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How to think about rest as a form of resistance

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

It can be hard to find a moment to just rest. And when you can find the time, you might feel like you should be working on something instead. But rest can be a form of resistance.

TRICIA HERSEY: I don't want to be under the guise of believing that I have to be productive in order to be deemed worthy. I am enough now.

MCCAMMON: Tricia Hersey founded The Nap Ministry back in 2016. She uses performance art, social media and photography to promote the healing power of rest. She's the author of "Rest Is Resistance." And for NPR's Life Kit, Shereen Marisol Meraji spoke with Hersey, starting with the four tenets of The Nap Ministry.

SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, BYLINE: Tenet No. 1.

HERSEY: Rest is a form of resistance because it pushes back and disrupts white supremacy and capitalism.

MERAJI: No. 2.

HERSEY: Our bodies are a site of liberation. And that brings into the somatics the idea that wherever our bodies are, we can find rest.

MERAJI: Three.

HERSEY: Naps provide a portal to imagine, invent and heal.

MERAJI: And tenet No. 4.

HERSEY: Our dream space has been stolen, and we want it back. We will reclaim it via rest.

MERAJI: I really want to talk more about tenet No. 1 - rest is a form of resistance because it disrupts and pushes back against capitalism and white supremacy. This book is so much more than encouraging people to take naps (laughter).

HERSEY: Oh, my God. This is about more than naps. Thank you for saying that. I say it so much. It's a paradigm shift. It's mind-altering. It's culture-shifting. It's a full-on politics of refusal. We have been brainwashed by this system to believe these things about rest, about our bodies, about our worth, this violent culture that wants to see us working 24 hours a day, that doesn't view us as a human being but instead views our divine bodies as a machine.

And so when I think about the first tenet and this idea of disrupting and pushing back, for me, when we are on - in a system that we're on that's under capitalism that doesn't look at people as people - they look at profit. White supremacy - they don't see the divinity in all of us. And so these two systems working in collaboration, we can push back against them. But even if we're off the clock and saying no intentionally for 10 minutes, our insistence on being like, not today, you can't have me for these 30 minutes, this little, small disruption - I'm thinking about my ancestors who slowed down production in cotton fields and who did these - this quiet quitting that's happening. You've been hearing about this idea of quiet quitting where people are going to work but not giving...

MERAJI: I have.

HERSEY: ...As much. Yeah. And so I feel like it's all in this same idea of disruption, of pushing back, of saying no.

MERAJI: Let's go back to our brainwashing.

HERSEY: Yes.

MERAJI: Because I 100% am a victim of this brainwashing, especially the thing that you talk about where, you know, we think that the more we do, the more worth we have.

HERSEY: Yes.

MERAJI: I am 100% guilty of that kind of thinking. So, Tricia, how do I deprogram? How do I...

HERSEY: Yeah, I know.

MERAJI: ...Stop thinking that the more I produce, the more I do, the...

HERSEY: I get it.

MERAJI: ...More I say yes...

HERSEY: I know.

MERAJI: ...The more worth I have?

HERSEY: What I will say to you is that it's going to be slow. It is not going to be a quick tip advice that I can give you and just be like, this is going to work for you. It's really going to be a slow uncovering, a slow mercy and grace towards yourself. I tell people to rest through the guilt, take it slow, be aware, be aware that it's happening, and then start to go deeper into the wells of yourself to begin to see what could help to help you heal. Like, this work is about listening and about connecting with the body.

MERAJI: Tricia, what are the health benefits from taking the time to prioritize rest, from napping?

HERSEY: Yes. You know, I talk a lot about my divinity degree, but I have a undergrad degree in public health and community health. So I know the beauty of looking at this message from the science of sleep. The CDC have named sleep deprivation as a public health crisis. Three of the top diseases - high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes - can be linked back to sleep deprivation. And so when we aren't sleeping, our organs don't have a chance to regenerate. And then from a brain level, when we sleep, the brain is, like, bathed in this chemical that helps people to, like, process trauma. And it helps your creativity, memory retention, and you're able to, like, really heal your body.

So I tell people, maybe this work can't land in your mind and spirit from a political level, maybe you can't right now jump on the whole spiritual idea of it, but just to look at what is happening from a health level, from biologically, from neurologically, what we're doing to our bodies when we're exhausted, when we're burnt out. Over a sustained amount of time, it is killing us. It is causing more disease to take root in our bodies. It's not allowing us to live to our full potential.

MERAJI: So for all those bodies out there who just - they just have to be doing something...

HERSEY: Yeah, yeah.

MERAJI: ...In order to feel alive...

HERSEY: Yes.

MERAJI: ...Like, how do they - how do we force our bodies to rest, to stop?

HERSEY: I think the idea of active rest - anything that can slow your body down enough that you can connect with your body and mind - and so it was taking dance classes and ballet and somatic dance classes when I was in graduate school. And I found that to be one of the most ultimate forms of rest when I was learning how to spin and do turns and, you know, moving my body. So I really thought that dancing was really a beautiful, active form of rest for me. I love walking and being in nature, you know, just being able to, like, move your body in a way that is slowed down and isn't being moved for the idea of labor.

You know, when I think about hobbies and how everyone is, like, monetizing their hobbies right now, and I'm like, no, that's capitalism telling you...

MERAJI: Yeah.

HERSEY: ...That you need to, like, monetize crocheting. Like, my sister is a beautiful fiber artist, and she says to her, that's the most meditative, restful state, when she's crocheting blankets for people. And she refuses to sell them. She's like, if I do that...

MERAJI: It'll be stressful.

HERSEY: ...Then it will become capitalism, making it not fun. And it's all linked back to trying to make money. She does it for the meditation, for the connection and because she loves to do it.

MERAJI: There's this point you make in the book, which for me is so key. You say resting and recharging and rejuvenating is not so that we can grind more. It's not so that we can prepare ourselves to, you know, give more output to capitalism. That is not actually what this is about...

HERSEY: Not at all.

MERAJI: ...At all.

HERSEY: Not at all. People get it twisted and think that's what it's about because a lot of corporations are pushing this idea. They're saying, have our employees rest more. You guys can have a nap room here so that you can be more productive when you come to work, so that we can pay less in health insurance premiums. So we're not resting to get ourselves more riled up to be on capitalism's clock. We are resting simply because it is our divine and human right to do so. Period. There is no - nothing else on the end of that sentence. It is the end of it.

MCCAMMON: That was Tricia Hersey of The Nap Ministry speaking with Shereen Marisol Meraji for NPR's Life Kit.

And if you're feeling a bit more rested and thinking about the changes you want to make in 2023, check out Life Kit's resolution planner. The tool helps you mix and match over 40 ideas for resolutions, including some to improve your mental health. It's at npr.org/newyears. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Shereen Marisol Meraji is the co-host and senior producer of NPR's Code Switch podcast. She didn't grow up listening to public radio in the back seat of her parent's car. She grew up in a Puerto Rican and Iranian home where no one spoke in hushed tones, and where the rhythms and cadences of life inspired her story pitches and storytelling style. She's an award-winning journalist and founding member of the pre-eminent podcast about race and identity in America, NPR's Code Switch. When she's not telling stories that help us better understand the people we share this planet with, she's dancing salsa, baking brownies or kicking around a soccer ball.