Exploring the Divine Truth That Rest is Resistance

Reviewing: Rest Is Resistance by Tricia Hersey

What is rest in a liberatory, healing, anti-colonial, anti-racist context? What does it mean to engage in rest as an interwoven, critical piece of culture and of worldbuilding? What is an ethic of rest beyond simply sleeping more, taking a break, and then getting back to the capitalism at hand? What does it mean to prioritize rest in small moments, in big movements, and in all the layers in between? What is rest as resistance?

These are the kinds of sweeping and visionary, but also immediate and personally embodied questions Nap Ministry founder Tricia Hersey sets out to answer in Rest Is Resistance. I view her work as taking place in conversation with Black liberation, with emergent strategy, with decolonization movements, with anti-capitalism, with womanism, with disability justice, with community care and mutual aid discussions, and with sacred economics. Hersey’s inspirations run the gamut from Octavia Butler to the history of maroons in the US American South, while also drawing deeply on the wisdom of her ancestors and her own experiences.

While the book is certainly about the importance of rest, including sleep, and Hersey sees sleep deprivation as an issue of public health and systemic oppression, it’s also very much about a broader context of unlearning grind culture (aka hustle culture) standards of urgency and productivity. It is about resisting white supremacist and capitalist lies in all forms through the portal of rest, reminding ourselves that we don’t need to strive because we already have everything we need. Hersey is thus one of many reimagining justice movements to prioritize healing and presence, claiming boldly that “[t]ruly practicing rest is a battle and a liberation practice.” “Resistance,” she writes, “is a spiritual practice and a practical map. We learn how to make a way by building as we go.”

Writing on grind culture, Hersey reminds us that “[t]his toxic space has been accepted as the norm. It is not normal” and by contrast “[r]est disrupts and makes space for invention, imagination, and restoration.” I appreciate both the realism and the commitment in this stance: “Capitalism may not fall in our lifetimes, and it is not redeemable, so the work is to begin to reclaim your body and time in ways that seem impossible to imagine. We must imagine. The time to rest and resist is now.”

When I first learned about the Nap Ministry, I loved their ethos but also found myself thinking “this is amazing, important, and not for me.” As a white person, I viewed rest as a privilege I had unearned access to, and thus saw my role as working harder so that others could find space for rest. And as a person with a rare condition called idiopathic hypersomnia, I have a strange relationship with sleeping and with naps: the usual admonitions to lie down more, sleep more, nap freely actually sent my health into a serious spiral over decades of attempting to honor rest!

But I still can’t help but notice how these two things, and also my healing, relate in a way that is absolutely in line with what Hersey shares in this book. While I had access to sleep that absolutely relates to my privilege, and I in fact slept a ton, I also spent more than a decade in total denial about my lack of access to rest. By placing myself on the privileged side of a binary, I didn’t give myself access to a birthright that is an important part of liberation for all people, or allow myself to see how sleeping was not the same as resting.

In my mid-twenties I’d wake up early, spend three hours catching naps on public transportation commuting from the apartment I could afford to my job, spend a 9-10 hour workday stressed and trying to operate like a neurotypical person, shove whatever food I could find in my face at the train station while berating myself for both spending money on food and eating food that didn’t support my body, commute-nap my way home again, and crawl into bed for the 10 hours of sleep I required to be even minimally functional. Hobbies and minimal chores were for the weekend, where I’d mostly be online.

Relationships with other humans? Sorry, no time. Presence, reflection, movement practice? Well I might be annoyed at myself for not being able to “fit it in,” but that’s about it. And yet, I didn’t see that this state was unacceptable, because it’s so common. As Hersey writes: ”When you are exhausted, you lack clarity and the ability to see deeply. Your intuition and imagination are stifled by a culture of overworking and disconnection.”

Even when I was able to cut out the commute, I was still in a constantly mental mode—thinking, planning, annoyed at myself for not following logical pathways. ”In our culture we live in our heads always ready to theorize, analyze, and make sense out of everything. In rest and dreaming, we surrender to the unknown.” In retrospect I can see how I was tied up in specific stories of self, rather than open to possibility, and thus missing the generative power of this unknown. Hersey recognizes where we are, but also holds fierce belief in where we could go. ”We may never get to a fully anticapitalist world, but our imagination is resistance. Imagination is a form of care.”

When I was in this cycle of sleep and burnout-levels of work, I understood that human connection was good for me, but it was also hard to stay engaged. I was always just so damn tired! And as the fatigue got worse over the years, I started even working from my bed. Meanwhile, doctors laughed at my predicament and told me that most people would kill to sleep twelve hours a night!

Because we live in such a sleep-deprived culture, in other words, it was impossible for anyone, including me, to see the possibility that I could be sleeping so much and still deprived of rest. It was a story of “you could have it so much worse.”

Which is both true and… kind of irrelevant?

As Hersey explains, ”We internalize the toxic messages received from the culture and begin to hate ourselves unless we are accomplishing a task. We seek external validation from a violent system void of love.” Oof. Preach!

I was totally a rest advocate throughout this time. “Yes, rest!” And I thought I was doing great at it—napping plenty, lying down whenever I felt like it, not setting an alarm even when I’d sleep twelve, sixteen, and at the worst point twenty hours in a row. But I needed a more nuanced approach like Hersey’s, taking into account body relationship, spirit, and this more holistic understanding of rest as something that is systematically de-prioritized in a capitalist culture.

In the book, Hersey explores rest itself but also looks at dreaming, resistance, imagination through the lens of rest—what does rest make possible? What is the purpose of rest? How can rest help us to come home to ourselves and find what we’re meant for, to set healthy boundaries, to refuse grind culture? “What miraculous moments are you missing because you aren’t resting?”

There are a lot of books out now, and more coming out every month, about resisting capitalism, hustle culture, and the stressors of a life spent online. Hersey’s contribution enters this canon through engagement with ancestral medicine, rest as a creative space, and the specificity of Black experience, with a real Afrofuturist / emergent strategy vibe. Black readers will find encouragement to tap into the power of their ancestral resilience, while simultaneously refusing the outrageous demands we make on the labor of Black folks (and in particular Black women and femmes.)

Hersey’s writing also engages repetition in a way that may frustrate some more linear readers, but to me this style has the healing power of a sermon, appropriate as she offers the book explicitly as a prayer. As the Nap Minister, Hersey also offers the unique lens of having facilitated hundreds of collective napping experiences, bringing rest beyond the individual. Her work is full of calls to action, prompts, and reflections for the curious reader.

I love how Hersey frames rest as natural state that we all deserve and that our bodies know how to come back to, as an empowering place: “Once we know and remember we are divine, we will not participate and allow anything into our hearts and minds that is not loving and caring. We would treat ourselves and each other like the tender and powerful beings that we are.”

When I was sleeping so much, and still not getting much done, I felt guilty for my own ineptitude and inability to figure it out, but now that I’ve experienced the difference in cognitive quality when I have actually restful sleep, it’s no wonder I was struggling! I also can see how my experience of lacking rest was intimately entangled with the stress of my schedule, and the expectations of work and my peers. Hersey explains: ”Grinding keeps us in a cycle of trauma; rest disturbs and disrupts this cycle. Rest is an ethos of reclaiming your body as your own. Rest provides a portal for healing, imagination, and communication with our DreamSpace.” Simply sleeping doesn’t mean accessing this portal.

The funny thing is, despite all my struggles it turns out I need roughly 8-9 hours of sleep a night like the average adult. But I also need to sit or stand or be moving throughout the entire day to avoid falling into restless, non-nourishing sleep that my body doesn’t actually need. My rest needs are highly personal, logically counterintuitive, and I didn’t discover them through medical care.

It was actually my own spiritual, healing, and justice practice that led me to greater body awareness, to a playfulness in exploring and getting curious, to an ability to observe and re-build relationship with my body, and ultimately to a holistic view that enabled me to connect the dots.

I figured out my sleep condition on a trip I’d been terrified of because it would require me to be active, including two 12-hour drives, at a time when I could barely sit up for an hour without feeling an urgent need to collapse. I couldn’t be roused from sleep to save my life, and suffered long and frequent bouts of terrifying sleep paralysis, where I’d know I wanted to wake up but couldn’t physically move. A couple of days before my trip, I asked a partner to wake me at a certain time, trying to get my body clock somehow calibrated for the drive down, and I apparently had an entire conversation where they thought they’d successfully woken me up, but I was actually just sleep talking!

And yet somehow, I not only survived the trip but thrived. I found way more energy than I had in nearly a year, and while I was wiped by the end of each day I was able to wake up relatively easily in the morning. A few lovely synchronicities led me from this surprising empirical evidence to a name for my condition, which I primarily manage through staying upright all the time and never, ever allowing myself to recline or get my body super comfortable during the day.

This would’ve sounded hellish in the past! But it actually allows me access to energy I haven’t had since age 15. For the first time in my entire life I feel rested after just eight hours of sleep. My metabolism also naturally adjusted once I was sleeping less, which led to a whole other array of symptoms doctors had paid more attention to than the oversleep falling away on their own.

Obviously, most people who are tired aren’t going to have the experience I had, and a lot of people experiencing sleep deprivation are also pushing against tremendous burdens I have never had to experience. But at the same time, I think my story is a great example of the possibilities available when we look for space inside of ourselves, institute even a small and simple practice of body awareness, and are willing to get curious about where our mental stories might not be serving.

When I work with clients we often discover inherited or learned narratives that create restrictive boundaries falling somewhere short of “actually required.” Hersey points, for example, to the common objection “I can’t rest because I need to earn a living!” But in response to this claim that rest is unrealistic, Hersey simply offers, “I am grateful to not be realistic and for the legacy of imagination and trickster energy shown to me by my Ancestors.” While acknowledging real challenges, she also encourages play, creativity, and refusal even when it seems impossible.

Personally, I was holding a story of justice and liberation looking like self-sacrifice, as a white person. Through my healing justice journey, I’ve explored the limitations of this narrow story. The fact is that worldbuilding is about small acts at a personal level. One of these acts, even as someone who benefits from privilege, was honoring my own personal version of rest.

Hersey reminds us: “We are grind culture. Grind culture is our everyday behaviors, expectations, and engagements with each other and the world around us.” White folks are a huge part of the ongoing and active construction of grind culture, so we also need to be part of dismantling it.

While my rest didn’t call me to trust my dreams in the way that Hersey suggests, as I still experience incredibly violent dreams and periodically even skip a night’s sleep just to get rest from that terror, reclaiming rest has made it more possible for me to hold what is mine, and only what is mine. It has also allowed me to see the ways in which I’ve denied myself a right to rest—for example, struggling to acknowledge my ADHD and autistic burnout. When Hersey writes about the trauma of kids being indoctrinated into grind culture, and encourages “napping when the entire culture calls you lazy,” I feel the neurodivergent trauma (and neuroemergent possibility) in my bones.

These days I honor rest by allowing for flexibility in schedules, indulging in dance breaks, and refusing to market myself in most of the ways I’ve been told I must do or I will fail. I honor rest by trusting that the “impossible” will happen, and that I will be able to meet my material needs when my current savings run out, even though I can’t see a path to that right now—rather than shifting course and putting down my current spacious rhythms to return to the grind.

Hersey encourages this ambiguity and uncertainty: “We don’t have to have a complete answer to everything right now. We don’t have to know everything. We don’t have to be everything. We don’t have to do everything. There is space for the unknown. There is space for curiosity and mystery. There is space to just allow rest to settle and answer the questions for us.” She beautifully admits, ”I know that my visualizations of what a world without capitalism and oppression look like is based on something I have never experienced in this lifetime. It is dreamwork and alchemy.” This is incredibly resonant with my own experience as an anti-capitalist business owner, experimenting and trusting despite the lack of concrete evidence that I can succeed.

Hersey repeats over and over in this book that she is not donating her body to capitalism, that oppressive systems cannot have her. “I will never donate my body to a system that views it as only a tool for its production. I need you to begin to slowly feel this and to declare that the systems can’t have you. It will take deep work but it’s imaginative and beautiful work that will be a lifelong process.”

Hell, yes. I am committed! Perhaps my business will unfold in a way I can’t currently see. And perhaps, as another possibility, I won’t be able to stay in the spaciousness of my current life, and I’ll need to work for others again, but that doesn’t have to be a death sentence. I’m inspired by Hersey’s question, “Why isn’t our rest powerful enough to be accessed anytime and anywhere?” and open to the possibility that there are ways to rest that I can’t currently imagine.

One of the most beautiful things about Hersey’s viewpoint is how she frames rest as a “meticulous love practice.” She writes, “[t[he amount of connected and intentional rest we can embody becomes a lifeboat on a raging sea. It pours into our capacity to allow for the act of care and love to save us.” I have certainly found that rest allows me to both give and receive more care, and to desire connection in the way that I once craved isolation.

One of the most profound and difficult practices of self-care, in my view, is allowing space for simply being—a space that is generative in a completely different way than “productivity” claims to be. ”Resting is about getting people back to their truest selves. To what they were before capitalism robbed you of your ability to just be.”

When I reclaimed my energy, personally, I was excited about more hours to do things, to build a business from my passions. But even when focused on passion, I had to reckon with the fact that rest is a slow, cyclical never-ending process. The end of my fatigue issues wasn’t a conclusion, but more of a start. I re-committed myself to my new business with gusto on the wings of new energy and ended up going through many cycles of learning around my energy, having to go slower and slower and even slower even though I had physical energy again.

My plans and visions strangely led to very little for quite a while—few connections, growing visibility, or interest in my work, despite how excited I was to share it. In retrospect, though, I can see the blessing of space to learn and confront remaining internalized beliefs. Clearing some of those cobwebs from the closet allowed me to see what came forth from a space of “just being.”

As is likely no surprise, I highly recommend this book as a potential frame to help you see your own path to radical trust in the seemingly impossible and as an ally to affirm your refusal to work in service of systems that are killing you, especially if you’re a Black woman or non-binary person. The style is healing and poetic, and the conversations it will inspire will surely be life changing!

”Resting is not a state of inactivity or a waste of time. Rest is a generative space. When you are resting your body, it is in its most connected state. Your organs are regenerating. Your brain is processing new information. You are connecting with a spiritual practice. You are honoring your body. You are being present. All these things are so foundational for liberation and healing to take root.”

Let’s start planting some seeds together.

ARC provided through NetGalley. Purchases using the above link support me, as well as local bookstores!

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