Rest as a Spiritual Practice

Photo by Mari Helin on Unsplash

When I bring up the topic of rest, the responses I most often hear are “I don’t have time to rest” and “I’ll rest once I… {insert current project / task / life stage here}”.

I get this — for years I operated under the belief that I had too much to do, that rest would be something I would get to later, or like the adage says “I’ll rest when I’m dead.”

The truth is, most of us are too tired and busy NOT to rest.

I’ve learned this the hard way, reaching a point of total physical, mental, emotional and spiritual burnout that was so deep I felt I would never find my way out of it. At the time, I was sleeping 8–10 hours a night, yet would wake up feeling exhausted. I’ve recently stumbled upon these words from Warren Mueller, which pretty well sums it up I think:

“A successful life has become a violent enterprise. We make war on our own bodies, pushing them beyond their limits; war on our children, because we cannot find enough time to be with them; war on our spirit, because we are too preoccupied to listen to the quiet voices that seek to nourish and refresh us.”

(By the way, it’s important to recognize that rest is not the same as sleep. You can get a full night’s sleep and still not feel rested, and you can feel rested even getting just a few hours’ sleep.)

What I’ve come to learn is that rest is not just something our bodies need, it’s something our spirits need as well. You can find admonishments to rest in most spiritual traditions (many setting aside a whole day of the week devoted to it).

Whether you’re religious or not, the fact that spiritual teachings contain directives to rest points to two things:

  1. Rest is necessary for the human spirit.
  2. Human beings are historically forgetful/neglectful about doing it.

When I think of rest as a spiritual practice, I begin to shift out of seeing rest as optional — something to do after all else is done — and into seeing it as an necessity — a critical ingredient in my vitality, development, and awareness. Below are some additional thoughts on rest as a spiritual.

  1. Rest is an investment in our own restoration, and is necessary for growth. Yes, NECESSARY. Think of it this way, a bodybuilder tears muscle down by lifting heavy weights, but the muscle is GROWN through rest. The same is true for our mental, emotional, and spiritual growth — we need space for our spirits to integrate and process and grow, space where we aren’t DOING, but simply BEING. Space in which our only “job” is our own restoration.
  2. Rest introduces an opportunity for stillness. For most of us, it’s virtually impossible to create the stillness in the hustle of daily life, and stillness is a key ingredient for connecting to our own intuition, tuning into the voice of the Divine, and laying the foundation for inspiration. When we’re busy rushing from one thing to the next, we miss out on hearing the still, small voice that is calling each of us into the most peaceful, loving, and creative versions of ourselves.
  3. Rest requires faith. Faith that the tasks will still somehow manage to get done, and bills will somehow manage to get paid, even if we allow ourselves to step back for a moment and give ourselves a break. Through the spiritual practice of rest, we learn to trust that the world will continue turning, that life has a way of working itself out, and that the people in our lives will have their needs met when we take the time to meet our own needs first.

When we give ourselves the gift of rest, we honor the wonderful mystery of our own spirits, and the fragile beauty of our humanness.

We recognize ourselves as finite beings with limits and, in doing so, we give ourselves permission to recognize the same in others.