Scroll for More
Words by Tricia Hersey (as told to Willow Defebaugh)
Photographs by Stefanie Moshammer
MUSIC BY PETER M. MURRAY
Almost all animals on this planet require rest in some sense or another, including humans. The Nap Ministry founder and Rest Is Resistance author Tricia Hersey wants to know: why are we the only species that seems to refuse it?
Animals and babies are the true leaders of the rest movement, if only we could follow them. So why can’t we? It is just programming. I talk about that in my book, Rest Is Resistance: that everything is in collaboration in this culture, working together for us not to rest. And this starts really early. I believe it starts before children are out of the womb. My son was rushed out of my womb because the doctor wanted to move onto her next patient. She was afraid that she might get an insurance claim because the last baby she delivered who was the size of my baby had some issues and she was being sued for it. But I knew he would be okay. Because I trust my body more than I trust capitalism.
Infants, they can be sitting down, talking to you, and then they will just go to sleep. It is this beautiful flow of listening to the cues of their bodies. But young children, as soon as they’re pushed out of the womb, they’re rushed off into public schools. I used to be a teacher in elementary schools. They tell children, “Hold your pee until it’s time to go to the bathroom.” To begin to teach your children at that young of an age not to listen to the cues from their bodies, that is where grind culture begins. It’s deeply violent. It teaches you to ignore your body, when your body is the teacher, your guide on this planet. And so for you to ignore it and not follow its cues begins the disembodiment of yourself, the disconnect and the grind of being a person who is an “adult.”
It is so important for people to understand that this is intentional and it is not by chance that we are like this. The systems have been working very diligently to make sure that we become the machines that they want us to be, to be able to keep the empire wealthy. And when I say every system, I mean every system: the medical-industrial complex that brings you into the world, the public schools, higher education, faith-based organizations, your job, your friends. Consciously and unconsciously, everybody is on this massive, passive path: this pace of grinding, of going and going, of stripping your worth away from you and measuring it against what you can accomplish. The empire is always raging and always in our ears and in our hearts.
A lot of people read my work online and think that rest is some trendy thing that you can just do. Like, “It’s so cute. Let me go lie down, have nap time and self-care Sunday.” But it is not an afterthought. It is the foundation for our survival and thriving in this culture. It is what will hold us. We won’t make it without it. It’s deep, spiritual work. It’s a lifetime practice of trying to push back against two very violent systems: capitalism and white supremacy. That’s no small feat. That’s not anything that will be undone by us just being like, “I’m tired now, let me go lie down” without having some theory under it, some understanding of what it is disrupting.
To resist the beast of an empire like our culture, to resist white supremacy and capitalism, is to surrender to the divine, is to surrender to yourself.
This is a deprogramming effort. We are brainwashed. People don’t want to name that, or they don’t want to accept that they’ve been manipulated deeply by these systems. They didn’t ask to be; they were born into it, and they have been manipulated their entire lives. We are going to have to practice this forever and experiment with it forever, for all of our days. The work gets us away from our machine-level way of being and brings us back to our humanity. The work is to become more human.
When I was on my book tour, someone asked me about this tension between rest as surrender but also resistance—the idea that “what we resist continues.” I don’t necessarily believe that in this case. To me, resistance is surrender. It’s just a question of who you’re surrendering to. To resist the beast of an empire like our culture, to resist white supremacy and capitalism, is to surrender to the divine, is to surrender to yourself. It’s a surrender to love, a surrender to community. I’m all about surrender and submission when it’s done in a consensual and liberating way. A lot of times, we have been taught that resistance is something negative or that surrender is something negative. But I believe in disrupting those ideas. And understanding whom we are surrendering to is really the key.
Resistance doesn’t always have to feel hard, like labor or like pushing. We are disrupting. And that’s what love and justice work is: a disruption. It’s a disruption of what is already in motion, the machine that has been in motion for centuries. It’s love work. It’s a reframing: you understand that everything you need is already in you and you don’t have to do another thing to be worthy of care and pleasure and leisure. You’re not put on this Earth simply to produce. That’s not why we’re on Earth. That’s not why I birthed my son. I didn’t bring him into this world just to be a cog in a machine. I want him to follow his calling, to have leisure, to love, to look at the stars, to swim, to be with the Earth. But we haven’t been taught that. We’ve been taught that our main goal in life is to do, to produce, and to accomplish. When you begin to poke holes in that theory and begin to say, “No, that’s wrong, that’s not true,” that’s when the light comes.
I’m an activist. My dad was one—a union organizer and civil rights activist. I grew up watching people literally kill themselves working because they felt like, “The empire ain’t sleeping, so we ain’t sleeping.” The empire is going to keep raging on—they’re building more prisons, they’re putting more pollution in—so we can’t stop. And I’m like, “No, absolutely not.” I’ve been working a lot with justice workers, and I did a training with some human rights workers maybe about four years ago here in Atlanta. I sat in a room with them, and my first question was, “How’s everybody doing?” Everybody just started bawling. They were so exhausted and had so many health issues. One had just had an aneurysm from stress and a stroke. They were replicating and using the same tools given to them by the oppressor, thinking that we are going to be able to get some type of justice. And again, that makes no sense to me. When you think about what exhaustion and burnout do to the body from a biological standpoint, it doesn’t allow us to think about this work clearly.
I feel empathy for justice workers because I understand that it’s coming from a place of love. It’s coming from a place of wanting to send help and wanting things to stop. But we’re not going to get there by doing the same things. Justice workers are not understanding—specifically in Black liberation justice work—there is already work that has been done for us by our ancestors that we’re not tapping into. So I offer that to the justice workers: that we have to tap into rest, we have to tap into the Earth, we have to tap into a slowed-down pace, into nature to be able to listen. Indigenous people know this. We’re missing the information that’s already here for us, that the Earth wants to give us, that our ancestors want to give us.
Harriet Tubman made stops while she was on the Underground Railroad. I’m so moved by the fact that she was on the run with people with her, with dogs and people with bounties to kill her, yet she was stopping at rivers to pray. She was stopping to look at the stars and get a word from the owls. She was a nature woman. To think that she was stopping to pray instead of just running and never stopping, it touches me. The fact that we feel like we can’t stop even for a second to be able to gain some insight or to rest or to gain some perspective or to ask for help, it speaks to the crisis that we’re in: the crisis of urgency, of doing, of perfectionism—all these things that white supremacy has taught us. I want justice workers and activists to understand that you can’t replicate violence and think you’re going to get to some type of peaceful end. It is violent to push your divine bodies into exhaustion.
There were about two weeks at the start of the pandemic when I saw capitalism limping. And then everything went online. Now people are just trying to go right back to business as usual. It’s deeply disturbing to see what the culture has done to us. Capitalism is so violent, white supremacy is so violent, the grind is so violent. I always believe in hope, but sometimes I wonder, “Has the beast eaten so many of us up? Is it too late for some of us? Can we ever shift what is happening?” Then I go back to thinking about the endgame. I don’t have any idea that I’m going to be able to take down capitalism and white supremacy in my lifetime. I don’t think that’s something I can place in my hands.
But that is the beauty of hope, of understanding that we can imagine a new world. We can create a temporary space of joy and freedom. And that moment matters, however small. I tell people all the time, “Those 10 minutes of you getting off grind culture’s clock, that matters.” We don’t have to get it right all the time. We are working and living in two worlds here: the one we were born into and the one we are trying to create. This is world-building work: it’s looking at the future and trying to cast forward while staying deeply tied to the present. It will continue on, it will expand, it will come back.
We’re working and living in two worlds here: the one we were born into and the one we are trying to create.
Some days grind culture might have its grips on you so tight that you can’t even breathe. And another, you may be leisurely taking a walk and looking at trees. That’s the heartbeat of this work. For your benefit and the benefit of the Earth, you begin to get out of the binary that it has to be one or the other. You can work and have income and pay bills and take care of your family and invest in them and your life. And at the same time, you can also slow down and rest and connect with your body and not be abusive to yourself and others around you. There is a balance that allows you to live in both worlds, a beautiful rhythm of back and forth.
I am deeply understanding of that, and I am deeply hopeful and grateful. I’m grateful for the subversive, I’m grateful for the underground. I’m grateful for my life to be a statement, a living document. I want this work to be a light. I want it to be one of the little candles on the path, to be a small disruption, a whisper that says, “This isn’t how we’re supposed to be living.” I want to be one of the people who rejected it, who still tried to survive and thrive through it. To be able to have said, “Put me on the side of history where it says, I resisted.”
Music Pour Le Sport @ 11th House Agency
This article first appeared in Atmos Volume 08: Rhythm with the headline “Nature's Pace.”
Nature is an elaborate orchestra of interconnectedness, in which timing is everything.