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Humans are the only animals that willfully deny ourselves rest

I’ve been on holiday!

On one of our days out, we decided to visit Sewerby Hall near Bridlington and walk around the gorgeous gardens and grounds, which also included a mini zoo. So of course we had to go see!

I’m usually a bit wary of zoos – I don’t love the idea of animals being cooped up in unnatural environments for the benefit of human spectatorship; and many zoos out there aren’t maintained very well, so the animals are living in miserable, dirty quarters.

But I was really impressed with this one – it looked like they’d really taken care to landscape each animal’s space to suit their specific needs and habits; everything was clean and the animals looked relaxed and happy. Especially this guy:

He was definitely my favourite. A cosy, dozy, snoozling piggo having a nap in the sun. I like to think that perhaps he’d had a snack just before this (or that he’d be waking up for one soon).

In fact, quite a lot of the animals there that day were having what looked like very relaxing, comfy naps or layabouts – the goats, sheep, penguins, llamas, emus.

It got me thinking about how natural and gorgeous it was to see these animals just… chilling.

It also got me thinking about how human beings are the only animals on this planet that wilfully and purposefully deny themselves rest and sleep.

The thought of just laying down and having a nap in the sun in the middle of the day would horrify most of us (definitely me, several years ago).

The thought of going to bed slightly earlier before we’ve replied all those emails / read that report / written that document / completed all the washing up is unthinkable.

But this is how our bodies have been designed – to be active when we need to be, and to rest when we need to rest.

Somewhere along the way, we’ve begun to prioritise our minds, our ‘doing’ and our output over our bodies.

The mind/body split brought about by patriarchy, capitalism and colonialism has meant that our productive, active, doing minds are more commonly upheld as virtuous, worthy things.

Conversely, our bodies dismissed as ‘base’, wild, something to be overriden and controlled by the mind in order to be productive, active, and doing in very precise ways.

So, to respond to our body’s need for rest, play, even a proper meal is commonly regarded as less important, even frivolous, trivial, self-indulgent and selfish.

We’ll willingly and deliberately deprive ourselves of sleep so we can get more work done and prove our commitment (thereby placing mind over matter).

We’ll forego a walk or a workout so we can sit for another 2 hours to work and prove our abilities (again, prioritising mind over matter).

We’ll skip meals or hurriedly scoff a bag of crisps over the sink to not ‘waste time’ on something as ‘trivial’ as eating so we can get back to work and prove our efficiency (yes, again, valuing mind over matter).

Heck this even happens in so-called spiritual communities. I used to live/work in a religious organisation where we constantly worked 16-hour days and scraped by on 4-5 hours of sleep – all under the belief that we shouldn’t be so attached to our bodily comforts and that paying attention to ‘lowly’ things like sleep, food and bodily pleasures is selfish because we’re not using our time and resources to work for and relieve others’ suffering.

There’s a version of this belief everywhere –

Suffering is noble

Pushing ourselves is devotion and dedication

Sacrificing our own needs is compassionate

But you know what? At the end of the day, we cannot deny the fact that we are still living and doing in and from our bodies. And how can we be living and doing all the things we wish to – whether for ourselves, our loved ones or the greater good of the entire planet – if those bodies are whacked out?

Prizing our minds over our brains is like saying that the engine of a car is the only and most important part of a car.

Which of course is illogical – if the battery is dead, if the brakes aren’t working, if there’s a leak, if the coolant has run down, if there’s no damn petrol in the car then the engine isn’t any bloody good.

And that’s talking about a machine – which is far less changeable and complex than a living, breathing, sentient human body.

So, how can we return to our very best, very natural, optimal bodily selves? How can we be more attuned and sensitive to what our bodies – and all the constituent parts that make up that body – need?

It comes down to being like that cosy dozing piggo.

Pausing and resting when you feel tired.

Eating when you feel hungry.

Pausing to heal or adjust when you feel pain.

It really can be that simple – we overcomplicate it with all the meanings we layer over our obligations, responsibilities and expectations at the expense of our body’s needs.

But remember – without looking after that body, those obligations, responsibilities and expectations are going to be all that much harder to meet and do and be successful at.

If flopping over in the middle of the day like Percy Pig there feels like too much of a leap, start slow with one step at a time.

Let yourself go to bed an hour earlier.

Eat and enjoy a proper meal.

Take a full weekend off.

And if even that feels too difficult, I’d love to invite you to join me on a mini messy coaching call where I’ll help you untangle what’s going on up in your head from what your body is asking for most.

We’ll find ways for you to do like Pig and have more sun-drenched naps and snacks.

Let’s get rid of that mind/body split for good; let’s make both of them matter equally.

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