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Resetting Towards a Rhythm of Rest

12/30/2020 10:00 AM | Anonymous

By Steven Reames

It is my suspicion that the vast majority of our local membership celebrated their holidays much differently than in year’s past, keeping their gatherings small and tight. I asked my four children (13 to 23-year-olds) what they thought about stay-at-home Christmas this year and was sort of surprised by their answers: they much preferred it over the rush off to a party or to relatives. We even deferred our Christmas Day fondue dinner at home because it seemed overly complicated and everybody just wanted to nosh and take it easy. Perhaps all the holiday activity was always too much to begin with! 

We have all had to find new ways of doing things this year and much of our activity has been dialed back to “the essentials” (and sometimes not even those.) Most of us have stopped running to multiple evening obligations, dining out, kid's playdates, and shopping in the mall just for the fun of it. Our relationships have narrowed down to the innermost circles of our social networks. It feels like the sap has run down to the roots and we are just holding over until spring will revive us all. 

Indeed, thanks to the vaccine, perhaps within four to six months, we may begin to see our lives and society gradually open back up again. Before that happens, and at the turn of the New Year, it seems to be an appropriate time to consider what activities we may want to reengage in and what we can leave behind. I have spent this past year trying to learn to operate out of a greater sense of restfulness rather than living in a constant state of frantic restlessness

There is plenty of historical evidence and modern research showing that a rhythm of work and rest is best suited for a sustainable human life. Also, it is worth pointing out that many are abandoning the Holy Grail of a “work-life balance,” mainly because the choice between working and living is a false dichotomy. Creating a rhythm of work and rest, however, is possible, but not necessarily a 1:1 balance. This seems to align well with various religious traditions which aim for 14.2% of the week (a day) taken off for the purpose of rest, something that seems far more sustainable than our modern 24/7/365 culture.  

I like to think of a rhythm of rest like a musical score, which is multi-layered, and has a cadence of emphasis and deemphasis woven through it. For example, a waltz is written in ¾ time which sounds like OOM-pah-pah/OOM-pah-pah and the rhythm is very obvious. But every few measures might have a different emphasis to it such as OOM-pah-pah/OOM-pah-pah/OOM-pah-pah/pah-pah-pah. 

Building rest and recovery time into your life systematically could feel somewhat similar. For every measure of beats – i.e. days, weeks, months, etc. - you build in particular type of rest: a full-day off, your solitary hike or bike, a 2-hour stint of journaling, a 10-day vacation, whatever. And in the same way there are a variety of musical change-ups in a score, rest is not consigned to just one type. In fact, with some thoughtful planning, you could create a more complex but predictable routine built into your life that suits your needs. Here is a worksheet that might help to make a plan for yourself. 

Moreover, now may be the time to consider longer-term changes to the way you practice life and medicine, changes you have probably wanted to make for a while. It is hard to imagine another pattern interrupt as large as COVID-19 that could be used to reset some of your routines. While it was stated early on that “this is a pandemic, not a productivity contest,” there is certainly nothing wrong with redeeming the pain from the situation at hand. Even if you cannot implement everything at once, you may be able to make a move in a direction you want to go. We know for sure that once the merry-go-round gets back up to full speed again, it will be much harder to change seats.


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