by Sue Staropoli, August, 2021
Throughout my life I have had many ways of seeing myself. Exceptional student. Wife, mother, activist. Leader of a group. These gave me a sense of meaning and worth, a sense of identity. They all were things I could say I’ve done or accomplished, and they gave my life purpose.
Sometimes it takes a crisis to interrupt one’s personal status quo and teach the lessons one needs in order to transform. For me, it took a health crisis to show me that my life is worth way more than anything that I do -- that my being is more important than my accomplishments.
Faced with the inability to do much of anything except sit in a chair and rest, I was humbled and forced to surrender all the activities that had given my life purpose and a sense of identity.
What an experience!
I had grown up with the message that being active and engaged in work, whether paid or volunteer, was the only way to have a meaningful life. At the end of each day, I thought I had to explain what I had done that day to justify my existence. Being productive was a central value that I never questioned; resting was only okay when I was exhausted and literally HAD to rest. Granted, in more recent years I had learned that I needed to balance activity with rest, but activity was certainly the more important side of the equation. Doing gave me a sense of purpose in my life.
So who would I be when I couldn’t do anything?
And how did I relate to the resting that was now becoming my new way of being?
For the first few weeks and months I just rested. No responsibilities or meetings – just rest.
The nature of my health condition meant that I had to let go of all the activities and commitments that had given me meaning.
Living became an opportunity to live fully in the present moment. To appreciate the beauty all around me, to allow myself to be surrounded by the love I felt from so many people.
Hours and days to reflect on what really was most important to me, to consider what I could bring to the world. I began to notice a new sense of identity, beyond all my activities. I began to see that my loving presence – a caring heart – really is enough. And I began to trust that as I slowed down and listened, to myself, to others, the world, I would know what is mine to do.
Rest, I have learned, is not an avoidance of engagement in the needs of the world, but an important way of bringing love into the world. Feeling in a very personal way the grief and pain of the world, as well as its inexpressible beauty, is an invitation to connect with life in a new and vibrant way.
The gift of rest offers a way of living, not just something to fit into a busy life. It is an inner quieting, a path of connection to your inner voice that leads to peace, joy, and clarity about your true identity. To live and act from that inner knowing is to flow with your unique gifts and offer yourself to the needs of the world.
As my recovery has continued and my energy has been restored, I still find in rest a central way of being. Resting – listening – being attentive to both my inner world and the outer world, leads me deeper into my own heart and reveals the unique way I am called to bring light to the world. To BE a light, whether I am doing something or not. Rest gives me the space and quiet for discernment about how I am called at this time to engage with my family, community, and world. So my doing now is born out of my rest time.
I am grateful for the crisis that has led me through this transformation, a journey into my own heart and back out into the world, enlarging my capacity to envision and help bring forth a world of peace and justice.
My hope for each person is to find that inner place of rest, without waiting for a crisis.
“Our relentless emphasis on success and productivity has become a form of violence. We have lost the necessary rhythm of life, the balance between effort and rest, doing and not doing.” ~ Wayne Muller