“There’s a way that we can meet urgent moments without the spirit of urgency. That requires competency and capacity that comes from deep grounding and regulation. Being able to show up consistently in ritual, rhythm, and routine.”
This conversation with Jen Lemen feels like strong medicine. With so many of us understandably depleted and exhausted, this topic of rest and sensitively responding to the needs of our bodies is so important and resonant.
Jen has learned, through her own relationships forged in times of urgency and danger, to “interrupt” urgency. The interruption can be as simple as an intentional step outside, or a deliberate hand on the heart while taking a deep breath. But these interruptions can not be a “one and done” deal.
What was fascinating is that Jen talks about stepping away and resting as a ”competency,” which suggests that rest is a learnable skill acquired through practice. If we practice day to day, in the form of simple supportive rhythms, rituals and routines, we cultivate stamina and resilience, thus equipping ourselves to arrive in urgent times with clarity and creativity.
What Jen is talking about is taking some level of ownership over our nervous system regulation. She shares, “Regulation is the secret sauce.” This regulation can be sourced from one’s own competence, and also from co-regulation, or synching to the nervous systems of others. We do this naturally, whether the people we are with are well-regulated or not. Thus we can see our own self-tending as a way to care for our people as well.
The activity of our pre-frontal lobe is inhibited in times of fear and heightened stress. This is the part of our brains that is associated with impulse control, critical thinking, long term planning and even optimism — all necessary components to imagining and creating new systems of care. With rhythms, rituals and routines, the body is coaxed out of a fight or flight mode. We instinctively lean on rhythms, rituals and routines for babies and small children, but we lose sight of these vital practices. Actually, white supremacy culture, with its emphasis on perfectionism, urgency and relentless productivity, socialize us to let go of these practices, making stopping and resting seem superfluous and self-indulgent.
A Black leader of this counter-cultural rest movement is Tricia Hersey, the founder of the Nap Ministry, who promotes rest for individuals and napping as a public communal practice. The need for rest is of particular importance for Black Americans whose ability to rest and sleep deeply has been damaged over generations by white supremacy culture, with significant physical and psychological health fall out. Not only is rest more difficult because of the trauma of anti-Black racism, but Hersey says, “…Black people…have been socialized to believe you have to do more and work harder to equalize yourself….It’s a disservice to paint it that way because it’s not true. It’s a lie. It adds to the sleep deprivation that is mental and psychological that we don’t deserve rest.”
The reminders and exhortation to rest, to pause, to create deliberate interruptions to busy-ness are so helpful to hear. It may take time to unlearn urgency and busy-ness. That’s why Jen’s reminder to begin with self-compassion feels like a good starting place. It doesn’t make sense to berate ourselves into taking a nap or getting some sunshine on our faces.
We can’t wait for you to listen in and share your takeaways with us.
Nicole and Jen talked about:
- Being grounded and rested as a core competency of activism
- Practicing rest as an act of resistance
- How to meet urgent moments without the spirit of urgency
- The ways in which white supremacy culture show up in movement spaces
- The power of stillness and co-regulation to move our movements forward
- How not to use this practice to bypass people’s pain and harm
- “Above the Line/Below the line”
- Mutual aide: what it looks like, what it feels like
- Where and how to begin with rhythm, rituals, and routines if you’re exhausted and disconnected
- Why rest is necessary to access creativity, defiance and compassion
- What an Inclusive Life means to Jen
Jen Lemen is a mother, a friend and spiritual resource to activists, organizers and emerging leaders around the country and the globe. Jen’s thought leadership work in the Path of Devotion and The Nest emphasizes the (un)learning required in body, mind and soul in order to embrace radical collective care. An avid map maker, Jen charts the processes we go through to shed conditioning, break with ancestral patterns of harm and renounce staunch individualism for greater response-ability to our local communities and the collective.
Through online gathering and on the ground organizing, Jen believes that resistance happens in community and that we get to the work at hand in our bodies, connected to our intuition and able to move with our collective guidance together like starlings. Jen’s work seeks to make granular and specific the ways oppression operates in us to interfere with that process and offers ways to break with the embodied patterns that harm.
Jen lives in Silver Spring, Maryland with her son Carter and her dog Pip.
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