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From a historic perspective, rest can be a form of resistance
How'd you sleep last night? It turns out sleep is something that a lot of us talk about, particularly those of us who get too little of it. More than one in three people sleep less than seven hours a night. That's the minimum that's recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
So, what is the deal with the lack of sleep and how can we begin to get more of it without feeling guilty about sleeping? For some thoughts on that, we turn to Tricia Hersey. She's the founder of The Nap Ministry, which is an organization that examines the liberating power of rest.
Leah Fleming: So, in our society, sleep too often is seen as a luxury as opposed to a necessity. And that, you know, somehow if you're sleeping, you aren't earning and you aren't doing anything productive. And that kind of thinking, you say, has some historical context to it, doesn't it?
Tricia Hersey: Absolutely. Yeah, that's the lie of capitalism. That's the lie that we've been socialized — I would actually say brainwashed to believe in our society. That the purpose of rest, the purpose of sleeping is just some frivolous luxury, a privilege when actually it is a divine right. And so, it actually is a lie. When you look at what's happening in the body, biologically, what's happening in the brain, but also from a justice standpoint, resting and sleeping and pausing is really the foundation for inventing a new world that we want to see.
Leah Fleming: Hmm. And you say from a justice standpoint.
Tricia Hersey: Yes, absolutely. This work is really a social justice, a racial justice, an anti-capitalism — it is a justice movement. It is a movement for us to be able to reclaim our bodies as our own. You know, capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy — all of the systems that make us unwell really have to be uplifted and illuminated for us to be able to start to unravel from this idea that our bodies, our time is only to be used as a tool for the system. But what the Nap Ministry is really trying to do is to go a little bit deeper and unravel and go under and expand this idea. Looking at the examination of what this has done to our spirit, to our self-esteem, to how we feel about ourselves, why we feel guilty for resting, for how we feel shame for doing something that is really a human right.
Leah Fleming: As people of color, particularly African Americans — Black folks and people that are lower income, we often have to work harder to earn what our white counterparts earn. And that is exhausting.
Tricia Hersey: You say capitalism, people say, “Oh, that's the system we live on.” But capitalism was created on the plantation. Capitalism is from slavery. And when you look at the historical views of what slavery was and what it did to my ancestors, you know, enslave another human being like — Black people were America's first capital. We were the experimentation for capitalism, for the system. This idea of looking at a human body as a machine, of looking at a human body as detached from divinity, as simply it being a tool for someone's production. And so that really was experimented on Black bodies in this country. And so when you really start to look at it from that — to align yourself with that system, to really see how resting now can be a form of resistance. And so, to have a soft space to rest, to know that resting is part of your divine right, to know that it is this collective power that we can use as a foundation — the beauty of a pause, all those things are so important.
Leah Fleming: So, you have created these spaces for napping. Talk a little bit about how it works and what it looks like.
Tricia Hersey: Pre-pandemic, we went in and curated sacred spaces all over for people to rest. So, we would go in and install these safe spaces for the community to actually rest together. Yoga mats, blankets, pillows, sound, music, healing teas. This beautiful opportunity for people to come together who did not know each other and actually take a literal nap. I had people waking up during these collective napping experiences in tears. Like, “I haven't rested like that in 10 years. I didn't know I was that exhausted.” And we don't really have that culture for people to come together and do something so vulnerable to sleep and rest — like, regain our time. Now everything is virtual. So, I've done probably 75 to 100 virtual events since the pandemic, all over. Wherever I can get on and have people come together and have a moment of silence.
Leah Fleming: This started for you because of your own experience with exhaustion. Tell us about that. You were in school. You had a child at the time.
Tricia Hersey: Yes. Oh my gosh. This is really not unique. It’s what all of us are on. We're working two jobs. We're in school, trying to get an education. We're raising children. We're trying to make money. And so, I was this constant state of exhaustion, exhaustion, exhaustion. I really was trying to save my own life when I began to experiment with the ways that rest could help me. And so, I just began napping all over campus. I just slept everywhere I could. Like all over. In the library. Outside. I found spaces in every building, that I could burrow away and sleep. I was in the chapel sleeping. And I just started to get better grades. I felt like I could make better connections. I just started to really see a new life for me, and at the same time, I was studying cultural trauma and working in the archives and looking at what was really happening to Black bodies when they were on plantations and digging deep into the history around the schematics of the body and taking classes and semantics and pulling together all those things to really see resting as a resistance movement, as a movement and a call for us to ignore the rush of productivity — for us to have more ease in our life, to really have this radical idea of care.
Leah Fleming: So, there are people that will listen and say, “I don't have time to take a nap. I don't have time to sleep eight hours.”
Tricia Hersey: Of course. I expect it.
Leah Fleming: So, what is one tip you can give us for how to reframe that in our brains so that we take a nap?
Tricia Hersey: I would give people permission to reimagine what rest can be. Resting is anything that connects our minds and bodies and souls. Resting could be daydreaming, resting your eyes. It can be a longer shower in the morning. It could be not returning the text immediately. Detoxing off of social media and technology. From a biological standpoint, when we rest, our brain is doing so much beautiful work. It's really in a productive state of downloading new information, helping our organs to heal. And so, even from the biology of it, we really need to uplift rest and center it in our lives just for our health and wellness.