When the approach to our life is conceptual, then the emphasis is on behavior, on doing. Whereas when the approach is through…the heart, caring is a shift in the way you come to something; it is an opening…There are behaviors that will spontaneously arise from true caring, but true caring is not a behavior. It is a complete and unconditional acceptance of what is.” – Stephen Robbins Schwartz
I’ll never forget something my beloved mentor, Dr. Gordon Neufeld, taught me about healing – that “all growth comes from a place of rest.”
When I first heard this statement, I felt my entire being exhale, even though I wasn’t quite sure what he meant. (It’s probably because I have inner parts that like to work really hard to feel safe!)
Since that time, this idea of ‘rest’ has blossomed to companion, shape, and transform me.
Today I’m going to talk a little bit more about rest and how rest can support you in your relationship with food – or any area of your life where you feel distress, frustration, anxiety, or shame.
What is rest?
While we often think of rest as sleep, taking a break, or not working, rest encompasses so much more.
Emotional rest is an energy of warm acceptance of our emotional state – whatever our emotional weather may be at the moment. In this rest we find room – hospitality for the wide range of emotional experiences that can arise through our hearts and minds.
So we can feel prickly, testy, irritable, jealous, joyful, contented, sad, angry, hopeful, yearning – the full width of human emotion – and know that there’s holding and space.
Psychological and spiritual rest is resting in a sense of wholeness and acceptance – when we aren’t trying to perform, earn worthiness, or create a ‘better self’ before we can belong. Rather, we feel our belongingness as something independent of any measurement of ourselves.
I like the way Dr. Neufeld says it: “Life gives us an unconditional invitation to exist.” To me, this is the essence of spiritual rest – there’s no image we’re trying to achieve or uphold, no demand for us to prove ourselves or to make ourselves worthy.
What is work?
The opposite of rest is work – and my goodness, how we work. We all hold an image in our minds of what we think we’ll be like when we’re ‘healed.’
So often, we’re trying to ‘earn’ or ‘create’ rest – to achieve or match up to this image of ‘healed.’ We work so hard to achieve what we think we’re missing! We look to the future, to a time when we imagine having the rest we seek.
Often this rest is tied to getting something we don’t currently have – having more money, more healing, being further along, achieving a goal, achieving a measure of success, having a better relationship, reaching a lower weight or having a healthier body.
When we’re working to get this rest, we feel productive and powerful, like ‘we’re doing something’ or ‘getting things in order.’ That’s why it can be so hard to stop – as long as we’re doing something, we feel like we’re getting to where we need to go.
‘Doing something’ soothes the inner anxiety we feel about ‘something being missing’ or ‘something being wrong.’
The necessary futility: we can’t come to rest by creating a ‘better’ version of ourselves
But rest can’t be found in the future. And it can’t be found in some ‘better’ or idealized version of ourselves.
When we place external demands on how we ‘should’ be doing, our brains, hearts, and bodies feel stressed. We’re removed from the safety that supports and scaffolds us. We subtly go to war against ourselves. We feel this drive to be somewhere or someone else.
Rest – and healing – are found when we soften and let go of these images of future healing, and instead, welcome ourselves, as we are, in the moment, where we are already whole.
We will always be incomplete – incomplete in the way our mind thinks that we’re incomplete. We will never meet the standards of our images. Facing this futility – and letting it sink in – may at first feel like failure. But as we allow ourselves to let go of these images of our future improvement, we feel such relief.
What if the healing we long for is already here, and already holding us? What if where we are is sacred, and loved, and supported – right here, in this moment when we feel most unlovable or worthy?
If we’re already whole, and if we’re already invited to exist, and if we’re already held in our healing, then we don’t have to earn wholeness, or love.
Instead, life is where we express healing, where we express love, where we express our wholeness, and our whole selves.
Our places of suffering and wounding – and we all have them – become places where we show ourselves grace, where we listen deeply, and where we companion the orphaned places within. It’s in this very place where we find the welcome we are working so hard to achieve.
Rest is a gift, something we receive
Rest isn’t something we do, but something we receive. We fall back into rest, like a river that holds us.
In rest, we don’t feel pushed or pulled, as if we have to create a specific emotion, attitude, energy, or emotional, spiritual, or mental state to be okay. Striving stops, and softens.
With rest, we experience more levity, less shame, and less tension about ‘getting it right.’ There’s less frustration about our struggles, and more curiosity about the kind of support that can help us – whether that’s setting a limit, asking for help from others, reaching out to a support group or therapist, calling a friend when we feel driven by our impulses, going for a walk, and more.
Because we’re already loved, already known, and already home – and because our traumas and struggles are already loved and known – we don’t have to adhere to any image, schedule, or preset condition for healing.
Instead, we unfold, and allow ourselves to be held along the way.
I close with a favorite poem from Philip Booth, a beloved depiction of what it means to allow ourselves to rest – to be held in love. I wish this rest for all of us.
First Lesson by Philip Booth
Lie back, daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man’s-float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.