on the necessity of rest
seeking stillness in times of stress
hello, friends. i think that for many of us, this has been one of the most difficult, isolating, disorienting years of our lives. time has been moving so strangely, sometimes quickly slipping through my fingers and other times seeming to stop completely. it’s easy to get lost in the endless, identical days, as we continue to stay at home, to socially distance, to learn and grow even when so many things feel stifled. and it’s impossibly strange that we’re already moving into august, that we’re celebrating lammas, that we have another full moon around the corner.
so much of this year has been about balancing action with patience. we stay home and wait for answers, hoping that the sacrifices that we are making by keeping our distance from friends and strangers will help all of us be safer. yet we also protest and resist, raising our voices in righteous anger, working to enact change that is long overdue. it’s still an emperor year, after all, and we are collectively creating boundaries and limits for ourselves, figuring out what feels safe and right, noting where we’re willing to push the envelope.
yet the emperor knows their own limits too, understands where they need to evolve, what growth is necessary. they know that sometimes, we need moments of stillness before we can keep moving. and i hope that in spending a few moments thinking about cards of structure and rest within the tarot, these words help you find a bit of peace and encouragement as we shift into this new month.
especially right now, i’m so grateful to be a writer, a reader, an artist and creative professional. writing is a beautiful practice, something that has in many ways saved me: giving me a place to work out ideas, channel rage or grief or sadness, unpack mental illness, and figure out complicated problems. whether the words remain mine alone or i share them with others, the act of choosing and arranging them, seeing them on a page, has always made me feel less alone. it’s a gift to myself, making space for whatever is in my mind and heart, honoring those emotions and ideas with care and attention.
and yet. the constant pressure to produce, even in the midst of a global pandemic and national uprising, has taken its toll. just because writing so often feels necessary does not mean that i shouldn’t sometimes step away for a time, give myself space to breathe without pushing myself to put every emotion or idea or intention into words. and after realizing that i hadn’t taken multiple days off from writing in several years, a few weeks ago i decided that a true break was in order.
so i took a week away near the end of july, refraining from posting on instagram or sharing any new content here. i made the choice to step back from the cards, from the words, from the pressure. i hoped that i would come back bursting with inspiration and ideas, eager to put words to paper, to start crafting things that felt brilliant and powerful - but i knew that even if i didn’t, that the rest itself was important anyway.
the tarot has a lot to say about rest. the first card that always comes to mind when i think on this theme is the four of swords, a card of mental boundaries and protection, of laying down our blades and prioritizing healing and restoration. on the heels of the three, a card of stinging betrayal and painful truths, the four urges us to step back from movement and instead give ourselves time to breathe and process, to set limits, to honor our needs. this card usually pops up for me when i feel like rest is the absolute last thing i have time for, yet its wisdom always rings true. in a similar way, the hanged one is an archetype of suspension and sacrifice, forcing us to look at the world from a new perspective, asking us what shift we are beginning and how we plan to move through it. the four of swords urges us to carve out time for quiet, but the hanged one doesn’t give us a choice, pulling our feet out from under us and compelling us to breathe into the discomfort, to learn to accommodate the change on the horizon. both cards push rest, whether we’re ready for it or not.
because what is rest for? how does it benefit us? what do we gain in pausing, in letting our bodies sink into comfort or urging our minds to stop chipping away at problems? how do we give our hearts an intentional break, beg our soul to calm its blaze for a time? we see the result of a lack of rest all over the tarot: in the ten of wands, the nine of swords, the five of pentacles, the seven of cups. when we push ourselves too hard, when we never step back and look at the bigger picture, it can be impossible to hold on to our goals and dreams, to keep a clear vision of what we’re working towards.
all parts of us cannot always be going at full speed. whether we intend to or not, most of us focus on a few things at a time, giving our other aspects a rest. the elements want to be in balance. if we’re working on the physical, living in an earthy space of presence and grounding and ambition, sometimes it’s easier to limit the vulnerability of our hearts, to close ourselves off from heavy emotions or new connections or powerful love. when our minds are working through a problem and we’re focusing on clarity and truth and awareness, sometimes there isn’t space for our souls to be pushing us forward, demanding passion and enthusiasm and creation. it often feels more natural to focus our energy into a specific direction, letting parts of us rest while others build and evolve.
but of course, our rational minds know all of this. it’s only logical that we cannot do all of the things all of the time - we are only human, and humans need balance and care to survive. we are made of fragile flesh and soft, delicate hearts, require tending and gentleness, must create boundaries to protect ourselves. this isn’t a complicated concept: as with many things, the real challenge lies in the execution.
i am not good at resting. i try, knowing that i need it - but i end up pacing, restless, feeling guilty for everything i’m not doing. my stress levels rarely sink, and instead i feel that i’m wasting time, letting myself and everyone else down, watching my hopes and ambitions slip through my fingers. especially now, when it feels like we’re living through twelve simultaneous catastrophes with new ones developing every day, let me send you the words that i need to hear myself: it is okay to rest. we must be gentle with ourselves. you deserve to feel safe, heard, healed. so many things are out of our control right now, and holding ourselves to impossible standards, pushing ourselves to maintain the status quo, trying to continue at the same pace as before, only sets us up for failure. the world is different, and we must allow ourselves to be different too.
rest looks different for all of us. and even if spending the day watching television or soaking in a bubble bath or reading for pleasure doesn’t sound appealing, finding something that allows your body and mind to relax, your heart to breathe, your soul to stretch, is deeply and profoundly necessary. what gives you comfort? how do you unwind? what does relaxation look like for you?
after rest, so many things feel possible. we can begin to reclaim our energy, our inspiration, our magic. we can move forward with purpose and intention, can reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going, can shift our focus or adjust our goals or choose a new direction altogether. i’m just now beginning to see the results of my week away, can feel those tiny flickers of inspiration coming back to life, am finding new perspectives on old struggles. but even if we don’t feel radically changed after a period of stillness, giving ourselves permission to prioritize our own well-being can help us feel more comfortable doing it again, and again, and again. rest is a habit, a practice, something that we must allow to become as important as any of our other cherished rituals. remember the hermit, who retreats from the world in order to rediscover the fire that burns within them. it may seem like a paradox, but sometimes our natural light is only fully visible when we allow ourselves to sit quietly in the dark.
have a safe, healthy, and restful august, friends.
images from this post feature the spacious tarot and the threads of fate oracle deck. all photographs by meg jones wall.