Of all the challenges I have faced and overcome in recent years, one of the trickiest has been finding the self-discipline to rest. After 10 months on the Australian tour of Rogers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, followed by a wonderful segue back into the world of opera in Stonnington’s Opera on the Silver Screen at Victoria Gardens, I found myself with a couple of empty months in the diary. My philosophy as a freelancer has been one of ‘wuwei’ 無為 – actionless action, going with the flow of life. So I took this period of (f)underemployment as a time to deeply rest and rejuvenate. A season of fallow.
And yet… How restless the mind that is habituated into constantly looking for positive and useful things to do! Apart from occasional days at my sometimes-jobs of editing and acting, I was seeking out auditions and other opportunities. But most of all, my period of rest filled up with the busy-work of the everyday – there was always some little household task, some unsettled inner drive that kept me constantly active. As a result, I couldn’t shake the familiar feeling of not having enough hours in each day… and this was meant to be my holiday!
I understand, intellectually, how important rest is to development. How the benefits of exercise, both mental and physical, are not taken up by the body without the requisite follow-up period of rest. I knew perfectly well that my body needed to steep in rest, like tea leaves in hot water. But I couldn’t resist adding that impatient and premature dash of milk that stops the steeping and leaves your cuppa weak and unpalatable!
The reason for this has eventually become clear to me. The unsettling impetus – that inner drive that struggles to be still – is fear. And strong emotions, like fear, have little respect for intellectual factoids, like the body’s need for rest. I felt afraid that if I rested for too long, I would be overtaken and ‘fall behind’ – as a artist, as a professional… even just as a human being! And with social media awash with the successes of others, what further proof did my poor mind need? Every day I rested was a day other people were out achieving things! Oh the FOMO! A fresh demon, lurking behind each notification! I am beginning to see the limits of a ‘staycation’, when true rest seems to require a disconnection from everyday life.
To dig a layer deeper, I now see that my difficulty in resting comes from that uralt primordial feeling of being ‘not good enough’. That without constant hard work, I would always fall short and fail, and therefore be ‘unworthy’. I have written in this blog before about my experience with chronic fatigue, and how it forced me to confront the idea of my self-worth when not achieving things. Perhaps the dopamine hit of 250 shows in 10 months left me drunk on achievement! It has taken this slowing down to be reminded of that wisdom again.
So for the next part of my season of fallow, I am going to try getting out into nature more – even just for single days at a time. Or even just for an afternoon. Notifications off, and away from the everyday.
For each day you dig deep to just turn up – to just withstand the world’s white water pushing you this way and that – when each day’s enthusiastic obligations pull you out into that aching, busy loneliness, teeth out, steeped in perfumed positive attitude, for each of those days, you must pay yourself forward – one day. One future day, where all those efforts will be redeemed, to refill the emptiness you scraped clean, getting through on residue – you must replenish, re-piece the peace of your soul. Don’t let those days gather up like coupons on the fridge, a suspended old bouquet, dry and curling on the silver surface, with faded expiration dates barely visible. Do it now. Take an afternoon, by a lake, where your eyes delight in sunlight dappling through wavelets and rushes. Take a morning forest walk, where fruiting mushrooms crouch in darkness, their savoury damp springing forth from their underground kingdoms. Redeem a day of toil with a bowl of herbal soup - drink not just the healing liquid, but the loving hands that prepared it, the warm and tasty broth hugging your heart on the way down. You may have a hundred days to redeem. You may have a thousand. But each day will have its day. Each expense its recompense. The books must be balanced or your brains will fall out, your head will explode and you’ll die.