financial constraints I did not have much choice but one could argue that this constraint was in place precisely so I did spend time alone, at home.

‘Do you not get lonely if you spend the weekend alone?’ a friend asked. No. This is a new aspect of me. In the past, after a couple of days alone I would start to feel down. Now I am able to entertain myself, whether it be going for a run, earthing in the park, taking a salt water bath, reading, writing or working on a creative project.

The same friend, a shiatsu master then understood me more and explained about yin and the soul. I have covered yin energy in a separate article. This is the feminine energy which is associated with the earth and is passive and yielding and cooling. It exists in relationship to yang, masculine energy which is active and creative and warming.

During this period I became aware that my yin energy was depleted. I have covered some of this in another article. Many people have depleted kidney yin energy from pressing the ‘override’ switch too many times: too much partying, working, alcohol, coffee and other types of stress. The symptoms of depleted kidney yin energy are the classic symptoms of burnout: looking older than your age, hair loss, feeling tired the whole time.

The only way to change this imbalance is by resting, cutting back on artificial stimulants and listening to your body’s needs. Most importantly, there is no quick fix. We cannot simply pop another pill to get a magical recovery – although there are Chinese herbal remedies. An attempt to override this condition is to have completely missed the message which is:

You Need To Rest !

Not for one day, not for one weekend or even one week, but proper rest, proportionate to the amount of time you have been pressing override and certainly long enough for your body to rebalance itself. Think how many months a year we spend in winter  – yin time, as opposed to summer – yang time. As well as resting you can eat yin balancing foods like kidney beans, blueberries, Spirulina, seafood and others.

And Spend Time With Yourself !

The friend explained that yin is associated with the soul whereas yang is associated with the spirit in traditional Chinese medicine. When there is a need for yin time then spirit activities associated with yang like being the life and soul of the party, are not nourishing. During yin time what is nourishing are activities associated with the soul like being by nature, meditation and spending time alone.

 But these are such uncool words…..

Even as write I have the echoes of whispers in my head saying,‘’this is so not cool”. So much more cool are the slogans saying, “I’ll sleep when I die”. Or complaining to friends about having so much to do, being so overworked but then carrying on regardless and throwing in a  couple of wild nights or hardcore early morning yoga classes to boot.

Addicted to Yang

It’s as if we are caught up in a race, trying to outdo ourselves in how busy and active and yang we are. Being busy, being overworked, being hung over is cool. But according to the Tao, yang cannot exist without yin just as yin cannot exist without yang.

Stepping Out of  the Race

What does it take? It takes faith in oneself and in life. It takes the willingness to learn to be by yourself. It takes the willingness to listen to your self and ask  “What do I need, what is important to me in this moment”.  It takes the willingness to embrace whatever feelings come up when we are not getting our sense of identity bolstered by our work, our friends, our routine.

Rest and then ……

I am experiencing more inner peace and self acceptance as well as more trust in my instincts. I have also been more in touch with inner joy, smiling in the street for no apparent reason. I also have more energy to re-enter working life, with the adjustments I’ve made, so that the activities I do to pay the bills hold more of my interest and enthusiasm.

I’m not saying we should all be on yin time, after all yin needs yang. We each go through cycles of rest and activity and what is right for me might not be right for you. All I ask is that you give Yin a chance. You might see just how cool she really is!

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