by Sam Killmeyer

It’s January, the season of self-improvement. Time to make lists of how we’ve fallen short and how we can do better next year. Get that gym membership, buy a planner, and achieve, achieve, achieve! 

I am someone who loves goals and resolutions, but this year, I’m trying hard to think more critically about how, as Americans, we often equate stress with success and productivity with our worth as human beings.

This winter, I propose we all follow the Earth’s guide, listen to our bodies, and rest. Push back against the little capitalist inside you calling you lazy, telling you you have ten pounds to lose, that there’s something on that to-do list you “should” be doing instead of curling up on the couch with a cup of tea. Instead of “work hard, play hard,” let’s follow a line of poetry from Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese”:

“Let your soft animal body love what it loves.” 

In rest, we are able to open space to love and restoration, recentering our “one wild and precious life” to better protect and repair our damaged planet together.

Rest As Political Action

Rest, loving your animal body, is organic. It can’t be commodified. It’s the opposite of the wellness industry shouting “love yourself!” or “treat yourself!”

Audre Lorde wrote, “caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” In a world where people of color like Lorde are murdered, imprisoned, and silenced, it was (and is) a radical act for her to care for herself and her community. 

We think of climate activism as marching in the streets, lobbying government officials, locking your body to a pipeline. And these are some of our tools for building a better world. But so is rest and care for our communities.

Rest As Resisting The Attention Economy

In our digital world, even our means of rest have been commodified. Watching TV, connecting with loved ones via social media, and virtually any act in an online space is a means of collecting data that is then used to sell you things. Your eyeballs have a dollar amount attached to them. 

Part of resting is reclaiming our attention and turning towards our home, our families, our local communities. It’s a means of resisting the capitalist drive to consume that infinite economic growth that is destroying our planet. 

In her book How To Do Nothing: Resisting The Attention Economy, Jenny Odell writes: “I hope that the figure of ‘doing nothing in opposition to a productivity-obsessed environment can help restore individuals who can then help restore communities, human and beyond.” Odell’s argument is about resisting the commodification of our attention via social media and instead, shifting our attention to the local. Reclaiming our attention allows for engaging with the world in a different way one focused on care and restoration. 

In rest, you are taking a political position you’re withholding your labor. You’re saying, right now, in this moment, I refuse to give my body to the economy, and instead, am giving it to myself and the people I love.  

Rest As An Act Of Love

As we prioritize rest, we are better able to love ourselves and our communities. A champion of radical love, bell hooks, died this December (find her book, All About Love here). For hooks, “love is an action.” It is an action like the other forms of action we take. A love of ourselves, each other, and our earth. How can we embrace hook’s vision of love as action? How can we bring it into our climate activism this year?

If you’re someone who feels guilty or deeply uncomfortable slowing down or resting, you’re not alone. After all, this is the decisive decade for climate action. We must act now. People are dying. We are already beyond the point of no return, and the climate crisis isn’t something we can wait on. We must do everything we can as quickly as we can.

All this is true. And it is also true that we are soft animal bodies, loving what we love. Our pets don’t need to justify their existence via how much they produce. We don’t think less of them for stretching out in the afternoon sun and napping.

Lay down on the carpet in a brief winter sunbeam and remember what you love to use your energy for, what you love in this world. I’m going to close my eyes, do nothing.

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