Discover more from Radical Soul
Is Your Self-Care Radical?
Reading Real Self-Care and Rest Is Resistance Together
When I first heard about psychiatrist Pooja Lakshmin’s recent book Real Self-Care, I immediately wanted to read it in parallel with Rest Is Resistance: A Manifesto by Tricia Hersey, founder of the Nap Ministries.
Per Real Self-Care, the activities we often tout as self-care aren’t helping. As a physician specializing in women’s mental health,” Lakshmin explains in the introduction, “I find this cultural embrace of self-care incomplete at best, and manipulative at worst.”
The subtitle of the book includes the parenthetical: “Crystals, Cleanses, and Bubble Baths Not Included,” and I thought about my interview with trauma expert Jimanekia Eborn who explained that one of her spiritual practices is a bath.
Where would Hersey’s call for rest as a form of resistance or Eborn’s baths as a spiritual practice fit into Lakshmin’s framework for better self-care?
What I found: There are strong overlaps between the two, but Lakshmin’s more clinical/secular perspective and Hersey’s more spiritual base may appeal to different audiences.
Here’s a quick overview of the two books.
Lakshmin noticed a trend in the women she saw in her clinical practice. They would come to her burnt out, anxious, or depressed and blame themselves for not practicing enough self-care. “The game is rigged,” Lakshmin explains, because self-care becomes one more responsibility we don’t have time for; one more thing to feel guilty about.
Lakshmin noticed her patients would turn to self-care activities from yoga to getaways as an attempt to counter the impact of unsustainable lifestyles.
Her patients lacked the boundaries needed to slow down or reduce stress. Or they didn’t make decisions based on their values and, as a result, their choices were less fulfilling. And the self-care activities they participated in became just one more thing they needed to excel at or “do right.”
Lakshmin labels these activities faux self-care. “Faux self-care is largely full of empty calories and devoid of substance. It keeps us looking outward—comparing ourselves with others or striving for a certain type of perfection—which means it’s incapable of truly nourishing us in the long run.”
So what’s the better way? Real self-care “involves the internal process of setting boundaries, learning to treat yourself with compassion, making choices that bring you closer to yourself, and living a life aligned with your values.”
Self-care isn’t something you do; it’s how you move through life. And it’s not that any given activity we’ve labeled self-care is bad; it’s all about how you’re choosing it, how you’re treating yourself while participating in it, and where it fits into your value system.
Lakshmin lays out a set of principles that include setting boundaries with others, changing how you talk to yourself, bringing in what matters most to you, and using your power for good. But she’s also quick to point out that these are just meant to be guides, not a solution. “If it’s someone else’s answer, it can never be your solution,” she writes.
Rest Is Resistance
Hersey encourages folks to cultivate a rest practice as a way of pushing back against and deconditioning from grind culture. She encourages folks to reimagine rest, starting with the myth that rest should be earned.
Here are the tenets that Hersey lays out:
1. Rest is a form of resistance because it disrupts and pushes back against capitalism and white supremacy.
2. Our bodies are a site of liberation.
3. Naps provide a portal to imagine, invent, and heal.
4. Our DreamSpace has been stolen and we want it back. We will reclaim it via rest.
Throughout the book, there are suggestions for ways to reimagine the possibilities of rest, like starting a daydreaming practice and taking breaks from social media. But besides this, there’s no formula or framework to follow. There’s simply a call to rest, dream, and imagine a way of living outside the disease of capitalism and white supremacy.
Both Books Draw From The Works of Black Activists and Theologians
Both Hersey and Lakshmin see their work as rooted in the legacy of Black activists. Lakshmin points out the history of the term self-care which was used by the Black Panther Party in the 70s as “a means for Black Americans to preserve their humanity in the face of systemic racism.” And she quotes Audre Lorde who wrote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Hersey’s work draws from the womanist tradition and Black Liberation theology. While Hersey is clear that everyone needs to heal from the damage of capitalism and White Supremacy, the work was founded by Black leaders:
“While it is the work of everyone on the planet to disrupt and push back against white supremacy and capitalism, Blackness and Black people are the foundation and North Star for my experimentation as rest as a form of resistance … There is no Rest Is Resistance movement without Blackness. Anyone attempting to create and expand on our rest message must reach deep into the cracks to study and uplift Black liberation. It is a North Star for an exhausted world.”
Both authors are clear: rest and real self-care are not tools to enable further productivity. They are radical breaks from the ways in which capitalism and white supremacist culture dictate our self-worth.
Hersey writes, “We are resting not to do more and to come back stronger for a capitalist system.”
The goals are to reimagine our self-worth, a life aligned with our inner values, and a way to collectively resist the systemic powers of oppression.
So Where Does Spirituality Fit In?
Lakshmin is careful to only mention spirituality as a possibility of one’s values or an aspect of holistic self-care. But, beyond that, the book is very clinical and doesn’t have a deeper spiritual component. It would be a good read for folks who don’t see spirituality as a meaningful part of their life or who are looking for a secular take on self-care.
On the other hand, spirituality is woven into the Rest is Resistance movement:
We must spiritually disconnect from the shenanigans of grind culture while physically still living in it. A metaphysical and spiritual refusal must be developed within.
For Hersey, rest and resistance are spiritual practices.
I must admit when I started reading both books, I was critical. As someone who has a hard time imagining doing less, I reacted defensively to Hersey’s call to stop and rest.
Hersey brings up the unanswerable question: how do we rest amid grind culture? For those of us holding down multiple jobs to take care of ourselves and loved ones, it’s hard to imagine how to do things differently. And what I didn’t want was exactly what Lakshmin rails against: more expectations for myself.
So often ideas like rest, simplicity, and balance are used in our capitalist society as ways to sell more products or more solutions. And I wasn’t interested in a life-hacky “four-hour-work-day-style” response (which is not what Hersey offers).
Similarly, I found Lakshmin’s flippant criticism of common self-care practices a little off-putting. Once I got into the book, I better understood where she was coming from, but at times she seemed to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
I grew a little anxious and frustrated by her framework which is all about setting better boundaries and making lifestyle choices aligned with your values simply because I’m already doing this. The problem is: even if you’re living life aligned with your values, American culture is still designed to be oppressive as fuck.
But there were things in both books that hit home — especially when read together.
After reading Rest is Resistance, I’m less judgmental of myself when I take a night off. But I also realized that my desire to push myself right now is aligned with my personal values. So when I’m tired and I still feel like hitting up a coffee shop or bar to keep writing, I feel more justified in doing so.
But what I was really moved by was Hersey’s invitation to imagine creative and spiritual ways of being.
“To rest is to creatively respond to grind culture’s call to do more,” she explains. “It’s the possibility of rest, reparations, resurrection, and repair that holds us like a warm, soft blanket.”
For me, this was the perspective shift. It was a reminder that in order to decondition from the brainwashing of capitalism and white supremacy, I have to learn to think outside of these boxes. And that I’m not alone in this work.
I also found the idea of DreamSpace comforting and freeing — a space filled with support and epiphanies. Sometimes imagining a world outside of the one we live in feels foolish. But imagining DreamSpace as something real and possible helps.
To sum it up, society isn’t designed to make it easy to rest or care for ourselves. So let’s be creative in finding ways of making it work. Let’s call on our ancestors and spirit guides for help. Let’s appeal to our communities. Let’s create a movement.
How to support this work.
Follow Jera on Instagram.
And if you found this post useful, please share it!