My Journey to Rest
If you are new to my work, I am a trauma-informed breathwork teacher and the author of How to Breathe: 25 Simple Practices for Calm, Joy, and Resilience
. I work with clients individually and facilitate group work through retreats and trainings. Even though I have devoted much of my life to healing and service work, I didn’t come to rest with ease. I came to the practice of rest like I showed up to my first twelve-step meeting: broken down, disconnected, and completely out of options. And just as I surrendered in my early twelve-step days to the truth of my addictions and how far I would go to avoid the pain I carried, learning how to rest involved a surrender.
When I first started questioning the pace of my life, I had been in recovery groups and therapy for more than a decade and had a strong yoga and breathing practice. And my life still wasn’t working. Something was missing, making it impossible for me to settle for extended periods of time. My body asked me in many ways to slow down, to take a break, to feel, and I was not listening. I felt I had no real value unless I kept myself busy, calm-seeming, looking like I had it figured out and could do life all by myself. Eventually I experienced a series of emotional and physical breakdowns while sober. I hit one wall, then another, until I finally hit bottom and could not go on.
Heeding the advice of my twelve-step sponsor, I put myself on a plane back to my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, where I spent five weeks at my mother’s house, slowing down, resting, and allowing her to show up for me. During my time there, I napped almost every day. I took walks with my mother around the lake by her house. We cooked nearly every meal together. I stopped going on social media. I took a break from my friend group. I went to yoga classes. I started to breathe a little deeper. I took care of myself and allowed my mother to support me.
For years I muscled my way through life, believing it was superior, even noble, to take care of myself without the support of others. I unconsciously participated in some of the most damaging illusions that are woven into the fabric of our culture: the false idea that we are separate, that our individual needs are more important than the needs of the whole. When I began my journey to rest, I became aware that self-reliance was depleting me many times over and that despite my best efforts to uphold the individualist framework in my life, I was never truly on my own. I was in fact interdependent. Becoming aware of that interconnection gave me the necessary support to rest, to regroup, to recalibrate, to feel the beating of my heart and envision a future I wanted to be a part of.
After years of being on the run and feeling alone, I was finally willing to press pause on my life and spend focused time cultivating a relationship with the medicine that I desperately needed—the medicine of rest. Going back to my hometown in Georgia was a turning point. I surrendered to the cries of my body and made a commitment to stop avoiding what I was terrified to face if I slowed down long enough to rest: myself.
It turned out that learning to rest in our dominant culture of “always on” busyness and grind until you burn out was much more of a challenge than getting sober. Resting was something much more elusive to me. I didn’t know I needed it, or that I was allowed to do it, let alone cultivate it into a healing practice. Returning to Georgia was one of the best decisions I ever made for my mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health. It set me on a path of uncovering why I kept pushing myself into periods of burnout. This led me to untangle and start healing the trauma I had inherited and experienced in my life. This journey proved to me that even though I struggled with believing in myself and trusting myself (and my body), I was worth taking care of. I was worth feeling rested. Why Rest?
My experience with rest has been anything but linear, anything but smooth. I’ve had to learn through fits and starts that rest isn’t just an activity you do occasionally when you’re exhausted. Rest is a practice, and practices require consistency, dedication, and a willingness to show up. Even when you’re too busy. Especially
when you’re too busy.
Resting for little while here and there isn’t enough to create meaningful, sustainable changes. Although you will likely feel a shift after just a few moments of resting, rest is a cumulative practice. This means that the benefits and transformation you experience from rest will grow and deepen over time. We learn through repetition, through practices that are repeatable, and through our devotion to keep up with our practice when it’s tough to rest. We will face many difficult moments as we open ourselves up to rest. Furthermore, when we are willing to commit to a consistent rest practice, we begin to touch into the wisdom of rest that is already present within our own bodies no matter how far away it feels, how much our bodies have suffered, or how many times we have abandoned our bodies along the way.
When we rest, we move toward feeling more connected, present, and satisfied in our lives. When we rest, we open ourselves up to align with seasons of renewal within ourselves, within each other, and within nature. When we are more rested as individuals, we can transform our always-on culture of inequality, individualism, and frantic productivity into a more thoughtful, grounded culture of interdependence and well-being. And, when we are more rested, we have the energy and capacity to work together to create a revolutionary future built on practices, ideas, and solutions that are in service of all forms of life.
Copyright © 2023 by Ashley Neese. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.