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Elan Vitae


  • Ann Wilkie Arens


This March marked the end of a prolonged journey in my life. It was the month my radiant mother passed away. What an educational, overwhelming, and awe-inspiring walk it was. Through it all my mom taught us all so much about riding life’s waves and living in the joy life brings.

After the funeral I finally could sit down and catch my breath after five years of care taking. One of my first steps was getting back to the gym. After a much-needed workout, a friend and I were able to catch-up, and she shared a bit of wisdom that I have been mulling for the last few months. She said, “Your mom left you with a wonderful gift, the gift of time.” I nodded and agreed, it was refreshing to finally think of those many things I have had on hold for so long.

This gift of time was thought provoking. As I thought about how I was going to use this time, I began to realize that I needed to reconnect with family members and friends I hadn’t seen for a long time. It also was becoming astoundingly clear that many of my life dreams were paused because I couldn’t give them the focus and energy to move them forward. I began to write down what I needed to catch-up on and the list unfurled like an unending scroll. It was time to get moving.

For anyone who has gone through an event that overtakes your life such as: care taking, a large project at work, a death of someone close, having a baby, a disease diagnosis and treatment, the fatigue of living through a pandemic, or any event that makes your life stand still for more than a few months, the shifting back into life can be an awkward juggle.

Though I was grieving, my mind was also going full steam ahead to begin checking those items I was excited to do off my list, but something was slowing me down. Honestly, I was sputtering and then my body felt like it was collapsing. All I could think was what was going on and why now?

The answer slowly began to unveil itself with the need for afternoon naps and going to bed early, the feeling of crankiness for no reason, and strange physical pains and aches. It was a full-body occurrence–BURN OUT.

How could I be so exhausted when I needed to go forward? This didn’t feel fair and, frankly, I didn’t have much band width to dig into what to do to gain energy. I just wanted to sleep and then sleep again. This wasn’t me and it wasn’t my normal ‘pull up your bootstraps’ and push yourself forward.

I began to realize this pushing forward in the depths of exhaustion was engrained in me. In my family, there was a message that it is very important to ‘do your best,’ which I understood as use great effort and be a high achiever. One note, I am the oldest child so maybe I am just wired this way. It also is part of the American culture surmising that rest is often looked at as a negative and high performance as a positive. In fact, in many of the world’s cultures a hard work ethic is intertwined in the lifestyle. It is a subtle yet understood message that a successful life is being active, hardworking, accomplished, and creating wealth. It is also woven into family stories that have gone from generation to generation--work hard and good things will happen. Though none of this is bad, there are times in our lives when we need to take a break. When we look at these times of rest as unfavorable and weak, how can we refuel ourselves when we need to?

I am now in a new stage of life as I learn how to nourish myself and understand that taking a break is as productive as working hard. I’ve realized that the simple mathematical equation that the act of slowing down is equal in value to strenuous work still doesn’t jive in my mind but, oddly, it does in my body.

As I continue to catch up on taking care by sleeping, I have also learned that rest is so much more than a good night’s sleep. Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith the author of Sacred Rest: Recover your life. Renew your energy. Restore your sanity, has a TED talk where she highlights the different kinds of restoration, other than sleep, to replenish yourself. Here are some of her keys to restoring:

  • Physical rest includes those activities that boost circulation such as massage, yoga, and saunas.

  • Mental rest is taking breaks, such as every 90 minutes, during the workday and not amping up on caffeine.

  • Sensory rest for over-stimulating computer screens can be done by unplugging everything at night or meditating for a few minutes a day.

  • Creative rest can be critical for the folks who problem solve all day and can be done by getting out in nature or delving into art.

  • Emotional rest can be setting boundaries when it is hard to say no and being fine with being genuine in your thoughts and actions instead of pleasing others.

  • Spiritual rest can be accomplished by feelings of belonging and acceptance and the connection in something larger than you. These can be done through volunteering, meditation, or prayer.

I am beginning to work on implementing these types of renewal in my life and I am finding that they are slowly beginning to increase my energy and have helped me flip my perception to recovery being worthwhile.

The many religions of the world have preached the necessity of rest for thousands of years. It is intriguing how our minds have moved away from this message, but our bodies have not. Wayne Muller, the author of Sabbath, Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives, highlights this wisdom by noting, “All life requires a rhythm of rest…we have lost this essential rhythm…because we do not rest, we lose our way… we miss the compass points of where we need to go…we miss the quiet that would give us wisdom.”

Learning to stop and take time to nourish myself was not a life lesson I wanted to learn at this point in my life. At times, I wonder if it is my mom’s last lesson that she was passing on to me. When we are at the point, or past the point, of exhaustion, we must slow down and renew before we go full throttle forward. Just like the field that has burned from a cleansing clearing fire, there will be sprouts that rise from the ash with new life and new perspectives. It is part of the transformation of life and it is valuable.

Dalton-Smith, S. (2021, January). 7 Types Of Rest That Every Person Needs,

Muller, W. (2000). Sabbath finding rest, renewal, and delight in our busy lives. Bantam Books.


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