Hammocks make me smile, whether they’re occupied or not, still or moving softly in the wind, hanging in a land-locked backyard or enticingly at a beachside resort, or simply pictured beautifully in a catalog (thank you, L.L.Bean for inspiring my purchase decades ago!). Hammocks make me smile whether they’re hung from pine trees during a camping trip in the wild, rigged between a mast and a jib on a sailboat, or simply squeezed makeshift between rafters on a porch. I have a thing for hammocks. I love what they represent: REST.
Rest. It’s one of those four-letter words like stop and stay and calm and play that, if I’m painfully honest, are more-often-than-not aspirational words in my life. (As I briskly walked past my neighbor’s house this morning, I told him I was writing an article about rest. He looked at me a bit askew, tried to be polite and kept himself from laughing out loud.)
I know you get it. You want to rest. Not vacation-rest, since vacations aren’t always restful, especially this summer, when an action-packed adventure might be just the thing after our lockdowns. The rest I’m talking about is different. It’s not vacation. It’s not sleep. It’s refreshment — ease, quiet, a halting of activity. Rest is essential to our well-being.
In her keynote to the international gathering of book-selling retailers last month, Oprah said simply, “Our boats have been rocked this past year.” She, of course, echoes what we all have felt. As Type A, hard-driving, results-oriented leaders in our respective arenas, it was often hard to row with all our heart. Rest, in the sense of refreshing, was perhaps the first thing to go during the many months of the pandemic. How does one rest between back-to-back Zoom calls all day long? Where does one go when all her family members are gathered under one roof with a multitude of often competing technical, emotional and practical needs? Why pause to rest when deadlines abound and staff have been cut?
Instead of resting, we became weary.
It’s almost subversive to even discuss rest. We live in a culture best summarized by a billboard that ran in Miami several years ago: “Work Hard. Play Ferociously.” As a society, we’ve gotten those two down pat, but how or where does rest fit into this pithy equation?
Spiritual teachers from very different traditions caution us that rest should be a non-negotiable. Vietnamese monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us, “It’s very important that we re-learn the art of resting and relaxing. Not only does it help prevent the onset of many illnesses that develop through chronic tension and worrying; it allows us to clear our minds, focus and find creative solutions to problems.”
Pastor and professor Mark Buchanan writes in “The Holy Wild,” “Most of the things we need to be most fully alive never come in busyness. They grow in rest.” And worship leader, singer-songwriter Christy Nockels posed this provocative question in her new book, “The Life You Long For: Learning to Live From a Heart at Rest”: “What if our hustling is actually holding us back?”
We need rest. It’s not a luxury. Don’t we all want to be fully alive? Most especially after our boats have been rocked?
Resting makes space for us to simply stop and be, to stay present and calm and allow things to occur to us. Resting allows other “RE” words to playfully trickle up and give us pause — verbs like recalibrate, recommit, reflect, restore, reconstruct, recharge, recuperate, renew, reestablish, rewind, reveal, receive.
Rest allows all sorts of things to grow if we wrest ourselves away from the never-ending demands of work and play. Rest makes meaning of all our activity.
Unlike the long and lingering summers of our childhoods, these adult summers seem to fly by more quickly each year. We have just under 100 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day to check off all our summer goals. Therefore, why not join me in making rest your priority goal this summer? Keep working hard and playing ferociously if you must, but this summer, make time to also rest extravagantly.
Think of rest as an adventure. An investment. A growth strategy. A gift. A prayer. A discipline or practice or new muscle. Invest the word with whatever makes the most sense for you, but just do it. Rest. Hard stop … hammock strictly optional.