🎶 rest 🎶
re-arranging my life and slowing down
I’ve always been a go-getter. It’s not that I don’t like to relax — I do! But my idea of fun is usually something structured, something ambitious, something that pays homage to the holy trinity: stimulation, introspection, and communion. I love excitement and grandeur; for many years, even while recreating, I pushed myself to do more, to be more, to make more.
Here’s an example. While on a backpacking trip, I partied so hard one week that for the following month my sleep became mildly biphasic: I slept for 6 hours every night and then another 2 in the afternoon, and this helped me pursue my high octane nightlife. Totally chill, right? Another. for many months at my last job I worked during the weekends, and went 100% during the week, trying to suit the right balance of talking to and being in touch with everyone while also making ample time for deep work. Here’s one more. I managed two whole years of work and travel and time off, all while living out of a medium-sized suitcase and moving once every month or so. I occasionally returned home to live at my parents house, but during this window of time I didn’t sleep in any one building or bed for more than a consecutive 40 days.
I exhaust myself regularly. And while I call on these extreme and extenuating examples to indicate this, I am not alone. At MIT the ethos was “work hard, play hard” — for all of the heads down study, we encouraged one another to party long nights, experiment with all the substances, and go 150% on extracurriculars. And I carried this way of being into my adult life. I’m drawn to chaotic, immersive, demanding work environments. I find joy in giving all of myself to a company and team, beauty in eradicating myself for the sake of a mission, simplicity in having one big thing to care about at all times, and camaraderie with all the others who join me in pursuing professional potency. And the intensity of this pattern increases dramatically when I’m in pain.
This isn’t scalable. Over the course of the pandemic I’ve taken enough Ls to recognize that my typical pattern of taking on more as a response to loss or grief or anger just does not work. In fact, most of the time when I’m hurting, turning the volume up to eleven only makes the situation worse.
After my parents’s divorce, I took to partying to cope. I consumed 10+ alcoholic drinks a night. I forewent any sense of routine. Of course I can handle this, right? I can handle anything! I was determined to show off — more to myself than anyone — that I was unaffected, even happy about this milestone. And looking back, I can see the cocktail of emotions brewing inside of me: anger, fear, regret, relief, jubilation, weariness, betrayal, cynicism, freedom. Yes, taking the time to unravel myself would require time, patience, and exposure to pain. But it would have also prevented me from hurting my closest loved ones in the furious torrent my behavior created.
I look back on where I was last year, how much I just needed to rest, and I realize that so many people live their lives the way I did: going from one thing to the next, unaware of the pain they might cause others, self-regulating and self-medicating with substances, socializing, sex, success. After the divorce and my behavior that resulted from it, I went on a month-long trip with D, with no plans except to enjoy time with one another. And it was on that trip that we processed my actions and the impact it had on our relationship, made time for unveiling, relaxing, discussing, grieving, and celebrating all of the various things that led to our relationship being where it was. Without that time to rest, our relationship may be much more brittle today, or likely it would not exist at all. We used the opportunity wisely: connecting with one another, being present with hard feelings, calling in a series of couple’s therapists, reading books on our situation together, making and commemorating new memories. That rest served as the foundation for the trust-building process we’ve been on over the entire last year, that we may be on for the rest of our relationship and the rest of our lives.
I had my ass handed to me again in the winter, after a week of partying with fellow Substack team members, staying out late, ignoring the very real warning signs about the omicron wave. And once again, the universe did me a favor: I got infected with COVID right before the winter holiday, and luckily had a safe space to quarantine. I spent that time reflecting on the impact of a holiday free of sightseeing, coarse family dynamics, or intense and regular travel. In short, I rested, this time able to actually appreciate what it was: my body and spirit returning to a place where I could feel creative, optimistic, present, and aligned1.
I try to make one New Years resolution every year. Something that’s less of a goal and more of an intention, that I can take it and apply it to a variety of situations. Ideally by the end of the year I know how to incorporate it into my life. For example, I had a resolution a few years ago to carry a water bottle with me at all times, no matter the situation. And the result is that now I always carry water with me. I hydrate more often, and am able to provide this for others.
In 2022 I resolved to prioritize rest, coming off of this miraculous and loving omicron experience. Between my summer experience and my winter one, I felt completely assured of rest as a way of being to explore more deeply, and sure that I didn’t want to retrace my path through the lessons of the previous year. Life provided me with ample opportunities to make rest a priority: balancing a desire to party with my new commitment to being alcohol-free; pursuing connections with new friends while also prioritizing long-term, nourishing relationships; making space for creativity and focus amongst an ever-opening social landscape in San Francisco.
At one point in the year I looked at my social calendar and realized that I had 2 months of fully booked weekends: trips or visits or festivals or other commitments. I felt overwhelmed, and mapped out the entire schedule so I could see clearly what was missable, what was important, and what I could reschedule. In the name of prioritizing rest, I culled half of these plans, regretfully telling a friend I couldn’t make his bachelor party, missing out on a really fun festival with D, and moving a birthday party I had been planning for months. The result was a Spring season full of freedom, flexibility, fun, and fulfillment. I was satiated by what I had on my plate, and still pushed my own frontiers around self-exploration, experience-co-creation, and community care.
Every time I get smug, life has a way of showing me who’s boss, and once again this summer I’m eating shit. In the last week, I was laid off from my job at Substack, lost my Patti, most beloved of my grandparents, and just two days ago I fell off a bike, smashed my face, broke my front two teeth, and now am eating exclusively through a straw for the weeks ahead2.
Yes, this all seems intense. It is. It’s fucked up that so much loss can be compressed in the span of one week. I feel like so much of my life has been wiped to a clean slate. I feel another cocktail of emotions: grief, humiliation, longing, optimism, rage, compassion, self-criticism, resolve, guilt, freedom, pain, joy, connection, relief, belief, caution, hunger, and more more more.
And once again, I feel the urge that I’ve lived with my whole life to turn it all up to eleven. I notice opportunities around work and output that could bring me joy but will take me once again down the path to burnout. I experience the longing of my family to be with me in our collective time of loss and my own urge to rush to be present, to be a savior, to be needed and needful, even though I know how destabilized I am and how little I have to hold onto for my own emotional safety and grieving process. And today, I process my body’s need as it shares with me:
So yes, I will do that. I will stay in the now, doing what I feel called to on a day to day basis until I once again feel ready to build. I will be with my loved ones, near and far, finding opportunities to show up for my family while also accepting the limitations of technology and pursuing a new way of relating and giving within my family system. And I will be with my body as it reminds me of the immediate nature of recovery, grateful that I exist in a system where I can safely turn off, grateful that I genuinely have the time to settle towards peace, grateful for my experiences, my resolve, and my need.
An instructor at MIT’s musical improvisation class only asked us to retain one thing from our time together: an acknowledgement of Sun Ra’s Space Is the Place. The time in between notes, that moment of potential and stillness, is when the greatest harmonies are produced. I encourage anyone reading this to try resting on a few notes, either in sync with mine or on your own. Wait with me, exhale with me, rest with me.
And then let’s make music together.
It’s important to note the privilege of this position. I had mild symptoms, no long covid, and the ability to quarantine without a big impact on any others. Though I did cough in my brother’s face and infect him.
I think I could write a long piece on any of these experiences. And I still might. After a bit of rest.