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Active rest and high-quality leisure
Rest is an intentional practice, not a byproduct of removing work.
Hello everyone, happy daylight savings time. I hope you’re embracing some after-work activities this week. This type of active rest and what Cal Newport calls “high-quality leisure” are exactly what we are looking at in today’s Stuff. But first, wisdom from a few poets.
From the Ages
"It's easy to work when the soul is at play"
— Emily Dickinson
Poet May Sarton on the importance of rest:
"I always forget how important the empty days are, how important it may be sometimes not to expect to produce anything, even a few lines in a journal. A day when one has not pushed oneself to the limit seems a damaged, damaging day, a sinful day. Not so! The most valuable thing one can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of a room."
Source: Journal of a Solitude
In the fitness world, we teach the concept of "active rest." Your body needs to rest and recover between intense training sessions but being a couch potato is not the best way to accomplish this. Active rest is something between complete lethargy and intense training—movement and exertion but not enough to wear down your body.
Active rest days are a chance to move your body in ways that feel restorative and to engage in activities purely for the joy of them. A light run, hike, or bike ride. Yoga class. Pick-up sports. Surfing. Yard work. Playing outside with your kids. And while these movements aren't going to be written into any structured strength program, we need to view them as an integral part of our training. Active rest is not an interlude from regular training, but a foundational element of any effective and sustainable program.
Active rest is not a bonus, it's part of the program. I used to coach athletes to "earn your next workout." You need to engage in some active rest and recovery to earn the right to your next gym session.
I've recently begun applying the same strategy to my work life. I use my days off, not to sleep in and sit around, enjoying the sloth only possible on the weekends, but to do the activities that most call to my soul. Oftentimes, this doesn't appear very restful at all.
But here we need to define true rest. Rest isn't about subtraction—the removal of all work and toil and stress—but the active creation of peace in our lives. It's about serenity, tranquility, and restoration of a deeper sort. Rest is an intentional practice, not a byproduct of simply removing work.
I don't have a terribly high-stress job, but my deadlines and projects often linger with me outside of work hours. What's more, my work schedule brings me more stress than the actual work itself—I fret about how much it keeps me from writing, IHD, coaching, and my other creative and passion projects. This time crunch makes me slowly eat into my active rest.
We recently began to observe something of a Sabbath. We reserve a full day each weekend to be in nature. Most weeks, it's an all-day hike. This has been our favorite option because after many hours in nature, with our phones at home, breathing clean sagebrush-scented coastal California air, and taking in the expansive views, we settle into a different mode of being. Short walks are great (we often take one before dinner) but during a long bout in nature, your system morphs—slowing, easing, forgetting the work, and remembering the rest of the world. These full days out are distinct from the rest of the week and provide a much more thorough internal peace than kicking back with my feet up ever could.
Active rest doesn't require nature or physical activity. I have a similar relationship with skateboarding, surfing, woodworking, reading fiction, and writing without a purpose (at least at the onset). Active rest is to intentionally immerse yourself in something that makes your soul sing. This time is not merely for fun—something superfluous to be reveled in when you have the time—it is as vital to your life as your work; as vital as exhaling before your next inhalation. Each makes the other possible. Each provides the energy to animate the other.
Thank you for reading this week and remember: life is too short to be normal!