Rest is Not a Four-Letter Word
One thing I love about the French is their ability to be in the moment. As a culture, they embrace rituals of pleasure, be it an outdoor aperatif with friends, a strong espresso sipped from a demitasse, a perfectly flaky croissant, or a garden stroll. They linger – over drinks, over meals, over conversations, over the paper – devoting their full attention to the enjoyment of that moment. Rarely (if ever!) will you see a Frenchmen snapping a photo of his steak frites to blast out to his Twitter followers. (Chances are, he's not even on Twitter.) They know that experiences are often best shared with a flesh-and-blood companion. Or even savored alone.
Most of all, I love the fact that as a culture, France does not shy away from rest. Many shops and restaurants close down on Sundays – not for religious reasons, but to respect the need for family time. During college, I lived with a French family for six months, and every Sunday the entire family gathered around the table for a long lunch, followed by coffee in the garden, and maybe a walk in the park. Sunday was simply and unapologetically a day of rest. But nowhere are French priorities more pronounced than in their generous vacation policy: French workers have 30 days of paid vacation per year compared to America's ten. In August, Paris practically shuts down as city-dwellers flee to the beaches, mountains, and countryside to do absolutely nothing for a month. Sounds lovely. And terrifying.
For me, I love the idea of rest, but I find it nearly impossible to put into practice. My entire life, I've packed every single moment with work projects, meetings, dinner parties, trips, volunteering, and attending or hosting events. Any other spare moment that I'm not sleeping, I fill with practical things like cleaning, working out, running errands, or paying bills. The list is endless, and it's never done. I end up running myself ragged (and still feel behind), but at least that busy-ness staves off the bigger enemies that lurk just beneath the surface – Emptiness. Loneliness. Restlessness. And guilt. If I stay busy enough, I can at least drown them out for a bit.
I've hit a bit of a summertime lull with my work the past week, and it feels really strange. The spring and early summer were a nonstop blur of writing and cooking and traveling, with one exciting project after another. I ran on adrenaline, feeling alternately exhausted and exhilarated, and craved the day I'd have a stretch of calm. Funny enough, that time has come, and rather than giving myself permission to rest, I just feel restless. I make lists of all the things I should be doing (clean the closet! send out more pitches! write more blog posts! volunteer!) and feel no motivation to get started. I check my email. I check Instagram. I vacuum, load the dishwasher, and feel stuck in the guilty in-between of not resting, but also not really accomplishing anything.
One month ago today, I had the incredible good fortune to be in the south of France, one of my favorite places in the world. These pictures were taken in and around St. Tropez, and I'm pretty sure that if given a little pastel cottage, an ocean view, and an olive tree, even I could guiltlessly indulge in a little R&R! :) Being there was so refreshing: the brilliant colors of the houses and the flowers, the deep blue of the cloudless sky reflected in the water, the sunshine, and the fresh seafood and vegetables reminded me to slow down and simply be. I enjoyed long, leisurely lunches of grilled fish, ratatouille, and chilled rose, and napped on the beach afterwards. I went for long walks, exploring the nooks and crannies of the town, and hiked up to the lookout point above. I breathed in the salty air and felt alive. I suppose it's easy to relax in such a beautiful setting, but I'm realizing that the secret to rest isn't to simply pack up and escape your life every time you get worn down. It's a lifestyle choice, one that has to be intentionally made day-by-day.
A few months ago, I wrote about letting go of perfection. I wrote a list of decisions I wanted to make going forward, one of which was letting go of guilt for all the things "I should have done" or "should be doing." To be honest, I've not done a great job of trying to live by these principles, but I'm taking up the torch again. I truly want to let go of these "shoulds" which rob me of joy and prevent me from resting. With the weekend ahead, I want to take time to enjoy some of my favorite summertime pleasures, be it a day trip to the beach, a lobster roll in the park, a sunset glass of rose on my roof, dinner with friends, a jog over the Manhattan Bridge, a trip to the Farmer's Market, or a cone of gelato from our neighborhood spot. I want to sleep in if I feel like it and not worry about the state of my closet. I want to be French for a weekend and simply savor the moment. (I know those of you with kids are probably laughing out loud, saying "HA! Easy for you to say! I don't have the luxury of resting, even if I wanted to!" I'm sure it seems near impossible to carve out time to rest, but I do think it's important for our souls to make it a priority – even if it takes place during nap-time or after bedtime, or requires swapping off with a spouse so you each get a little alone time to unwind.)
I'd love to hear from you all, though - am I alone in finding stillness terrifying sometimes? Do you have a hard time giving yourself permission to do something for the pure pleasure of doing it? Be it reading a novel or writing a letter or lazing by the pool on a hot summer's day? Why is this so hard for us? I'm not sure if it's an American thing or a New York thing, but there seems to be a need to fill every moment with activity, and then to justify how we spent our time by sharing just HOW good a time we had on social media. I'd love to hear your thoughts!